At the end of November, I was invited by a local Secondary school to address their year 11 students (school leavers in the summer of 2020). The ninety or so that attended in three groups listened to me talk about our industry as a whole, the benefits of an outdoor recreational vocation and the opportunities available to them through apprenticeships.
I talked around a PowerPoint presentation and just used a lot of pictures rather than regurgitate text on a screen. Given the last thirty years, I have a huge photo collection of work at numerous stadiums and amenity venues, so I thought there would be plenty there to excite a few of them, particularly those with an interest in top flight sport.
How wrong I was! Whilst I live with the hope that I may have planted a few seeds - in one or two of them at least - that they may revisit the thought of working in a world of sport, the majority seemed totally disengaged with the notion of a future career working outside.
And here lies the problem that our industry faces in recruiting new blood. These kids, this generation, can work their way around an iPad, phone or Xbox no problem but, for most, the halcyon days that we enjoyed playing football 'up the park', or making cycle tracks and dens in the woods are no longer on any weekend agendas. In short, being outside isn't as much fun as being in the warm in front of a TV or computer screen.
It would also be fair to say that the wage scales in our industry aren't nearly as enticing as those in many other industries; and I'm not sure how this can or will ever be addressed.
As a business, we have taken on twenty-three apprentices since 2010. Twenty-one of them completed their courses and time with us, and twelve of them remain within the company.
However, since we have a fair number of departments, all of them, bar one, have taken on roles in accounts, logistics, marketing and sales. The only one that came through this avenue in a groundsmanship capacity failed to complete his course satisfactorily.
For the last few years, my local schools (presumably this runs nationally as well) have operated 'Forest Schools' within the curriculum, which encourages primary age children to get out and discover nature on a weekly basis. It may be that this next generation will be more inclined to seek outdoor work but, in the meantime, we will have to work very hard to recruit good young talent.
People with the motivation to work in all weathers, producing quality natural grass surfaces for sport and amenity, continue to prove elusive.
I wish you all the very best for 2020.