Overcoming the Labor Shortage

Strategies for Overcoming the Labor Shortage

The Opening General Session of the 2022 STMA Conference, Labor of Love: Strategies for Overcoming the Labor Shortage, will feature a panel of experts discussing the labor shortages affecting the industry. Trends that will be discussed include seasoned sports field managers pursuing positions on the commercial side, fewer young people pursing turfgrass science as a career path in college, fewer interns available to gain on-the-job experience, and the shrinking pool of qualified job candidates.

The General Session Moderator, Keith Winter, head groundskeeper for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, will lead the discussion in an interview-style format and add his own experience with difficulty finding and hiring personnel. Dr. John Sorochan, distinguished professor at University of Tennessee, will address the decreasing rate of enrollment in turfgrass science programs at the collegiate level and some strategies to attract young people to the field. Abby McNeal, CSFM, CPRP, CABI, field superintendent, City Wide Operations for Denver Parks and Recreation will discuss unique ways she has been balancing the labor shortage. Andrew Miller, program director for Brentsville Turfgrass Management Program will discuss his recruitment and retention strategies at the high school level. And Tyler Bloom, owner of Tyler Bloom Consulting, will discuss opportunities available in the industry that provide training to prepare individuals to enter the sports field management profession.

As a preview of the Opening General Session, SportsField Management recently spoke with Winter regarding labor issues.

SportsField Management (SFM): The labor shortage has been an ongoing issue in the sports field management industry – and many other industries. What are the biggest challenges you have experienced firsthand with regard to finding, and retaining, qualified personnel; and/or what are you hearing from others in the industry with regard to the challenges they are facing?  

Winter: Pre-COVID, finding interested and qualified assistants, interns and game day workers was a challenge. Now it is nearly impossible! Students coming out of university turf programs are either heading into golf or other areas related to the industry, such as commercial sales or landscaping. The hours and pay scale in professional baseball are part of the hesitancy for post-graduate candidates, but I also think there is currently a lack of a strong work ethic within this country. Sitting behind a computer or handling a smart phone is relatively easy and something “everyone” seems to be good at. In professional baseball, once the preconceived novelty of stepping on the field wears off, whether it be at the Major League or Minor League level, the realty of the time commitment and physical effort results in an incredibly low retention level from year to year. I talk with colleagues from around the country on a weekly basis – from all levels of Minor League and Major League Baseball – who are experiencing an identical set of circumstances.

SFM: What has been your approach with hiring (full-time, seasonal, assistants, interns) and retaining qualified workers, and what advice do you have for others when it comes to finding, hiring, and keeping good help? 

Winter: The resources we have used in the past (STMA website, word of mouth, networking with fellow groundskeepers) are simply not enough. This past spring, I contacted nine area college baseball head coaches, asking if they had any former or current players who might be interested in positions as interns or game day employees. Not knowing whether they passed the information on to their respective teams, I got three individual responses from a possible 270-plus candidates. I interviewed all three, and two fell by the wayside after they heard about the hours and time commitment. I hired the third as an intern, who never joined us due to a “family situation” that came up two weeks before the start of our season. My approach and advice to field managers is to be extremely creative and proactive in recruiting. Whether it’s using social media or websites, or in conversations, let as many people as possible know you are hiring.

SFM: What are the keys to getting young people interested in careers in sports field management, and what needs to occur to promote better awareness of this industry as a potential career? 

Winter: This question is the “hot button” topic in our industry today, and NO ONE seems to have the answer. I am involved with the STMA MiLB Task Force that has been charged by Major League Baseball to come up with outcomes to increase the number of qualified individuals to take care of baseball fields across all levels, to improve competencies, increase awareness of careers in MiLB and MLB, improve recruitment and retention of employees, and improve the work environment (compensation, resources, staffing, hours, special events demands, etc.)  of affiliated teams.

Our annual MiLB Symposium, which occurs at the conclusion of the STMA National Conference, will also be addressing this topic. It is paramount that the current generation of field managers at the Major and Minor League levels not only address, but come up with solutions to the issue at hand. 

SFM: What advice do you have for young people who are already pursuing a career in sports field management with regard to getting noticed, landing a job, getting ahead, and building their career?

Winter: If you are pursuing a career in sports field management, there has never been a better time for you to not only get a job, but to be selective in where you want to work. There is not a single Major or Minor League head groundskeeper who won’t want to talk with you. Having some experience working on a baseball field may be helpful, but right now, my motto is, “If you have a pulse, let’s talk!”

SFM: A large portion of our readership includes sports field managers who are not national STMA members. What is your advice to non-members regarding the value of being involved in STMA (or even at the chapter level) and attending STMA Conference? 

Winter: Attending the STMA Conference has always been a highlight of the off-season for me. By the time January rolls around, your battery has been re-charged, and taking advantage of the education, trade show, networking, and camaraderie – plus traveling to a great city – breaks up the doldrums of winter. If you are currently working in the sports field management industry, or interested in discovering an interesting and rewarding new career, membership into the Sports Turf Managers Association will provide valuable resources, continuing education, and the initiative to succeed.

The 2022 STMA Conference Opening General Session will be held Tuesday, January 18, from 8-9:30 a.m. Questions from the audience will be encouraged during the conversation. For more information about the 2022 STMA Conference and Exhibition (January 17-20, 2022, in Savannah, Ga.) please visit https://www.stma.org/conference/.