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Grounds Management Association – A New Chapter

by TurfCareBlog

In this latest turfcareblog.com blog, we asked Geoff Webb, of the Institute of Groundsmanship, some questions in reference to the IOG’s led industry wide survey which was recently been released called, Sports in Vital Profession

Geoff Webb

Geoff, briefly can you give us an idea why the survey was commissioned?

In 2009 the IOG presented the results of its industry wide research entitled  ‘Groundsmanship the hidden profession,the findings enabled us to significantly raise the status and profile of the sector, the results highlighted the economic impact of our sector and looked at the attitudes towards our profession. We looked across sports and at the volunteer and paid professional sector, the results informed our own strategic plans and actions.

A decade on we are now able to compare the industry as it is today after the results of our latest independent research entitled ‘Groundsmanship Sports vital profession’ the findings now helping to shape our future thinking. There has been progress but there is also challenges to tackle. The report in full is available to download from the IOG website www.iog.org 

Given the findings of the reports that 40% of the industry workforce is over 40 years old, what is the plan of action from the IOG and what can we do as Groundsmen?

We are working on a national framework for natural turf, using what we call ‘The Pitch Grading Framework.We are developing a step by step pyramid approach to enable greater clarity and understanding of the skillsets recommended at every level of the pyramid, linked directly to the technical requirements and complexity / standard of facilities / pitches. 

We are also investing in a communications plan to raise the profile of the profession and as well present the profession in such a way to widen the appeal of jobs and roles in the sector. The research has helped to point to areas we can seek to improve, as well as evidence good examples and practices. 

What can groundstaff do? Well we need to be able to show the positives of a career in Sportsturf, of course given the unprecedented weather we have all experienced through this winter, you might say ‘easier said than done.However the profession has always had to adapt to survive and at least by identifying there is a problem through independent research and analysis we can start to address and tackle the root of the issue.

We have an ageing workforce, but actually for many retired people working outdoors on sports pitches is a way of integrating into local community life, and very rewarding, it can also help with issues such as loneliness and mental health by keeping active etc.

likewise we need to engage at a much earlier level with the school age population. We have had great success with the Young IOG led Schools into Stadiums Programme targeting GSCE level pupils and linking the science of Groundsmanship with the science curriculum.

To date we have run these successfully with Premier League Stadiums and the groundstaff teams in them, attracting circa 40 children (boys and girls) and creating opportunity and interests.Many have ended up volunteering and have had match day experience courtesy of those clubs that have engaged. This is just one example, in 2007 we set up the YIOG Board and many practising ground staff have benefited from association with this group. Of course we have to look as well at the career offering, pay, conditions, opportunity to progress are all part of the mix. 

We need to provide greater signposting and understanding of skills required and create opportunities to project our industry and what it offers at careers advisors as an example of further efforts in this area the IOG attended ‘world skills event’ and were inundated with young pupils and careers advisors, who had not previously considered a career in Sportsturf as an option.

More formally we need to work with the network of agricultural and land based colleges, to improve the identity and throughput of those seeking courses in sports turf management. We have to create the conditions to improve volume, so that the courses run are viable for the colleges.Also we have to continually monitor content to move the next generation away from the tag of the accidental manager to confident well rounded mangers of the future.These will be people who can not only demonstrate the fundamental technical skills, but have the all-round confidence and communication skills to deal with the key people at any level in an organisation.

And we need to continue to promote and create positive role models, mentors and advocates who will help persuade those thinking about a career to take it up

What is the IOG, doing to support in specifially in terms of grass root groundsman?

Not sure what the difference is between ‘a real grass roots Groundsman’ and a ‘grass roots groundsman, but we are working and have been doing so with the various sports bodies.We and are now making significant inroads into how the sports bodies themselves invest in programmes to help support volunteers managing grass roots surfaces also how to educate and build understanding on the processes and delivery of both summer and winter sport at a grass roots level.

Our main involvement has been the ‘Grounds & Natural Turf Improvement Programme’ now in its third phase we have worked primarily with football and cricket with support from Sport England. In football the GaNTIP team have visited over 6000 sites and where they have significant improvement in understanding and quality of surface has been clear and evident. We have as well recorded all data arising from the programme, helping to shape and refine the future direction and advice provided.

Given the shortfall of people coming into the industry, do you think we as an industry need to tap into encouraging more woman and apprentices to consider our industry as a career choice, and if so is the IOG proactive in these areas?

Our research showed less than 1% of the identified workforce in England and Wales are actively working on sites ,alongside this less than 2% were from BAME background. So the honest answer is we are not a diverse sector. We also looked at 23 companies operating in the sports turf sector and we found in this example circa 10% of those employed were female. So we have identified the issue, we also were the first to launch ‘women in turf’ forum at SALTEX three years ago, but this area needs concentrated effort .We will take time to address this as in part we need attitudes to shift / change and outlooks and awareness to increase and encourage a more diverse workforce. This is included within our own internal future business planning. 

spurs football pitch

Do you think at any point the IOG, could have a change of name as obviously the groundsmen part is not very inclusive as a title, even if the industry is?

