The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings last week has inspired me to write this week’s blog. The sheer scale of the operations was staggering with over 300,000 people landing on the Normandy beaches to help liberate Europe and end the Second World War. It was very moving to see and hear the comments from some of the surviving 400 veterans, an extraordinary generation talking about their experiences of the landings all those years ago.
It is poignant that we do not forget the sacrifice these veterans and the many, some 22,000 men, who gave their lives to give us the freedom we enjoy today.
I firmly believe we can always learn from our peers and previous generations who are always keen to pass on their knowledge and experiences to the next generation.
I have said on more than one occasion, our wonderful turfgrass and amenity sector is a unique and rewarding industry to work in. The scope and variety of work and the opportunity to work anywhere in the world is astounding. Once you have acquired the basic fundamental skills of horticulture and groundsmanship, there is no end to the opportunities on offer within this ever changing, global industry.
Just taking sports turf alone, look at all the different sports you could be working within. Football, tennis, rugby, bowls, cricket, golf, horseracing, croquet and polo to name a few.
The vast skill set you acquire while working in any one of these sports should set you up for life. I firmly believe it is important to have worked on the tools and used the vast array of machinery and resources on hand to give you a full understanding of the nature of our industry.
Today’s groundsmen need to be a jack of all trades, utilising many skills, with the ability to use modern aides and technologies to deliver the expectations of ever- demanding clients and owners. In essence he or she needs to be a plant pathologist, mechanic, chemist, mathematician, IT literate, a good communicator, flexible and have good people skills.
I also know that I could give ten people an unlimited budget, machinery and resources and still end up with ten different outcomes. The quality of the work achieved is very often dictated by the experience, knowledge, dedication and passion of the individual person and their attitude towards the job.
We have, over the last 40 years, produced some of the finest groundsmen in the world, who have without doubt taken standards of groundsmanship to new levels, largely due to some of the early pioneers, such as:
Eddie Seaward (Wimbledon), Steve Rouse (Edgbaston CCC), Harry Brind (The Oval), Pete Marron (Old Trafford), Steve Patrick (Blackburn Rovers), Chris Hague (Parken Stadium), Richard Norton (Bolton Wanderers), Keith Porter (Manchester Utd), Steve Braddock (Arsenal), Keith Kent (Twickenham), Walter Woods (St Andrews), Gordon Moir (St Andrews), Laurence Pithie (American Golf) and the McMillan Family to name but a few.
Their legacy lives on with an ever-changing new breed of groundsmen who have taken on the mantle to even greater achievements, with the likes of Paul Burgess (Real Madrid), John Ledwidge (Leicester City), Karl Standley (Wembley), Jon Calderdwood (PSG), Darren Baldwin (Spurs), Neil Stubley (Wimbledon), Ed Mowe (Leicester Tigers), Gary Barwell (Edgbaston), Steve Birks (Trent Bridge), Karl Mcdermott (Lord’s), James Mead (Rugby School), Keith Exton ( Perfect Pitches), Will Relf (Loughborough University), Chris Parry (Loughborough Endowned School), Roy Rigby (Manchester City) and Dave Roberts (Liverpool), along with numerous others.
However, none of this could have happened without the investment / R&D of many industry machinery manufacturers and suppliers, who over the years have worked tirelessly with many practising groundsmen to develop new products / services that on the whole have improved the quality of natural grass surfaces immensely.
Today’s groundmen have a plethora of machinery and equipment on hand compared to what we had when I started out in the early 1970s. When I was working at Cocks Moors GC we had very little in the way of equipment to maintain the course. It was limited to a tractor, two sets of trail cylinder gang mowers (rough and fine) and a couple of pedestrian cylinder mowers to cut greens, tees and banks, plus a Patterson spiker to aerate the greens.
Even when I worked at Portsmouth FC in 1983 we only had two Dennis mowers to cut the pitch and an old SISIS outfield spiker. We did not even have a line marker back then. We used a can of paint and a 4 inch paint brush. One of the first things I bought was a dimple line marker.
Today, modern professional groundsmen have vast array of machinery and equipment to help them manage and maintain their facilities. We have a greater choice of mowing equipment, both ride-on and pedestrian. Cutting technologies have improved with the electronic clipping rates, mower cassette systems have enabled more efficiencies and increased the range of tasks that can be done by one machine. We also have an array of different types of aeration equipment. For me it has been the development and introduction of the specialist pitch renovation kit that has changed the way we can renovate our pitches more quickly.
Without doubt the Koro Fraise mower, along with the verti-drain type deep tine spiker , top dressers and disc seeders have made a significant impact on our industry. Coupled with the development of the lighting rigs, irrigation systems and improved fertiliser and seed products.
However, that said, we must not forget the role and support we have had from our sport governing bodies and the land-based colleges and universities who over the years have played a part in setting up recognised educational paths and training opportunities.
The balance of having appropriate paper qualifications, certificates or degrees and working life experiences, is the key to the development and maturity of those seeking a career in this industry.
We should not rest on our laurels though. It is important we continue to inspire and recruit a new generation of ground professionals to come and work in our industry - and more importantly that they have the opportunity to learn from their peers.
We also need to ask ourselves, are our colleges and universities teaching the relevant skills and knowledge base to enable these newcomers to do the job that they have been employed for?
There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about Generation Z - people born 1995-2010. A fascinating insight into this working generation, comparing it to previous working generations since 1946, can be read here. It says this new GEN Z has the following strengths and weaknesses.
- This generation are the most tech competent of any generation, members of Gen Z are able to pick on developments quicker than other employees.
- Gen Z are natural entrepreneurs, with 72% wanting to start their own business and hire people.
- Described as the “always on” generation, Gen Z are able to multi-task unlike any other generation, using up to 5 screens at once.
- Gen Z are regarded as more cynical than their predecessors, favouring a realistic outlook over the idealism of Gen Y.
- This generation is not likely to show too much company loyalty, with 25% believing they should only stay in a job for a year or less also Gen Z don’t know much about a time before social media and easily accessible tech. This can make them very reliant on technology to solve problems for them.
So, based on this survey and information, I wonder how many from this age generation will be willing to come and work in our industry?
Having said that, we must take every opportunity to promote our diverse industry whenever we can. We must particularly target schools and colleges to showcase the variety of careers that are available.
Having spoken to a number of colleagues in the industry, I also think we as an industry should find a way to enlist and retain many of our top respected turf professionals - so they have a chance to influence and educate the next generation coming through.