Developing workforces: Encouraging a more diverse workforce and creating a support network

Jon Ramsey, head of grounds at Summerfields School, answers some questions about encouraging a more diverse workforce into the sector by creating a support network to help build a newcomer’s confidence to succeed.

Why did you join the industry and what’s your career path so far?

I put my CV into the Oxford University Parks Department office because my friend worked there. I worked through my apprenticeship then moved into golf, before joining the Magdalen College grounds team. I was then solely in charge of grounds care at Boundary Park, Didcot before I joined Summerfields School as head of grounds two years ago, where I look after 70 acres.

What challenges have you encountered along the way?

Sadly, I have encountered some racism issues with shall we say “misinformed” people during my career, which has been difficult at times. In the early days, I nearly walked out. When you are young, inexperienced, lack confidence and don’t have anyone to talk to it can be hard. Most people I have worked with, and for, however, have treated me the same as everyone else on the team. I think a racist attitude can be associated with a lack of education and empathy within a community. As my career has progressed, I have worked with people with similar interests and levels of education and they have become my support network – as I have theirs – which is important to me. Confidence in my working ability has boosted confidence in myself along the way too!

Can you give an example of how your support network has helped you?

I am so lucky and grateful to have peer support. I have old work colleagues that are always there to help me with advice on maintenance, products and machinery, or even just be there for a chat, which is vital – particularly during these current difficult times. I manage a great team of four at the school and although we all get on great and work well together I offer authority and guidance, on both a professional and personal level, if required. My door is always open to my staff and I feel strongly about supporting people who are willing to learn and improve.

What can the industry do to encourage a more diverse workforce?

Personally, I feel that there are difficulties in attracting a diverse range of people into the grounds care sector. When I look at pictures of grounds people in magazines, on websites and in national newspapers they don’t look like me, and there are not many women either. Without people having that ability to relate to anyone currently working in the sector it’s difficult to attract a diverse workforce and this needs to be addressed.

I also think people need to see evidence that every voice counts – from the top to the bottom of this sector, and from a wide range of people at different stages of their career. The GMA has a wonderful opportunity to help spread the message on inclusivity and raise the profile of a diverse workforce. There should be a level playing field for everyone to work towards the fantastic career opportunities this industry offers, but we need to develop a pathway for people to follow to make this happen.

Can you explain more about a pathway for young people and minority groups within the industry?

I feel that highlighting a more diverse workforce is a great start. The younger generation that are coming through the ranks are already making positive changes and I am confident that future generations will be more diverse and able to bring new skills and ideas into the workplace.

In terms of a pathway, targeting school leavers with achievable opportunities in this sector will help them better understand that a career in grounds management is worth considering – that it is open to all and career progression is achievable for those that are willing to work hard and keep learning. Those that choose to work within the industry could then get access to a mentor and support programme to keep them positively engaged, which is another big challenge.

We need a plan of action, and a core support system that works and that everyone can engage with. Within my amazing support network we help each other do the best job we can and progress our careers so that none of us feel alone.

This article was originally featured in our member magazine, Grounds Management. If you would like to read more articles like this about the turf-care industry and receive many other member-only benefits such as discounts on training, you can become a member today by following this link.