Having spent more than forty-five years working in the sportsturf, amenity and horticulture industry, I feel I am experienced and qualified enough to assert that this sector is a challenging, engaging, if sometimes frustrating, area to be working in.
The career opportunities within it are so diverse, it is not until you see the sheer size and scale of our land-based industry do you realise its potential.
You only have to attend one of our two annual trade industry shows, BTME or IOG Saltex, to realise the extent and magnitude of this industry and what it can offer in terms of career prospects.
With over three hundred exhibitors promoting their wares and services, both of the shows clearly indicate the scope and opportunities we have available.
The range and type of career opportunities are endless, both home and abroad. There is a real diversity of job roles across all our major sports including cricket, football, rugby, tennis, bowls and golf. We must also consider all the support, supplier, product and service jobs that serve our industry.
However, having said all this, I am slightly worried where our next generation of practitioners will be coming from, particularly during this current climate of change and uncertainty with Brexit.
From what I hear, there has been a reduction in student numbers attending sportsturf related college courses in recent years. This may be due to a number of factors including a lack of appropriate courses being run, the cost of these courses and employers cutting back on training budgets.
Having read a recent article about Roy Rigby, head grounds manager at Manchester City FC, who in my opinion is one of our industry's most influential ambassadors I totally agree with his philosophy and thoughts on our industry.
I, like Roy, started life at the coal-face, undertaking a five-year apprenticeship, working alongside experienced propagators, groundsmen and parks managers, honing relevant skills and experiences along the way. We learn our skills in many ways, quite often by making mistakes and rectifying them.
However, the best way to learn is to undertake relevant training and education programmes that are specific to your needs and aspirations. We now have a fantastic array of training providers, colleges and universities at our disposal. Along with very supportive sports governing bodies and institutions that promote, deliver and can help fund relevant industry courses.
Both the IOG and BIGGA promote and deliver a range of educational programmes and courses that are essential to aide your career prospects.
Other training providers include Lantra who are one of the leading awarding bodies for land-based industries in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. They develop quality training courses and nationally recognised qualifications that are delivered through a national network of training Provider Partners.
Also BASIS are an independent standards setting and auditing organisation for the pesticide, fertiliser and allied industries.
I personally feel it is important, and indeed our duty, as turf professionals that we continue to learn and develop our skill sets. We rely on a lot of machinery and equipment to help us do our jobs, therefore we should take the time and investment to keep up with the ever changing legislation and regulations that govern the use of this equipment. Along with complying with relevant legislation and guidelines when applying fertilisers and chemicals.
I myself took the opportunity last year to retake a number of Pesticide Application Modules (PA2-12) at Harper Adams University as part of their short courses programme and duly passed.
I regularly go and visit Harper University, enabling me to keep up to date with any industry led courses that are going on. Only last week I was able to catch up with Philip Coxill, manager of Lilleshall Hall National Sports Centre, who himself, along with a number of his staff, were undertaking a chainsaw award in felling trees up to 380mm.
As Philip stated, the safety and training for his staff is paramount, while at the same time enabling them to be more efficient and confident when undertaking tree works at Lilleshall.
We have well over 30 specialist land-based colleges and universities, operating from 67 campuses up and down our country. Myerscough, for example, like many others, have over many years contributed to the development and training of many of our leading head groundsmen and greenkeepers.
Going back to my point regarding how do we encourage the next generation of professional groundsmen / greenkeepers to come and work in this vibrant industry – I believe we need, collectively to find a way of bringing to the attention of schools and colleges the wide ranging career opportunities that are on offer within the grounds and sports turf industry today.
I agree totally with a statement that Roy Rigby said in his article, "I feel college tutors need to be going into schools and promoting the industry. The interest is out there."
Roy feels that the tutors need to be vocal that interested parties can get grants for qualifications if they are of a certain age. He firmly believes that if clubs invested in people the industry would be better populated with employees who are qualified to do the job.
I myself would also like to conclude by saying we are never too old to learn. Also, more importantly, we should make an effort to find time to pass on our own experiences to our younger counterparts for the benefit of the next generation of practitioners who choose to take up a career in this wonderful and diverse industry.