Some thoughts on greenkeeper and groundsmen training

Andrew Wrightin Training & Education

Oaklands AndrewWright"Training should not be considered just as college or training provider courses, but all aspects of trading should be considered, such as seminars, trade shows and in-house training"

Coming from a person in charge of workbased learning at a college, you would expect me to argue that training is a necessity,and you would be right, I do. However, I would also argue that it should not be done as a right, e.g. "we always put our staff through level 2 and then 3 if they stay with us long enough".

Training for all?

Training should be an aspiration of every member of an organisations team. However, it should not be a one size fits all approach. Training plans should be created by appraisal systems, and identification of the skills needed by the team and the individual, for example, it should identify gaps in skills sets of the team and how these will be addressed.

Apart for general greenkeeping knowledge, a greens department team might be seen as requiring specialised skills and knowledge in the following areas:
- irrigation
- drainage
- spraying/weed, pest and disease identification etc.
- budget/supervisory/coaching
- first aid, health and safety legislation, ability to carry out risk assessment etc.

Training should not be considered just as college or training provider courses, but all aspects of training should be considered, such as seminars, trade shows and in-house training. In-house training is often overlooked as a method of staff development, yet is the cheapest and often the most effective of all.

Training cycle model

When considering training it might be a good idea to remember the training model used by educationalists.

The cycle has five stages:

1. Identifying training needs
This involves looking at an individual or team, and identifying where there are skills or knowledge missing which should be there. This might done as part of an appraisal scheme, or as part of a succession planning stage, i.e. to ensure that, if key staff leave, their skills are not lost from the team.

2. Preparation
This will mostly the responsibility of the trainer, i.e. prepare for the delivery of the training by producing learning materials etc. However, the person to be trained may also need to prepare, e.g.doing some research on the subject so when they arrive to be trained the information is more readily absorbed and understood.

3. Delivery of the training
The employer should ask how will it be delivered, and will that be suitable for me and my staff.

4. Applying the training
Once the training has taken place, the news skill or knowledge must be used so it is absorbed .A classic example of this is the employer who sends someone to do PA1 and 2 then does not ask that person to spray for six months, by which time they have forgotten most of what they learned.

5. Evaluating the training
Once the training is done, the employer should talk to the person who took the training to see how effective and well organised it was, as the skills and knowledge gained should be tested to see if training has been effective.

How do you persuade those who fund the training cost to agree to pay?

Getting people to spend money is never easy, especially when the benefits are not going to be automatically visible. However, it's always a smart idea to have a good case:

1. The "No Brainer" scenario
This is where the reason is so clear that no one would turn it down, for example, "it's free this year but may not be next year". At present training for 16 to 18 year olds is free, but limited to apprenticeships. 19 plus can be free depending on qualifications held e.g. a 25 year old with no full level two qualification would be funded for their course by the government, also 19 to 25 year old without a full level three would be funded for their first level three even if they have already had a level two qualification*. (*Current situation subject to change by HM Government).

2. The "threat" scenario
If the above (it's free) reason fails, you can always use the "if we don't approach" this involves stating what might happen if a key member of staff were to leave and that skills gap became vacant.

3. The "money saving" scenario
The argument here would be it's an investment to help keep staff and means we won't have to pay contractors in future. It costs a lot of time and money to replace staff (interviews, adverts etc.), so keeping good staff happy and motivated can be a smart move. Also, some training can actually save money, e.g. getting someone trained in health and safety might save a lot of money buying in consultants to do risk assessments etc. each year.

4. The "Conditional" scenario
This is where we put conditions on the training e.g. has a claw back contract if they leave after the training. This will help show that the money will not be wasted and is in fact an investment by both sides.

Making the need for training clear

A good way of doing this is to have self development plans for all staff based on their job role. These can be submitted to management as a training plan for the team. Management can then see your reasons for the training being proposed, and what impact it will have if the training takes place or does not take place. If we look at the training plan below you can see how this might work.
Keeping staff after training

Employers often state that, "once we've trained them our staff leave us". This, indeed, is a risk, but we can look at that later. These employers are more than happy, at the same time, to poach a replacement member of staff from a nearby club (who has been trained at that club's expense), therefore, what goes around comes around. The end statement is the industry benefits as a whole from training and would be much the poorer if it were to reduce. Ask yourself why British greenkeepers are in demand around the world.

The employer should really be looking at why staff leave when they finish their training. It could just be they have wanted to go for a long time, but just needed the right ticket. Let's face facts, if someone offers you a better job with better prospects, you would most likely take it, so why do you find it hard to understand it when your staff do the same? The issue is, what should you be doing to keep them after training?

Amongst the top three main reasons why staff leave are:

1. Financial
This is the hardest to deal with if budgets are tight - is there a possibility of benefits in kind, such as free meals, club membership etc. that might be provided?

2. Job satisfaction
Over the years, I have seen many greenkeepers complete level 3 and yet still not be given much responsibility or further training and development afterwards. They, therefore, get bored of the work they are doing and begin to seek out a new challenge by applying for a job elsewhere. By varying their work, and providing opportunities to build new skills, a good employer can give staff greater job satisfaction and enjoyment, so they feel less of a need to seek out pastures new.

3. Increased self value
Internal promotion can be a big morale booster. Sometimes, a small pay increase with a new job title can do much to re-motivate a member of staff. It gives a sense of worth, looks good on their CV etc. The classic example of this is the way local authorities, some ten years ago, started to change the titles of workers' job roles, for example "street cleaners" became "loca lenvironmental hygiene operatives". Needless to say, when asked to write out or discuss their profession many prefer theirnew title.

Claw back options

Many employers try to avoid losing staff after training by agreeing partnership option. This is a contract with the staff that states, if they leave within a certain time period, they will have the cost of training taken from their final salary payment, and this is normally done on a sliding scale:

- if they leave within six months, they pay it all back
- if they leave within one year, 50% is paid back
- if they leave within eighteen months, 25% is paid back
- if they leave after two years, nothing is paid back

In effect, this can be a very fair method to employ as it sets out a commitment to the individual based on a mutual understanding that the money is both for their benefit as well as the organisations. However, staff will go once the payback period is over if job satisfaction issues are still a problem.

A Final word

Training costs in time and money but is essential to the lifeblood of any organisation. As Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once said "It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained."

Oaklands College is a GTC Approved Provider for Greenkeeper Education.
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