Having previously working as a Golf Course Superintendent in Auckland, New Zealand, and also as Head Greenkeeper on courses in the UK, Will Bowden has brought his passion and enthusiasm for the turfcare profession into his educational role.
In this article he reflects on the career choices he has made, what he believes the state of the industry is, how we can foster young talent and ensure the next generation of turf managers are as passionate and competent as their predecessors.
"I am now at the end of my first year here at Cannington and I have already experienced the immense satisfaction that comes with getting to know and developing relationships with students, and then seeing them go on to fulfil their potential both within academia and the wider industry.
There is no doubt that education is one of the most satisfying sectors of our industry. Having the opportunity to assist in the development and achievement of young turfcare professionals is very different, but equally as satisfying as maintaining and managing a golf course and its staff.
I came in to education from twelve years of working as a greenkeeper. I graduated from the old Cannington College in 1999 with a Foundation Degree in Golf Course Management. I progressed up the career ladder whilst bolstering my studies with educational scholarships to the US, and further developing my love of ecology and habitat management here at university in the UK.
After almost two years of living and working in New Zealand as a Superintendent I saw the opportunity to return to Cannington (now part of Bridgwater College) and take up a role I had always imagined I would end up in eventually.
I have always been excited and passionate about greenkeeper education and, having fond memories of my own years at college and how my tutors shaped and forged my future within the industry, the opportunity to try and do the same for a new generation of turfcare students was too good to miss.
I fear that the industry is in somewhat of a decline at present. Being at the 'coal face' of education, in my experience, we are all struggling to encourage the once large numbers of enthusiastic and able students genuinely hungry for a career in sportsturf. Whilst elements of work based learning are thriving (under the new government initiatives of Train to Gain and the apprenticeship scheme) formal and higher education is a harder sector to manage.
I believe the problems we face as an industry are largely threefold:
• Empathy amongst career advisors and schools regarding the options available in the landbased sector
• Government initiatives that encourage schools to retain potential vocational students for longer
• The ongoing perception that our profession requires individuals to work long and unsociable hours and for minimal wages
Personally, I believe we, as an industry, need to do more to raise the profile of what we do. Although I hate to use the term, we somehow do need to 'sex up' sportsturf and ensure we are appealing, as a profession and as an industry, to those youngsters who would love to make a living from a career involved with sport.
In this past year I have run initiatives actively inviting young golfers in to the campus and on to our golf course and facilities.
Despite these efforts we are often disappointed with the lack of interaction and communication across many of the bodies and organisations that directly, and indirectly, complement sportsturf careers.
For example, golf club secretaries, junior organisers, educational officers and school career advisors, local clubs, unions and sports facilities have all been lacking in the uptake of our proposals and initiatives. Perhaps most worrying, from an educational perspective, is the determination of schools to retain students as long as possible (linked to government funding) and, in so doing, potentially halt a pupil's progression in to the vocational qualifications of their choice.
I am amazed and shocked by the apathy that exists today in schools right across the country when it comes to giving advice on land based industries.
Although our profession has come a long way in recent years, schools continue to portray land based industries as areas for low achievers and for "those that can't really do anything else".
Ironically enough, it was a golf professional many years ago who pointed me in the direction of a career in greenkeeping at a time when all I aspired to be was a 'Tour Pro'!
We need to get out there more and start championing the heroes of our industry and holding these people up as shining examples of what can be achieved with a commitment to what is, potentially, the most rewarding of careers.
So, what is the solution?
At Bridgwater, a significant part of my role is the marketing and recruitment of students. As a sportsturf department we are constantly focused on ways of innovating and developing our courses at the college to ensure we work closely with industry and support what 'you' want from a graduating student. We have a dedicated team that includes our greenkeeper at the college and also a full time work based assessor who has an HND and vast experience of managing top class golf resorts.
We are also looking to develop short courses and hold lecture/seminar events. It is my vision to develop a 'centre of excellence' within education at the Cannington Centre along with a range of opportunities that will continue to appeal to those within, and outside, of our industry.
Most recently I held a taster event for local schools and we managed to attract a number of young kids interested in a career in sportsturf. We will continue to thump home the theme that a love of sport can be the perfect way in to a career of caring for some of our major sporting venues.
I believe we have a fantastic industry to sell to young people and all we need to keep doing is getting our message out there and competing alongside other professions.
We continue to develop initiatives within our local golf and sports clubs, inviting youngsters in to the college to look at what we offer as an industry. We work closely with industry bodies and supporting organisations to develop relevant curriculums and modes of studies that you, as employees, require.
Above all else, I believe it is imperative for our profile to be raised and we must move away from preaching to the converted. Those of us with a passion and understanding of our industry know how fantastic it is, we know how much more professional we are and we know of the endless opportunities and amazing experiences that are out there.
In order to turn the current trend of an ageing profession around we have to be proactive and continue to develop relationships with high profile people and organisations. One thing I have been amazed by is the support within the industry for education.
But what we need to do is come out of the comfort zone and step in to the schools, colleges and sports clubs and present this exciting and dynamic face of our industry to those who just don't have a clue ... and you would be amazed how many there are out there!