What can I say today, other than to wish all our TurfPro readers a happy Christmas and let’s hope as a society we can get on top of this variant and stay safe over the festive period?!
At this time of the year, it’s worth reflecting on how we have coped as an industry with the challenging period since the start of this dreadful pandemic. You cannot but admire our resilience and ability to adapt to changes and find new ways of working.
The very nature of our industry is challenging anyway. Natural playing facilities, landscapes, gardens and estates need constant attention throughout the year to meet the demands of their customers, patrons and owners.
Public expectations of sports facilities have become greater over the years, in part due to TV coverage. They often see a well-presented sports facility and therefore expect their community sports club, golf course, football, cricket, bowls and rugby pitches to live up to these expectations.
Community clubs simply do not have the resources, equipment, and budgets of these top end professional clubs. Often relying on semi-paid professionals or volunteers to deliver a playing surface fit for purpose.
As an industry we have a plethora of machinery, products and services now available to deliver these high expectations, however the real issue is the fact that a majority of clubs are not able to raise the appropriate funds to invest in both the equipment needed and, more importantly, pay someone to do the job of maintaining their facility.
There is a cost for the provision of a given sports facility and quite often this is overlooked. I wrote an article last April entitled Sport In Crisis that pointed out the issues facing grass roots sports clubs.
This was proceeded by another article, Investing In Our Facilities, explaining the costs of pitch maintenance across a number of sports and talked about the need to raise club membership costs to help finance this work.
Areas of concern
Those of us that work in this profession are aware of the dedication, commitment and skills that are required to maintain a natural grass or hybrid pitch in a stadium environment. However, there still appears to be a stigma held by some outside of our industry that we merely cut grass!
We have a long way to go to ensure our industry gets the recognition it deserves. I have said on many occasions we seem to be a diverse and fragmented industry, with lots of organisations trying to represent our needs and expectations. However, I personally think it is time for a collective of the industry's major players to come together for the greater good.
There are a number of areas of concern for me, these are:-
- Pay and working conditions
- Education and training
- Investment and funding regimes to help community clubs
- Recruitment of the next generation of grounds professionals
- Bringing the whole sector together for one trade show or annual activity to raise the profile of this excellent industry.
These issues have been a passion of mine for many years, a recent podcast interview with Joe Hendy from AGS summed up my thoughts. It’s well worth a listen even if I do say so myself!
The word on the street, is that businesses are finding it difficult to recruit staff – often seemingly due to the fact that many of our younger generation are not keen to get their hands dirty and work flexible, often long hours, for what they see as a low paid job. In some cases they can earn more money driving a white van or stacking shelves.
I personally think that we need be more active in promoting the true values of working in this industry. We need a national promotional campaign to go into schools explain the opportunities that are on offer. We also need to look at setting up a national apprentice / academy scheme that offers a two / three-year education programme and work placement opportunity.
Yes I know there are many current apprenticeship schemes running, but if we want to make a real difference and impact we should be looking at setting up a scheme that sees well over 1000 apprentices a year for the next five years to have a significant affect on recruiting new blood into the industry.
Surely if all the major manufacturer players came together and drove a national campaign to help see the recruitment and provision of a much-needed national apprenticeship scheme with the help of government funding and other educational organising bodies, we may finally solve a deepening crisis?
As for the industry shows, all have been severely affected by Covid with lower attendances. Also, we’ve just heard the news that BTME in Harrogate has now been postponed to March due to Omicron.
I have said on many occasions our industry needs to look at itself and finally decide what format of trade show do we need? For me it makes sense for both the GMA and BIGGA to come together, perhaps with an invitation for other large industry organisations such as The RHS, GLEE and other landscape institutions, to join up and have one all-encompassing annual show - with the aim to get a wider audience to visit the show in greater numbers. I believe we should be attracting in excess of 25,000 practitioners and managers to attend this show.
For far too many years, we have seen less than 8,000 attending both shows. Is that a true reflection of our industry? No, it is not. For these shows to be more viable and attractive to the exhibitors there needs to be a change and an effort to increase footfall and quality of customers attending.
Finally, I'd like to wrap up by mentioning two news stories worth a mention. The first is an article about a semi-pro rugby player who is employed as a groundsman at Aberavon who was called up to play for Cardiff in a European clash with Toulon last weekend.
Also I would like remind people of the popular Amenity Forum Updating Events that are usually run at the start of the new year. We covered these last week in TurfPro and finger’s crossed all will be well for them to go ahead as planned.