A question that's been asked so much over the last couple of years and one , I think we would all agree that, as an industry, we need to approach school/college leavers and educate them on the career opportunities available.
With this in mind, Dave Saltman Managing Director of Maxwell Amenity Ltd, recently visited The Grove School in Market Drayton, Shropshire to speak with a group of ninety Year 11 students to provide an insight into, not only the life of a groundsperson or greenkeeper, but also the many other roles, including accounts, sales, warehouse, journalism, marketing, research and development etc.
Dave commented: "As an industry we really struggle to attract youngsters. Since 2010, Maxwell Amenity has employed twenty-three apprentices; some of whom now hold senior positions within the company and proven that there is a career path into the industry."
"It was a great honour to be asked to address the students at The Grove School and I'm sure it went some way to creating an excitement and interest in what can be achieved; the opportunity to work outdoors in a healthy environment, being physically fit, the ability to carry out interesting and varied daily tasks and a sense of great pride after you've completed a good days work. Within sports, the grass will continue to grow, and we need people to maintain those surfaces. With technology and products available, I believe the job is easier than it was twenty years ago - that's not to say it isn't difficult at times - but it's a vocation and you're getting paid to do something that you love."
During the day we went on to ask Dave a few key questions:
What's the best way to get into the industry?
I suppose there's a couple of routes. Firstly, knock on doors! It's one of the strongest ways to show a prospective employee that you're keen and motivated. Secondly, there are a lot of colleges that offer opportunities for work-based courses leading to an NVQ qualification or apprenticeship, and that's a great way to start.
How do you progress?
You've got to be willing to learn and be motivated. If you just go to work, do your job and not show any interest, you're not going to get very far. People that have reached the top have done it through sheer hard work, dedication and commitment and I have so much respect for them. No matter where you are in your career, there is a broad spectrum of training available; from one day courses, seminars and workshops etc. through to degrees in sports science. There will always be ways to further your education and continue to learn.
What qualities does a person need to become a groundperson/greenkeeper?
You've got to be self-motivated. Regardless of what the weather is doing, you have to drag yourself out of bed and get on with it. You've got to have a passion for turning a surface into something that performs well and looks exceptional. The people that shine are those people who have that pride and enjoy what they do. It's a hard profession, particularly the older you get, but it keeps you fit and healthy and I can't think of anything better than being able to work outdoors.
What advice would you give a sixteen-year-old coming into the industry?
I think it's difficult these days. Youngsters are so much more into technology and being indoors than they were in my day, and trying to get them to experience the outdoors is a challenge. Because of that, I think it's become infinitely harder for people at a young age to see our industry with any real interest; however, I would advise anyone to consider the above question and the qualities it takes to succeed.
How do we attract a new generation?
Again, it's so difficult. We can be here today presenting our industry to these youngsters and showing them the best surfaces around the country such as Wembley, Emirates, Wimbledon etc., but they don't really understand. It wasn't until I was out doing this work, that I really started to fall in love with it and I was intrigued enough to gain as much knowledge as I could about why what I was doing was improving the surface. I think we need to offer work experience to schools and encourage as many students as possible to attend a day at our venues and see what's involved.
We're often viewed as 'just grasscutters', how do we educate people otherwise?
The reason I started Pitchcare was to get our profession to a much wider audience, and I think we've worked hard as an industry to achieve that. Technology and science will continue to evolve, and we just need to keep banging the drum about how good our industry is. I think venues now have a better understanding that they have to invest in greens maintenance with better resources, higher budgets etc. because, at the end of the day, everyone wants quality surfaces. Social media is a massive help as it's touching a much bigger audience than it ever used to.