When one thinks of occupational apprenticeships, perhaps some of the first professions to come to mind are plumbers, electricians, welders or carpenters.
The golf course landscape, on the other hand, is probably the unlikeliest place that jumps out when thinking of these traditional journey-type careers. But thanks to some ingenious leadership at the Michigan Golf Course Association (MGCA), America’s newest apprenticeship program now comprises Golf Course Maintenance Technician, as it’s officially called in Department of Labor circles.
Indeed, nearly one year after general manager Jim Szilagyi of The Lynx Golf Course in Otsego, Mich., became the state’s first applicant for the new workforce program, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) now counts the golf business in its long list of registered apprenticeships.
Jada Paisley, executive director for the MGCA, concedes it might seem odd to put golf in the same category as some of the other trades.
“But why not golf agronomy?” she asked. “It’s a skilled trade just like the others.”
And lots of other golf and non-golf folks agree, including representatives from the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity and the U.S. Department of Labor, which helped coordinate and launch the innovative MGCA apprenticeship program last June. The main purpose of the program, according to Paisley, is to give MGCA members additional tools to help solve the association’s continued shortage of skilled course maintenance employees.
“MGCA knows how important golf is to Michiganders and tourists,” Paisley added. “To keep our courses in top-notch condition, we must get more people involved in the art and science of agronomy to consider job opportunities at golf courses.
“This registered apprenticeship program opens the door to help golf courses increase their workforce and offer advanced career opportunities.”
A typical apprenticeship is an arrangement in which an apprentice receives hands-on training, technical instruction and a paycheck—all at the same time. Apprentices work for a sponsor, such as an individual employer or a business-union partnership, who pays their wages and provides the training during what is routinely a formal four-year arrangement, although it can sometimes take as little as 12 months or as many as six years, according to the BLS.
In the case of Michigan, the MGCA acts as the sponsor and intermediary with the federal government, according to Paisley, with the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation and Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association providing invaluable support in helping draft the federally required competencies and framework for the program.
According to Department of Labor data from fiscal year 2016, there were an estimated 500,000 active apprentices in more than 21,000 registered apprenticeship programs across the country. Michigan courses are now quickly adding to these national numbers.
For instance, in March, MGCA had five more facilities sign up for the program, including Boyne Golf ’s Bay Harbor Golf Club and The Highlands at Harbor Springs, Raisin Valley Golf Club, Scott Lake Golf & Practice Center, and The Emerald Golf Course.
Overall, there are now more than 10 courses committed to the program with nine apprentices enrolled and more in the pipeline. Paisley, who has been affiliated with the MGCA since 2007, is quick to point out the program is “not meant to take the place of a superintendent.”
“It was designed to help the critical need that our golf courses in Michigan had for their agronomic teams,” Paisley adds, “while exposing an individual to a different career path than they might have thought of before.”
For interested apprentices who might be from outside the golf industry or someone already working at a course, the benefits of enrolling in Michigan’s Registered Apprenticeship program are working alongside field experts to gain on-the-job learning and getting an agronomy education without having to get a traditional two- or four-year turfgrass degree. Finally, after completing a minimum 144 hours of competency training and finishing an online educational curriculum overseen by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, apprentices earn a national occupational credential held to state of Michigan standards and developed by MGCA.
For employers, the Registered Apprenticeship is a proven talent pipeline solution for Michigan’s $4 billion golf industry that includes almost 800 golf courses and 60,000 workers.
“It gives our interested team members an opportunity to develop and refine skills as golf course maintenance technicians,” said Josh Richter, Boyne Resorts’ Senior Vice President-Golf Operations, Boyne Resorts. “It benefits our golf courses to have multi-faceted skills to improve the quality of our turf and be able to further train other team members.
“We feel it is important as leaders of the golf industry in Michigan to support this program, as it is helping us as well.”