Training and Education - Back to Basics
Sports turf lecturers at Myerscough College have been ‘back out to the field’ to update themselves on industry best practice, learn about new techniques and sharpen their skills to ensure they can deliver exactly what practising groundsmen expect!
Nick Atkinson, Kevin McAdams and Tony Bailey, all work-based assessors in sports turf, have taken part in the Business Interchange programme which supports teachers, tutors and trainers in updating their vocational expertise through work placements. Their return to ‘the field’ also provided an opportunity to build links with local employers and see what employers are looking for in their current and future employees – thus helping to ensure they deliver students of the right standard.
Nick mucks in at Oldham Council
Nick Atkinson, a work-based assessor for NVQ qualifications in landscape and horticulture, was formerly a team
leader within the local authority sector. “After leaving school I started an apprenticeship with Blackpool parks department and completed a City & Guilds certificate in landscaping and horticulture,” he recalls. He subsequently accepted a position with Oldham Borough Council where he quickly rose through the ranks to become Head Gardener at Alexander Park.
“I worked hard and eventually got the position I was aiming for but after a few years I started to think about new challenges. I had gained an NVQ Level 3 in Amenity & Horticulture plus other qualifications along the way so that, combined with my years of practical experience, meant I was well placed for a career in further education.” Nick was offered the position of work-based assessor for his old college. “I really enjoy the variety and I have had the opportunity to complete a teaching qualification, too.”
Nick jumped at the opportunity of an industry placement, and he undertook a 10-day stint with Oldham Council’s Horticultural Services department. He knew that would not only be an opportunity to experience an up-to-date working environment, but that he would also be able to renew the links he had with the organisation – links which would ultimately prove useful to his students.
“I provided support to the Grounds Maintenance department, shadowing the manager Glen Dale. The work involved liaising with other departments to promote the council’s image and services with tasks including lawn and border maintenance in preparation for Green Flag judging, as well as the planting of displays. I really enjoyed mucking in,” he recalls.
Nick found that the biggest benefit of going back into the workplace was that he gained confidence in his own knowledge of the horticultural industry,
“Since the machinery and the chemicals being used are always changing, it is essential that we in education keep abreast of new developments so we can deliver to employers well-equipped students.
“In addition, the relationship I gained at Oldham Council fosters more trust in the assessor and better engagement with the employer, which helps to get the most out of the students.”
Kevin keeps his practical skills on par
Before working as a sports turf assessor, Kevin McAdams spent over 17 years as a greenkeeper, including 12½ years as Head Greenkeeper at the Belfry golf course, Sutton Coldfield.
During his tenure at the Belfry, Kevin gained first-hand experience in tournament preparation at a senior level including the 1989 and 2002 Ryder Cups, Benson & Hedges European tournament 2000-2003 and the English Open in 1989 and 1990.
“Part of my role at the Belfry was to carry out departmental inductions and staff training,” explains Kevin, who was already a qualified assessor and group trainer. “I really enjoyed the training aspect of my role, and having such positive contact with the further education sector through our work-based trainees, I decided to become a full-time assessor.
In 2005, Kevin began working at Myerscough College as a sports turf assessor in the Midlands area and for international students in Denmark. He works with a range of students aged 16 - 60. The students are often apprentices, or advanced apprentices, training to gain Level 2 or qualifications.
Despite being a keen outdoors person, over the past few years Kevin had found that he was increasingly at his desk and working less and less in the field. The placement, which was for 16 days at the Belfry, offered a chance to get back to basics with the practical jobs that his students do on a regular basis.
“Although most of the machinery used for greens management at the Belfry hadn’t changed, I did find it very valuable being back in the field to ‘brush up on old skills’ and to pick up on new greenkeeping practices,” he recalls. “It was good to be working alongside the students, mucking in on the basic tasks that they undertake daily. I think my former colleagues enjoyed seeing me raking bunkers and other tasks which, as a Head Greenkeeper, I didn’t do in the past!”
Tony gets hands on at the Royal Birkdale
When Tony Bailey left school to go on a greenkeeping Youth Training Scheme, little did he know that it would start a life-long career in sports turf management that would see him end up teaching at the very college where he initially took his NVQ.
Early on in his career Tony studied towards an NVQ with Myerscough. He progressed to become Head Greenkeeper at Grange Park Golf Club, St. Helens, where he regularly took on Myerscough students for work placements and discovered, from a college assessor visiting his course, that education was something he could easily move into.
“All I needed was to take my Assessor Award and I started working with Myerscough monitoring students out on work placements. I really enjoy the work as it’s flexible and varied,” he says.
Tony spent 10 days on a placement at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club and worked alongside staff in the preparation of the course for the Open Championship. Joining in with the daily work of the team, Tony’s duties included helping them with the preparation and maintenance of the greens, tees and the fairways.
He thinks the real benefits of this approach is that it allowed him to demonstrate to the students and employers that as an assessor he was up to speed with industry best practice and so what he is teaching is current and relevant: “The real value of the placement is that it proves to employers and students that even though we’re teachers, assessors do know what they’re doing and are prepared to get hands-on. They respect the fact that I am prepared to get my hands dirty just like them. This approach allows you to refresh your practical knowledge and access the new equipment that’s being used. It also allows you to give something back and pass skills on to a new generation. I would recommend it to any education professional.”
Business Interchange success
In its pilot phase, so far more than 500 placements have been completed on the Business Interchange programme, involving 226 providers and 471 businesses. Of these:
- 92 per cent of people who took on a placement said they had a better knowledge of their vocational area for doing so
- 86 per cent of people went back to their teaching role filled with increased motivation and enthusiasm
- 85 per cent of people have updated their teaching materials as a result, and 77 per cent will be making course content more relevant
- 72 per cent found Business Interchange placement had boosted their confidence
- 75 per cent say they have acquired new skills.