TurfPro editor, Laurence Gale writes:
One of the biggest challenges our industry faces in the coming years will be inspiring the next generation of turf professionals to join our sector. We desperately need to start finding ways to encourage more people to come and work in this diverse, international industry.
To help start this process, I have asked a number of our leading professionals to write a piece about how they came to work in this industry and the opportunities it has given them.
Andy Spetch, national Topsoil manager at British Sugar, volunteer groundsman and GMA board member
Tell us about yourself?
I studied agricultural management and cerchanting at the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Colleges of Agriculture before working on large arable farms as a tractor driver.
I joined British Sugar in 1987, initially joining as an Agricultural trainee. I then worked as an agronomist for the company in England and Poland. I hold the BASIS, FACTS and NEBOSH qualifications and have a Diploma in sales management with the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
In 1997 I took over the management of British Sugar’s Topsoil business. This role involves managing the production, marketing and sales of the topsoil received with the beets.
Having played and coached at Bury St Edmunds RFC I took on the role of Volunteer Groundsman in 2000. Working with a great team of volunteers and a supportive committee we transformed what were below average pitches to the envy of the area.
I was honoured to win the IOG Volunteer Groundsman of the Year Award in 2012 and in 2019 I was asked to join the GMA as a Board Member. I am very honoured to do this role as it enables me to put back into an industry that gives so much.
I am Volunteer Pitch Advisor for the RFU in East Anglia and sit on the Eastern Counties RFU Funding and Facilities committee.
Who or what inspired you to take up your career?
My earliest memories are helping my Dad mark out the line at Drax United, North Yorkshire. Dad didn’t have a white liner so used the saw dust he generated as a joiner. My Dad put a lot of work into his local club which I guess rubbed off on me.
Which individuals have inspired you or helped you develop professionally?
- Alex Vickers, Turf Consultant: His enthusiasm for soil and pitch improvements is infectious. I was lucky enough to meet Alex very early in my Groundsman career. His encouragement and advice really helped me in my work at Bury St Edmunds.
- Keith Kent, RFU Twickenham: Meeting the head Groundsman of Twickenham was something I never thought I would get to do. In many ways I was in awe of Keith. But once met you couldn’t get a more down to earth person who just wants to help. The time and effort he put into visiting clubs at all levels is to be applauded.
- Tim Parker, Parkers Pitches: Tim lives local to Bury St Edmunds and has been a cricket groundsman for many years and now runs a Sports Pitch Contracting Business with his son Will. Tim was always happy to help me problems at the club and share his knowledge.
What machinery or innovations have in your opinion helped drive our industry forward or helped make your job easier?
Choice of aeration equipment: Regular decompaction has got to be the most important activity on a pitch, High quality Amenity Grass seed: Much improved rates of germination and establishment.
SALTEX: This is the must go to industry event. There is everything a groundsman needs under one roof and some great educational seminars.
What concerns do you have for the future of our industry?
Lack of money. With many clubs having little or now revenue due to Covid I fear that pitch maintenance budgets will be cut.
Also I'm concerned about how we attract the next generation to take up groundsmanship.
How do you think we can entice the next generation of industry professionals to come and work in this industry?
Get behind the GMA in its promotion of the profession as a real career with good rewards and great job satisfaction. Groundsmanship is much more than working outside cutting grass - you need IT, budget setting, negotiating and people management skills. You can also get to work at iconic stadiums.
All of us involved in the industry need to mentor and encourage the next generation. Employers need to show the correct reward and progression for their employees.