Ahead of the domestic cricket season, which kicked off on 10 April at Lord's Cricket Ground, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Hadlow College in Tonbridge gave twelve groundskeeping apprentices the chance to really hone their skills at an expert class in the subject. The class took place at Sutton Valence School in Maidstone on 2 April. The twelve learners were specially selected to take part in the class, from those who are currently training to be groundsmen and women of the future.
Groundsmen are responsible for maintaining the 53,000 playing fields across the UK, with a single cricket pitch taking up to ten hours spread over seven days to prepare for a one-day game. Additionally, there are 20,000 grounds professionals employed in this £580 million sector, which contributes significantly to the overall health and fitness of the nation. However, groundsmen remain the largely unsung heroes of cricket, with the exception of Eddie Seaward, Head Groundsman at Wimbledon, who was awarded an MBE earlier this year.
Jonathan Gillie, 23, a groundskeeping apprentice from Hadlow College, says: "I'm delighted I chose this profession. I have always been a big sports fan and love working outdoors. I really feel that if I keep my head down and work hard there are great opportunities for me in this career."
Jonathan, who works as a Senior Groundsman in Sittingbourne, continues: "Doing the Apprenticeship means I'm getting great hands-on training from my employer while being paid as well as support from Hadlow College."
The expert class will instruct the apprentices in the skills they need to prepare and maintain a cricket pitch, ensuring that pitches are well aerated and creating the best ground conditions for a cricket match. The session will help them move their skills up a gear, underlining the world class skills they will need in tomorrow's workplace.
The class is part of the LSC's From Competence to Excellence programme, which is running throughout England between now and the end of June 2008. Five thousand young people across the country and 1,000 tutors will participate in a broad range of expert classes ranging from learning how to apply Lime, Mortars, Plasters and Renders to Historic Buildings, Catering and Hairdressing to Dry Stonewalling and Solar Heating Systems. The classes will generate and accumulate training material for future use and many of the tutors involved will develop themselves to become super coaches - helping to extend the concept of excellence throughout their region.
The classes aim to inspire those taking part by demonstrating the quality of skills needed at a world class level and by injecting real excitement and dynamism into learning. With so many tutors involved, the expert classes will also enable best practice to be shared across the country and will contribute to a lasting skills legacy.
Stephen Gardner, Director of Apprenticeships at the LSC says: "With the 2012 Olympics fast approaching as well as a consistent rise in the amount of land being turned into sports fields every year, this is a very opportune time for young people to enter the groundskeeping profession. Grounds Managers can expect a salary of around £40,000, while top grounds staff can earn well in excess of that, so those who really apply themselves have a great future ahead of them. The LSC believes this programme will help apprentices to take their skills to world-class levels to move from being competent to excellent. The tuition and inspiration that apprentices get in this expert class will raise their own aspirations and increase their awareness of the need to excel and demonstrate the real value of an Apprenticeship."
Mike Dodd, Work Based Learning Manager at Hadlow College and former Head Groundsman, says: "The Apprenticeship provides a solid stepping stone for progression within the Groundsman's career structure, providing an introduction to everything from how to mow to how to grow. The apprentices also earn while they learn, spending the majority of their training on the job, building up their practical skills. We've found the apprentices' commitment to their training means they are more motivated and enthusiastic about their career and prepared to go the extra mile for their employers"
Last year over 110,000 apprentices achieved their apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are increasingly being used as a pathway to university, often part time and with financial support from their employer whilst they continue to work.
The From Competence to Excellence programme is a stepping stone for participants, helping them move their skills levels from good to great. With the UK WorldSkills event on the horizon, some of them may even become future entrants to the UK WorldSkills Event in London in October 2011.