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.
Professor John Moverley OBE - Chairman, Amenity Forum
Tell us about yourself?
I have worked in the private, public and charitable sectors including some 20 years at CEO level. I have substantial experience of serving in board roles and as a chairman. Aside from the important role as Chairman of the Amenity Forum, I am an independent member of the Severn & Wye Flood and Coastal Committee, the BASIS Board, the advisory group for Winterbourne House and Gardens and the Board of the Moreton Morrell Campus of the Warwickshire College. I am also a regular contributor to the Property Chronicle and other publications. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies and hold Fellowships at both the University of Central Lancashire and Myerscough College and am a scholar of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. In 2004, I was awarded the OBE and hold a chair at De Montfort University.
Who or what inspired you to take up your career?
As the son of a smallholder farmer in Yorkshire, I initially thought my life would be just that and indeed my first degree was just that, agriculture. Towards the end of my final year, my then director of studies, whose speciality was agricultural economics, steered me to a role in farm consultancy but insisted that I keep my horizons wide. What followed on from that first role was a period of research developing computer models for farm management and then to education which occupied most of my career from then on.
Which individuals have inspired you or helped you develop professionally?
Undoubtedly the main inspiration for me in how I live my life, and in striving to achieve, was my mother. Tragically she died in an accident when I was just 14 but she had such energy and great hopes. There is not a day passes when I do not think of her. Because of her, I try not to waste a moment of time and always seek out the positive in life.
Professionally a key initial influence was my first boss when I entered the world of farm consultancy. He taught me so much and, above all, gave me confidence and the belief that with hard work and dedication, nothing is impossible with the ambition and will. However there are far too many others who have helped along the way and to whom I will always be grateful.
What three pieces of machinery or innovations have in your opinion helped drive our industry forward or helped make your job easier?
This is not an easy question to answer and thus I may pass on specifics. However undoubtedly the key innovation which has impacted upon all our lives is IT. In the late 70s when I was developing and writing programmes for use in farm management, I wrote a book and the last chapter set out what I saw as future developments. At the time many saw these as fanciful but today they look like history. The speed at which we can collect and analyse data and seek out information has transformed the way business decisions are made.
What concerns do you have for the future of our industry?
My main interests currently are in the amenity horticulture sector. We can be enormously proud of how our amenity spaces in all their diversity are managed. I often say that what happens in amenity management impacts upon every UK citizen every day seeking to create safe, healthy and sustainable spaces and surfaces fit for purpose. However, we do need, all of us, to be far prouder of what is done and to communicate this to the wider public.
Far too often what is done in amenity goes under the radar so to speak and, without public awareness and support, resources for what is done can be limited and misinformation on matters such as plant protection product use and the likes becomes distorted which can lead to bad decision making by those in authority.
We all need to engage, fully commit to best practice and professional standards. Subject to it being permissible with Covid restrictions, the Amenity Forum in summer 2021 plans a week of celebration of what happens in amenity management. To me the greatest concern is the lack of understanding of what is done and its importance. That is why the adoption of the Amenity Standard for our sector is so vital and must be adopted across all amenity as a requirement.
How do you think we can entice the next generation of industry professionals to come and work in this industry?
Attracting young people into horticultural careers has been for many years a challenge. Sadly, too often careers teachers and advisers and even parents put off young people. It is often portrayed as a low paying and uninspiring career. We need to change that, and this links back to being proud of what is done and increasing our public profile. I recently talked to a man who had entered the amenity sector late in his career. He was so enthusiastic and so surprised at the range of opportunity and the high level of skills needed. He wondered why he had not got involved earlier; nobody told him about the opportunity. Another young lad told me how he was keen to go into forestry, but everyone put him off. We need to get the positive message out to the next generation. We need to engage with our schools and tell the real story. The Forum has developed a specific website with such material; it just needs resource and investment to roll it out across the education sector – vital for all our futures.
How have recent events impacted on your job and how would you like to see the government support our industry?
You do not need me to tell you that these are strange and particularly challenging times. The impacts of the pandemic will be long term. Our hearts go out to those who are already suffering from personal loss and illness, the economic impact on their business, the loss of jobs and more. There is no quick fix. What the pandemic has though highlighted is the real importance and essential nature of amenity management and how much we depend on all who have helped keep our transport networks running, our parks safe and healthy, our urban spaces safe and more.
My way of working, like for many others, has radically altered, much more Zoom than car or train miles. The period since the first lockdown has been extremely busy seeking to keep the sector informed and speaking to government about the sector’s importance and needs. At this time there are many calls for government support and undoubtedly financial support for businesses and individuals has been vital. It creates many challenges ahead and I think my call to government is to fully recognise what is done in amenity and not over burden it with administrative requirements but give it opportunity to undertake its vital role in a professional and assured manner.