Dan Prest, Head of Technical and Learning at the GMA
From working in a garden centre whilst at school to studying Horticulture at college before working in the sports and golf course construction industry, Dan Prest, the GMA’s Head of Technical and Learning possesses a deep understanding of the turf-care industry. With the GMA recently exceeding 2,000 online course enrolments since the start of the pandemic, we sit down with Dan who explains how the Grounds Management Association (GMA) adapted to the challenge of the pandemic to quickly launch its online courses.
How long have you been working in the turf-care industry and how did you get to where you are now?
Leaving school in 1996, I studied a HND Horticulture and Golf Course Management and then topped this up with a BSc (Hons) in Land Management and Technology.
Early in the 2000’s, I enrolled onto the Ohio State University Internship programme, well-known for its golf maintenance programme, but I actually went down the path of golf course construction.
Since then, I have worked with several UK sports construction companies and spent 3 years in the Bahamas constructing a golf course. When I returned to the UK, I took a job as an Assessor for the then NVQ Turf programmes and found myself teaching a range of courses and qualifications within Horticulture.
After 10 years in the field, I have an NVQ Level 2 (now the Level 2 Sports turf operative apprenticeship), a HND in Horticulture and Golf Course Management, a BSc (Hons) in Land Management and Technology, as well as various plant and machinery licenses. On the teaching side, I have my PGCE (Further Education), an A1 Assessors award, and a file of certificates for training courses ranging from ‘Positive Behaviour Management’ to ‘Equality and Diversity’ to ‘Autism Awareness’ and everything else in between.
In 2015 an opportunity came up to work at what was then the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) on developing material for some online training courses (little did I know these would take precedent during the pandemic) and I was taken on full time as the IOG Training and Education Manager.
Like many of us, I have had a few mentors throughout my career who helped me understand that CPD is a vital part of career development.
The GMA recently reached a significant milestone since the start of the pandemic – 2,000 online course enrolments. How challenging was it to get these courses ready and reach this milestone?
It goes without saying that the last two years have been difficult for everyone. I have taken questions from people in the industry regarding redundancies, career changes (into turf management – not out!), from young people wishing to enter the industry and from those that want to find out more about turf management.
As always, training and education is key and, because of my background in education, I want to make sure there are as many ways as possible for people to learn and develop themselves.
Before the start of the pandemic, we had a successful programme of face-to-face courses covering the nation. The GMA was running around 100 courses per year and from that training around 1,000 people per year – allowing them to apply the knowledge they gained to their playing surfaces.
In March 2020, we took the decision to suspend all face-to-face training courses for the wellbeing of the delegates and our trainers. As a not-for-profit organisation GMA use all ‘surplus’ funds to improve provision of training and education that we provide. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to go digital and it all started from there.
Level 1 online courses were launched in May 2020 and received much positive feedback. These courses were based on existing GMA content and helped people to learn and develop at home.
Over the last 18 months my colleague, Chris Gray has developed 8 online courses which have seen over 2,000 people enrol. The feedback received has been extremely positive and we are continuing to develop online courses even though we are returning to face-to-face training very soon.
When I speak with individuals about training options, I am proud of the fact that I am open and transparent – at the GMA we provide independent advice on all possible training and education routes.
What other accomplishments are you proud of?
Many people, those even linked with the GMA as members, do not realise how small of an organisation we are – if you exclude the regional pitch advisors, we are a team of around 12 management and administrative staff. I am proud of the fact that we as a team have developed products and services which allow people to reach their own goals and offers them the ability to take ownership of their learning, development, and careers through initiatives like the Saltex College Cup, the Pitch Grading Framework, or our Training Needs Analysis.
Whilst I am proud of the fact that I have taught, guided, and educated many people within the industry, I am prouder that many keep in touch and let me know how they are getting on.
What’s next for GMA training?
Over the last 18 months we have recognised that online training can be just as powerful and meaningful as face-to-face training. The GMA will continue to develop both online and face-to-face training, as well as GMA qualifications. Maintaining relevant and credible offerings will always be at the forefront of GMA training and education.
We will also continue to develop the GMA suite of qualifications which offers an option to those that do not wish to enter full, college-based education programmes.
Whilst GMA can provide an array of training and education opportunities - your future career development is in your hands.
To find out more about GMA learning and education visit https://www.thegma.org.uk/learning
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