The Hidden Profession – revisited

The GMA is set to repeat its industry-wide research into all aspects of groundscare, and this time it is looking to extend its investigations to embrace Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire.

In 2008/09, the GMA commissioned consultancy TrioPlus and Sheffield Hallam University’s Sports Industry Research Centre (SIRC) to provide an overview of England’s grounds management market in terms of its annual value, numbers employed and volunteers – as well as industry attitudes and trends. 

This resulted in the first definitive report – Grounds Management: The Hidden Profession – that highlighted trends, professional employment, volunteering, economic value and attitudes. For the first time it also presented an economic assessment of the sports turf sector. 

Further research in 2009 by SIRC looked at industry perceptions and trends, and while highlighting how little hard data existed, this also confirmed that there are/has been:

  • Limited conditions in many parts of the sector
  • Low intake of young people in an ageing sector
  • An increase in the contracting out of basic grounds management routines
  • A reduction in fine turf provision, particularly at local government level
  • The action of ‘grass cutting’ rather than quality grass pitch provision
  • More reliance on synthetic surfaces
  • More pressure on grounds managers in respect of needing/using additional skills such as management, training, budgeting and cost reduction, and technology, as well as communications and ‘meetings’ expertise. 

SIRC confirmed that the groundscare industry attracts dedicated, hard-working professionals and volunteers, people who are prepared to – and do – work, long unsociable hours. It also confirmed that there is a group of professionals within the industry who have a reputation worldwide for quality and innovation.


The impact 

The GMA responded positively to this research. It has, for example, provided a ‘voice’ for the industry with some success. It has also taken positive action to resolve individual issues, as well as action to:  promote improved pay and conditions; attract more young people through its Young GMA Board initiatives; and introduce a significantly revised training and education structure that provides improved career progression pathways.

The GMA has also established partnerships with grounds managers working across professional sports, as well as partnerships with the education and volunteer sectors, so much so that the GMA also now has ambitious plans to introduce a nationally-recognised Pitch Grading System that will link the technical requirements of sports surface maintenance to the required levels of education and learning.

In addition, the GMA-led Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GaNTIP), an England-wide scheme designed to significantly improve natural turf pitches, has in its first three years seen more than 2,000 natural turf pitches assessed and the resultant recommendations for improvement are already having a significant impact on the improvement and increased playability of natural turf pitches. The programme has also highlighted the profile of natural turf, and the need for planning and investment in it. 


Time to update

Ten years on and there is now a need to update the research. This will be done in two stages. The primary research project will aim to:


  • Identify overall trends within the grounds management industry in England at 2017/18
  • Provide an estimate of the overall economic impact annually of the industry in England in 2017, including estimates of annual operational and capital expenditure
  • Estimate the number of people working in the industry both professionally and as volunteers in England in 2017, and in which sectors of the industry
  • Provide empirical evidence of attitudes towards grounds management including the attitudes of employers towards grounds managers and grounds staff; attitudes of grounds managers and grounds staff towards employers; and the attitudes of volunteers 
  • Identify trends, attitudes and pressures within individual sectors of the industry in England at 2017/18. 

The GMA is committed to undertaking this work but will aim to gain support and partnership funding from a variety of sources. The GMA is also keen to undertake similar research in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire, to complete a nationwide picture.



The GMA wishes to commission the research in England to start in early 2018 and to deliver the results at SALTEX 2018. The research in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire would ideally be commissioned by the end of April 2018 and the target would be to deliver the individual country research outcomes progressively by the end of October 2018.


Interested in taking part? If you would like our research team to contact you, contact the GMA by email or phone 01908 312 511. This is a great opportunity to have your say about your industry and to help shape its future.