"As a young worker myself, I feel able to address, and discuss, the issues and problems that I, amongst many others, faced daily"
Crikey, how's this happened! Here I am, nineteen years old, writing an article in Pitchcare. I've read this magazine for a while now, but I didn't imagine this happening.
My name is Josh Bowman, and I am an Assistant Groundsman at King William's College in the Isle of Man. I have worked here at the college for three years, starting at the age of sixteen. Previous to this, I worked at Rowany Golf Club as a greenkeeper, during my school holidays.
Anyway, we received a phone call from Pitchcare's editor, Laurence Gale, to see if we would like to write another article for the magazine, so, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to commandeer the pen from my boss, Mike Atherton, as he has been known to get carried away when writing in the past!
A topic that I would like to discuss is a personal and important one to me, and also an important one to our industry - Young Workers.
It is common knowledge that there is a low uptake of young workers that enter, and stay in our industry. As a young worker myself, I feel able to address, and discuss, the issues and problems that I, amongst many others I'm sure, face daily.
Firstly, what does 'The Industry' do to attract and sell itself to young people? Very few school leavers are aware of the numerous different careers available in turfcare. Colleges push apprenticeships in joinery, bricklaying and plumbing, the armed forces visit schools to recruit and attract sixteen year olds, but I feel that the majority of school leavers who have entered the turfcare industry have done so either by having no other available option, have a family member already involved in the industry, are from an agricultural background or are, perhaps, keen sportsmen. To reinforce this point, ask any school leaver what they plan to do after their exams and there will be very few who answer greenkeeper or groundsman.
For those who do find the industry, they are faced with the issues of low pay, which is more often than not perilously close to the minimum wage, are often given unchallenging tasks that offer little or no job satisfaction, and can feel distant from the team, i.e. not included and undervalued.
Coming into the industry, a sixteen year old school leaver earns approximately £10-11k - the same sixteen year old could work in a bank or office and earn half as much again, or even double what he/she would make as a greenkeeper.
The progression from apprentice is to assistant greenkeeper - they are typically paid somewhere between £14-18k. This is a position only available once qualified and experienced. Meanwhile, another school leaver starting work in a bank still earns more and newly qualified tradesmen can be earning upwards of £20k. How is this? The trend continues right through to the top level. Having researched the pay scales from entry to top level, I feel there is little financial incentive for staff to remain in the industry for the duration of their career.
To follow on from this, another problem young workers can be faced with is a feeling of non-involvement. In my career so far, I have been in positions where I've felt excluded from the groundscare team, but also have felt a valued, recognised member.
Being included as an integral part of the team, or even feeling like one, relies heavily on the management method. It's not uncommon to hear of young school leavers who've come into this industry spending endless hours with a rake in their hands, or operating a brushcutter, only to become disheartened by this, ultimately resulting in them leaving an industry which they don't realise has so much more to offer. Yes, these tasks will always have to be done, but I feel that it is vital young members of staff have something to challenge them and keep them motivated.
As with the low pay mentioned above, combined with the feeling of non-involvement, I feel this makes it extremely hard for staff to work efficiently and remain committed.
In my opinion, these are the two main reasons that the small number of people, who are lucky enough to find this interesting industry when they leave school, either leave through frustration or don't achieve their maximum potential.
I believe that, to keep young members of staff interested, motivated and also to achieve the best work they have to offer, managers and bosses must:
- Set regular new challenging targets
- Reward and acknowledge staff for completing new tasks, showing initiative and progressing
- Give responsibility and chances to work alone, take ownership of tasks and work using initiative
The more chances young members of staff are given, the more they should strive to excel, in order to secure trust and further responsibility.
To reinforce my points, recent changes in the staffing structure here at King William's College have resulted in a lot of responsibility being placed upon me. The drastic changes mean that I am now not only required to complete new and challenging jobs unsupervised, but also interact with suppliers, contractors and other groundsmen on the island. I have relished this chance and put great pride into each task I was required to complete, and now feel I have a much better understanding of all aspects of my job, whether it be something simple like using a brushcutter, or something more complicated like calibrating our sprayer.
To summarise the issues I have covered, firstly, I feel that industry representatives should do much more to attract young people into the industry. Teaming up with colleges, training providers and manufacturers to attend careers conventions and visit schools, promoting the industry to young people currently unaware of the numerous different avenues available within this profession. Secondly, in order to retain young workers and allow them to develop, I feel that the pay scales, following qualification, should be addressed. If the industry does start promoting itself to school leavers and young people, I feel its imperative that time is invested in each one of them to allow them to progress and develop. This is up to the groundscare team as a whole, the approachability of other staff is very important. Superiors who are easy to talk with, and ones who are willing to demonstrate techniques and answer questions, help young workers feel comfortable and included.
There are numerous qualifications available, ranging from short courses to diplomas and foundation degrees, also opportunities such as internships and work placements. Once in the industry, a young worker with the support of his employer has so many possibilities to be successful in this profession.
If the industry can raise awareness and attract young people, it is imperative that all employers take full advantage of the opportunities available to support them. If we can reach this achievable goal, I feel the industry will continue to grow and the future will be secure.