Over the last few weeks I have spoken to greenkeepers and grounds managers who are worried about pay levels and conditions in our sports turf and amenity industry - and how this is making it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain new staff.
It would appear from the conversations I have had, that the problem of recruitment is driven by the fact that our pay scales and working conditions are not attractive to new recruits. In theory they can earn more and not have to work as long hours, particularly weekends, for example by driving a white van or stacking shelves.
Currently, an average greenkeeper's salary in the UK is £20,000 per year, around £10.26 per hour, some £6,000 less than the average salary in the UK which, in 2021, stood at £25,971. It is also worth noting that entry level positions start at around £17,955 per year, whilst the most experienced workers can make up to £26,500 per year as reported in Golf Monthly.
The combination of low pay and the pressure being put on greenkeepers and grounds staff in recent years has led to a lot of experienced turf professionals leaving the industry, making the job of recruitment much more difficult.
For me, this issue has built over the years. Many greenkeepers feel undervalued and under pressure to deliver standards they cannot achieve, often because staffing levels, resources and budgets have been reduced. As a consequence many golf courses are now running on reduced staffing levels.
Both the GMA and BIGGA have recently published their recommended pay scales for grounds professionals for 2022.
You can read the GMA's recommendations here whilst BIGGA promotes the use of the Committee for Golf Club Salaries calculator.
The reality of the situation
In reality most of our grounds professionals get nowhere near these recommended pay scales - and for the majority of jobs seen advertised in the press and on social media, they too seem to be way under the recommended pay scales.
A recent poll undertaken by Brian Sandalls who runs Turfcareblog, gives a fascinating insight into the problems of current recommended pay scales and how we are perceived as turf professionals.
For far too many years our sports turf and amenity sector has been tarnished with those immortal words, ‘you only cut grass?’ Far too many people do not appreciate the skills and knowledge required to manage a living, growing landscape facility.
Whether it is growing plants, managing sports turf, or looking after large tracts of land there is need to have a specific knowledge and understanding of what you are managing to fulfil the potential of that managed facility.
It takes many years to acquire all the skills needed to be a professional grounds manager / turf professional.
It often takes between three to five years to acquire the basic levels of knowledge and expertise along with undertaking various college tutoring to gain the relevant qualifications required to become a qualified greenkeeper.
Not having a crystal ball makes it difficult to predict what the future holds for our industry and those who work in it. However, for me there are three areas of contention I would like to see our industry overcome in the next few years. These being:
- Better recognition of the work of done by grounds professionals that would hopefully lead to better pay and conditions;
- A national recruitment campaign to get new blood into the industry;
- And a review of the education pathways on offer to people working in our industry.
What can be done?
Essentially, we need to glamorise and showcase what we do to entice the next generation of paid grounds professionals. On top of that, we also need the government to recognise the value of public parks and open spaces.
Technology and innovation are moving at a great pace. Robotic mowers and battery powered equipment are becoming more wildly used in both the domestic and professional sectors.
The use of hybrid powered machinery will continue to grow, while larger petrol and diesel-powered vehicles will come under increased scrutiny.
There is no getting away from it, the smartphone and computer technologies are only going to increase and become a larger part of our industry in the coming years. We are already seeing the development of drones and robotics taking off at a rapid rate. We have an array of cordless mowers and other implements being made available by a plethora of manufacturers.
I personally find it mind blowing to see the total range of machinery and tools we now have at our disposal, compared to 30 years ago. All are aimed at increasing efficiency, quality of work, and safety of the operator.
As I discussed in a previous blog, I would like to see our industry formally come together collectively to promote the values and opportunities that are available for this next generation and find a way of promoting and portraying the values of working in this sector. There needs to be a national strategy that funds the opportunity for the industry to be promoted in every school. We need to show that there are many career opportunities to be had in our diverse sports turf and amenity industry.
I personally think that it is about time our industry governing bodies and organisations actually start working collectively together to solve this problem and drive our industry forward. The likes of the GMA, BIGGA, RHS, PMA, The R&A, BAGMA and key colleges / university and education departments should at least be talking to one another to find a national solution and way of solving these issues.
It is now time we changed the perception of our industry and the only way to do this is by encouraging workplaces to invest more in their staff and make them feel valued. We also need collectively across all sectors of our vast industry, promote the benefits and opportunities of working in such a wonderful and diverse industry.