It's all about standards, but what standards?
During very difficult times for many businesses, those of us old enough to remember previous recessions will point to staff training being the one investment that those businesses who came out of the recession quickest and most successful stood by, and I believe this applies still today.
Regular readers will know how I always relate to high street shops and how it is apparent, on entry into the shop, when training has happened, and also where there has been little or no staff training. Or, even worse, if staff training has happened but hasn't been monitored by supervisors and management.
I work for the Greenkeepers Training Committee (GTC) which has, as its main remit, to ensure that the golf club employers and greenkeepers have quality standards available to them through a range of education and training courses, which can be endorsed through formal qualifications.
How can we all continue to ensure quality provision is available to the sports turf sector?
I apologise for having to use some jargon to explain how we have to operate within "the system" if only to ensure, wherever possible, employers and workers within the sports sector can access funding support.
I believe it all starts by the sector agreeing the National Occupational Standards, commonly known within education as the NOS.
In simple terms, these are the skills and knowledge the sector believes are required, and these should be agreed by employers.
I will relate how the GTC maintains the NOS for the greenkeeping sector, but this structure is mirrored through many industries.
In association with a Sector Skills Council, in the land base sector Lantra SSC, the National Occupational Standards are agreed, with input from employer and employee organisations from the various sectors.
The NOS have become increasingly important as all formal qualifications have to relate to it.
The main use of the NOS is to develop a range of formal qualifications which suit the industry's requirements and, for many years now, the sports turf sector has ensured both vocational and the academic college or university qualifications are available.
The increasingly popular work based qualifications have, without doubt, been the foundation on which the skilled workers we now have at the majority of sports stadiums and golf courses have progressed. However, I believe we must ensure the sometimes maligned higher education qualifications, such as the Foundation Degree and the HND, remain available to students and employers.
The sports turf sector has vocational qualifications currently available from craft to management and, whilst in Scotland they are retaining Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs), in England, Wales and Northern Ireland NVQs have been replaced by Work Based Diplomas (WBDs).
The GTC has an agreement with City & Guilds NPTC that, as from September, all certificates for the Levels 2 and 3 Work Based Diplomas will carry the GTC Quality Assured logo, and discussions are ongoing to have the logo on SVQ certificates, also from September.
The SVQs and Diplomas have all been developed from the NOS, following discussions between the industry and Awarding Bodies.
The same applies to the more college based qualifications. Without reference to the NOS and industry input, accreditation will not be given.
Moving on, having developed NOS and various qualifications, who will deliver these, and how?
Traditionally, it has been land based colleges, many of which are still offering a tremendous service to our sector. But, what has changed, is the increasing number of private providers and the delivery of the courses, especially as modern technology has opened up so many options to learners.
Employers and learners have so much choice and, even during the recession, many colleges and private providers have reported excellent numbers of learners on the various sports turf courses.
Online learning is becoming increasingly popular, as is the eportfolio method of gathering evidence at the workplace - so much progress, and something to suit everybody.
If we have a range of qualifications offered by an increasing number of centres, how do we ensure the quality of provision?
As with the agreement with the Awarding Bodies, the GTC is now looking to recommend a network of Approved Centres who offer the formal qualifications, and also private training companies and individuals who meet a criteria based on quality provision.
Employers and learners will need to look out for the GTC's Quality Assurance logo, which includes the supporters of the GTC.
The network of Quality Assured Centres and Training Providers will be offering a range of qualifications and short courses, all linked to the National Occupational Standards.
Short courses, workshops and seminars have always been popular in the sector, and providers like Pitchcare, BIGGA and the IOG will, I am sure, continue to complement the formal qualifications with its provision.
One additional piece of news is that, through the development of the Quality Assurance Scheme, the GTC provides a Groundsman's Training Manual, which will be available to all NPTC Centres offering the Level 2 Diploma for Groundsmen. This has been produced by the GTC, not only with representatives from the Home Unions and BIGGA, and also the Institute of Groundsmanship, who are in total support of the new Work Based Diplomas.
The GTC's highly acclaimed Training Manual, and the Groundsman's version, will be available free in electronic versions to all centres as part of the agreement with the Awarding Bodies, but hard copies will be available exclusively from the GTC.
The Learning Materials for both Sports Turf Levels 2 and 3 will also be provided to centres in electronic format, and this is all designed to drive up consistency of standards and attract more employers and learners into training, as well as showing the sector has a career path and structure designed by the industry for the industry!
The sports turf sector has a government approved Apprenticeship Scheme, which includes the SVQs in Scotland, and Work Based Diplomas for the rest of the UK, within the Frameworks. At the time of writing, early indications from the new Government is that more apprenticeship places and incentives to employers will be made available.
I trust we can continue to drive up the standard of sports turf education and training which, in turn, will improve the standard of sports surfaces and, undoubtedly, improve the business!
For all the latest information on sports turf education, training and qualifications contact the GTC on 01347 838640 or email David on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.the-gtc.co.uk.