Dr. Grady Miller
Dr. Grady Miller

Q&A with Dr. Grady Miller: Preparation

Q: We have had a hard time finding experienced workers, so we have been forced to hire more employees that have little to no prior turfgrass management experience. What are your thoughts on preparing non-trained workers for our industry?

A: This question came up at a recent SFMA regional meeting. It seems like everybody in 2022 has struggled to find workers, trained or non-trained. In some cases, one may be lucky enough to hire a person who has worked in a related field. For example, a landscape maintenance crewmember with a couple of seasons of experience may develop into a great sports field employee with some targeted training. They will have good equipment experience and often have experience with the same turf care products. So, they may just require some refinements of their skills along with a few new techniques specific to sports field management. The greatest challenges are usually when hiring individuals with zero turfgrass experience. As one person recently told me, “We are hiring ‘good attitudes’ and training them for our jobs.”

Once you have an employee on site and orientated, my suggestion is to have them work with people who will take adequate time to demonstrate and explain each of their required tasks. It is important that supervisors welcome questions from the employee. I also suggest that supervisors provide regular opportunities for the employees to discuss their work with them. It is a little like asking your kids when they get home from school, “tell me what you learned today?” Although it may seem a little silly, asking an employee to talk through their work processes is a great way for an employee to gain a deeper understanding of the tasks and how they should be accomplished. It also helps a supervisor understand where additional training may be needed. In some cases, an insightful or experienced employee may even provide recommendations on how tasks can be completed more efficiently. Your work environment should encourage open discussions.

If you have multiple work teams on your job site, move new employees around to work with other teams whenever practical so they can get additional training. Being exposed to a variety of tasks will keep them from getting bored, which is a common reason new employees quit. This cross training also makes it easier for employees to cover tasks when others are absent or when positions are open. In the process, you and the employee may also discover talents that neither expected. You might find that an employee has a talent for painting logos or can drive a mower straighter than anyone else on your crew. It can also be a great confidence booster for employees when they are entrusted to complete a new task, and they do it well.

In addition to internal training, look for educational opportunities outside your work environment. For example, help the employee get their pesticide license. Extension services often offers free classes to help workers prepare for the pesticide license exam. Vendors often offer equipment demonstrations and irrigation repair classes. Knowledge gained from these classes can contribute toward improving your facilities. Also, sending employees to special events or training is usually seen as a reward for the employee and sends them the message that you value them as an employee.

Lastly, encourage or support all your employees to join the local SFMA chapter or the national SFMA. The SFMA provides great education opportunities in the Knowledge Center and technical resources in the “Members Only” section of the SFMA website. That non-trained worker can quickly become trained and end up as a vital team member for your staff.

Grady Miller, Ph.D.
Professor and Extension Turf Specialist
North Carolina State University

Send them to Grady Miller at North Carolina State University, Box 7620, Raleigh, NC 27695-7620, or e-mail grady_miller@ncsu.edu

Or send your question to Pamela Sherratt at 202 Kottman Hall, 2001 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH  43210 or sherratt.1@osu.edu