Grounds maintenance – a prescription for success

According to the critics, much of the country’s public spaces – and that includes the myriad of open areas within and around hospital grounds – are being maintained by unskilled, casual labour that are directed by financially-driven, corporate contracting companies. This is, however, not always the case, as contractors are increasingly (and in many cases, continually) upskilling their labour forces.

Essential skills
The maintenance of hospital grounds can present a number of challenges that invariably require an unusually wide-ranging multi-tasking skill set to, for example, accommodate the requirements of not only grassed areas but also shrubs, trees, hedges, flower beds, footpaths and car parks, for instance.
Skilled horticulturalists and grounds staff are essential if these are to be maintained to the required high standards, and it is encouraging that certain contractors are taking the initiative and investing heavily in staff training. Indeed, with clients’ standards/demands ever-rising, such investment will become a necessary requirement for many future contracts and contractors that don’t invest in their staff will undoubtedly fall by the wayside.
Hospital Trusts should bear a number of factors in mind when selecting a contractor. Firstly, identify the key performance indicators of each grounds management/maintenance contract – and the resulting shortlist may include aspects such as resources, skills and minimum qualifications. Another key factor is ‘organisation’; as a minimum, contractors should be accredited to/working towards a standard such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 supported by, for example, management programmes and an august approach to day-to-day management and supervision.
Ideally, too, contractors and clients should both be working to a real-time audit trail – at the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing – and such audits will eliminate the folly of lack of checks and show everyone a clear picture of what is, or what is not, happening. Likewise, if there are any problems, the client should be able to pick up the phone and talk directly to the contractor. Specialist tasks like planting schemes may be left to the experts – nurseries, for example – but the end result will be the same.

The right staff
While grounds maintenance has to be part labour of love, contractors that believe in training and staff development attract the right calibre of person, and they retain them.
One of the country’s largest privately-owned landscape maintenance service providers, John O’Conner (Grounds Maintenance), is part-way through a strategy of having more than 300 employees nationwide trained to NVQ Level 2 via the IOG, and NVQ delivery body.
With a turnover of around £13 million, the company is one of the UK’s largest privately-owned independent grounds maintenance operations, and according to Jane Wilson, who is coordinating the IOG/NVQ accreditation process from the company’s Welwyn (Herts) head office, the company employs a policy of continuous improvement in all activities – including employee training and improvement. This substantial move towards NVQ accreditation is as much driven by in-house dictates as it is by customer demand, she says.
“We’re working closely with the Institute of Groundsmanship in terms of delivery mechanism and assessments,” she adds. “The fact that the training can be imparted on-site makes the training so much easier for everyone involved.”
Indeed, the company’s efforts recently earned it a prestigious award at the Hertfordshire Business Awards Ceremony, which recognise individuals and companies that have made a significant impact on business in the past 12 months. The company was presented with a special accolade for Training and Development, and the award recognised and celebrated training excellence in both individual and team development and the resulting positive impact on staff and, importantly, customers.
Commenting, managing director Matt O’Conner, said: “We fully recognise that the success of our business is based on the success of our staff, and training is seen as an investment in our most valuable assets.
“We have been able to deliver our training programmes through forming partnerships with our training providers, which include the Institute of Groundsmanship, Lantra, NPTC and working closely with our suppliers. Together we have been able to develop training programmes that match the needs of our staff, our business and our customers.”

IOG training
Ever since its establishment in 1934, the IOG has been working to develop training and educational opportunities for grounds staff, and today offers a wide range of professional short courses as well as internationally recognised qualifications in most areas of grounds maintenance and management. The IOG works closely with all relevant organisations in the UK and Ireland to promote these opportunities – including working in partnership with colleges and awarding bodies – to ensure there are adequate and appropriate educational qualifications for all employment levels within the industry.
The Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) is the leading membership organisation representing grounds managers, groundsmen, grounds maintenance managers, greenkeepers and all others involved in the management of sports pitches, landscape and amenity facilities in the UK. As well as maintaining the IOG Performance Quality Standards and providing a consultancy service for sports grounds, lawn maintenance and amenity horticulture, the IOG’s extensive Training and Education programme includes cricket, football, tennis, horseracing, bowls, artificial surfaces, turf science and many other specialist subjects. It also stages the annual IOG SCOTSTURF and IOG SALTEX exhibition, Europe’s leading show for the open space profession.
At the end of the day, the key is to work closely and cleverly with the contractor which, if it has the skills and knows the business then the agreement will succeed. Selecting the right contracting company, at the right price and one that has the right approach to staff development will mean that skilled and dedicated operators will maintain your open spaces.

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