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Follow Up: The Role of Assistants Today


Greg Wojick, CGCS

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by Greg Wojick, Playbooks for Golf

ee84cf2dae32f2f1d1655d7b0eaca7c4-.jpgIn my last guest column for TurfNet, I wrote about the role of the assistant superintendent and the need for superintendents to consider rethinking their approach to hiring and retaining these essential contributors to their operations.

When I suggested that superintendents work to retain their assistants with training to "work smarter, not harder" and that they provide greater rewards in pay and benefits for their efforts, I predictably received pushback from several assistants who are either unhappily enduring their positions for lack of another opportunity or leaving the industry as one said, due to "a combination of the long hours, high stress, most often unappreciated effort, and the diminishing salaries".

With that, I would like to reiterate--and expand on--some of the points I made before: Namely that superintendents should step up their efforts to reward and retain their assistant superintendents.

Reward and Retain
In most other careers, a low supply/high demand problem gets handled with enticements. If there is a shortage of engineers or any other professional position, higher pay and greater benefits are offered. In our profession, unfortunately, low supply of willing candidates is the new normal.

With an increasing number of clubs snapping up two and three assistants and fewer-than-ever students entering the turf field, a low supply of qualified candidates has persisted for some time with no letup in sight. Yet the "enticements" to lure qualified assistants in our profession is less-than-desirable. The rewards? Long hours with regular weekend work, low pay, and a weaker-than-ever promise to eventually become a superintendent. I'm all for hard work, but what has developed in this stagnant worker marketplace borders on exploitation.

The rewards? Long hours with regular weekend work, low pay, and a weaker-than-ever promise to eventually become a superintendent. I'm all for hard work, but what has developed in this stagnant worker marketplace borders on exploitation.

The traditional pathway and time frame to a superintendents position isn't what it used to be. Competition is fierce for those top-tiered positions, with clubs today looking first at those candidates from marquee clubs. The old paradigm I mentioned in my previous blog of "two years and out" just doesn't exist any more. And that doesn't have to be all bad for assistants or superintendents.

Finding Assistants and Keeping Them
In short, I recommend that superintendents consider these changes to the typical progression in our profession:

Entice university-trained candidates with better pay, better hours, and better benefits. Train them into your staff culture and try to retain them for a longer period of time. Make them feel valued and welcomed.   

Use a search method that painstakingly reveals the best candidate for the position. Resist taking the easy way out to get employees. Don't default to simply calling your buddy down the street as your only method to find a worker.    

Tap into your local population to find workers to fill specific jobs. Its time-consuming to do this, but its not hard to train someone to, for example, hand-water greens and hand-mow. With effort, you can find a worker to perform those two tasks, which would ease the burden on the assistant.

Attractive jobs in the golf course maintenance industry should not be limited to those with the title of Golf Course Superintendent.

Consider offering intern positions to those in fields other than turf. Civil engineering, business, landscape architecture, floriculture, education, are areas where students might want to get involved at your course.

If superintendents can shift their mindset just a bit and begin to think of their assistants as valued long-term members of the operation, they could eliminate the stress of scrambling for new assistants because theirs left the industry or took another assistant's job. If superintendents recognize and reward their assistants for exemplary performance, even if its with just a day off for golf, they might actually have a valued employee who will be inspired to exceed expectations at their course for years to come.  

Attractive jobs in the golf course maintenance industry should not be limited to those with the title of Golf Course Superintendent.

After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.

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