The answer is yes and all will be revealed on March the 5th. We will be promoting a change of name and have targeted the date of April 2ND to hold an EGM to enable this name change to be agreed and supported by the IOG members eligible to vote. So we would ask all those who can to vote positively. 

Do you think anything can be done to raise the profile of Groundsman, in my very simplistic thinking l think we need more ambassadors at the top level and also grassroots level?

We have commissioned an agency and have already started this process, our Board has agreed to invest a six figure sum across the next three years, and we are busy as we speak building up a body of people from across the industry to act as ambassadors and advocates.In fact we are also providing free media training to this group to help them develop their skill set in this area, which should help them individually and in their ongoing career. At grass roots level through the GaNTIP programme we have now got circa 450 case studies evidencing good practice and improvement in surfaces. We also continue to engage a myriad of sports bodies pressing the case for our sector and creating the platform for investment and better provision and prioritisation of natural turf.

Geoff, Sussex Cricket have managed to buck the trend and have managed to bring through 15 apprentices through in the last 13 years, of whom 90% are still within the industry, can we learn from Sussex Crickets example?

Of course, this is exactly the sort of example that should be used and evidenced so others can learn from it. Too many though still view the funding of an apprentice as an opportunity to simply save costs rather than looking at the long term benefits of investing in people. 

Slightly off topic, but as a Sussex Football Association pitch support advisor l see the major gap in grant support given to football clubs, in relation to cricket clubs is there a way this can be balanced out in future, via more central funding?

Interesting question and really as described above this will depend significantly on the current outlook and priorities each sport currently has. We find working across 17 different Sports N.G.B.s a real difference in outlook, prioritisation and investment. From our perspective it’s simple they should invest more and need to over the long term. One of the issues is that the four year funding cycle is linked to participation and each sport bids within this cycle for the next pot of funding provided via Sport England. Often the sports bodies undergo restructures and this can hold back progress.

Football is the most powerful both in terms of income and influence and the Football Foundation has had a massive impact on investment since it launched in 2000. But you can’t ignore the fact that TV contracts have been the route for such major investment.Cricket will soon benefit from the new deal with Sky Sport so let’s hope that this improvement in potential financial support filters through to surfaces and supporting those working on sports turf within cricket

Do you think training can ever become more affordable or possible funded freely, for those who work voluntarily in our industry?

I would say watch this space, we are in encouraging discussions on this at present. To be free though you still have to consider the economics of delivery, and in the end someone has to fund the set up and establishment of courses, or provide the online resource etc. Can deals be done, yes of course, but we also need the industry and individuals within it to value the benefit of training and education rather than possibly live in fear of taking steps to improve working knowledge. So we need to build as well the confidence in the individual. 

Our sports turf colleges / agricultural colleges also need investment, austerity, budget cuts and lack of understanding by successive Governments have not helped create the necessary numbers or momentum to turn attendances around within the college network. We need to signpost better the career options and work wherever we can to influence this investment. Certainly this will feature as part of our strategic objectives in the coming years.

What are the short, medium-and long-term plans of the IOG in terms of the report on Sports vital Profession?

Well we are already into planning mode, in fact we never stop. We are finalising our business plan, we have the foundations in place already.We have as described above a lot of active work streams and we are building momentum and resources to tackle head on the challenges exposed in the recent research document. We are lucky in that we have a pro-active Board, led by an independent chair, and we are willing to invest in order to move forward. We are in a transition period but we are definitely looking to build a team capable of dealing with all the issues we face now and in the future. What I can assure everyone is we won’t rest on our laurels or be complacent, last year we held probably our most successful SALTEX and awards but for us it’s just like preparing for that next match, you are only ever as good as what’s in front of you, the rest is just history.

What can we do as individuals to encourage more people into our industry and are we right to be concerned with the future of our industry in the light of this report?

In a nutshell yes, we are going to look at workforce development and of course look at all angles and options to increase awareness and understanding of our industry, but we can’t do it alone. There is a ticking time bomb as we have an ageing workforce and we will only see over the coming years a shortage of skilled recruits if we do not address directly this challenge.

 We do need buy in, support and we need to accentuate the positive, I think we all know that it’s easy to focus on what’s wrong.We know it’s sometimes tough and this winter has had a tremendous impact on morale and on wellbeing of many working against all the odds, but at the end of the day we are a vital profession truly making sport possible. If you are not a member maybe think about joining, ask where you can help and think about where you can contribute. Remember volunteering can last a minute or a lifetime it’s up to you

Thanks Geoff for giving up your valuable time in answering the above questions,like us all we all want the best for the future of the industry and we are encouraged by your answers.

Big Thanks from myself and all at turfcareblog for reading.

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