Effective training is key to equipping our staff to handle the multiple tasks needed to keep our year-round facilities in top condition. As Callaway, Fla., has grown during my seven years as director of leisure services, we’ve expanded the recreational opportunities and experienced increased use by all segments of our community. My staff has grown from five to 10. I’ve continually adapted our training strategies to incorporate cross-training to give us the flexibility to meet the challenges.
Our Leisure Services Department maintains all the parks, the Callaway Arts and Conference Center (C.A.C.C.), community center, cemetery, 1.5 miles of landscaped medians and the grounds of our city hall, public safety building, public works, museum and old schoolhouse. Our largest site, 80 acres overall, features the C.A.C.C. and the Callaway Recreational Complex with five baseball/softball fields, two T-ball fields, one football/soccer field, five soccer fields and two smaller U-5 soccer fields, which were added this year. Our Leisure Services offices and the maintenance building where all of our equipment is kept are also on this site.
My staff handles all athletic field maintenance procedures and the field set up for all user groups, tournaments and special events. At least one staff member is on-site at our main recreational complex any time the park is open. Our staff also handles the maintenance and set up both inside and outside our C.A.C.C., which hosts everything from city meetings and wedding receptions to our citywide employee and family appreciation day.
Staffing for multitasking
One of my staff members serves as director of the Callaway Arts and Conference Center, overseeing all events there. My office assistant handles many of the administrative tasks, coordinates facility use schedules with our leagues, assists with grant applications, the Annual Childrens’ Fishing Rodeo and Veterans Day Parade and the Employee Appreciation Day events. The rest of our staff—a foreman, crew leader, horticulturist, sports field specialist and four groundskeepers—participate in all of our training programs so they can handle or assist with any task necessary.
I initiated a staffwide work log process when I started here. Each day, every staff member records their schedule, listing the work sites, specific tasks performed at each site and how much time it took to complete each task, including travel time. This allows me to effectively track work hours and justify time allocations, as well as assess efficiency to better target training needs.
Much of our planning must be coordinated daily because of our additional labor source, which are individuals assigned by the court system to perform community service work. We couldn’t cover our maintenance workload without the extra labor. I incorporate supervisory skills into our staff training to make these work hours more beneficial to our program.
Each court-ordered worker is required to serve a certain number of hours. They can work any time Monday through Saturday, as long as they check in by 7 a.m. and work until 4 p.m. We don’t have control over what days they work; a few tell us their plans in advance, but most simply show up, with the majority coming in the last week of the month.
We do an initial interview with each of these workers to assess skill levels and determine task assignments. We also have them sign an agreement addressing work hours, dress and behavior. Most are best suited for basic tasks, such as hand-weeding and trash pickup, but some are qualified to operate stick edgers, string trimmers and push mowers under direct supervision after they’ve passed our training requirements. We plan our cleanup projects and unskilled labor-intensive maintenance tasks to fully utilize these workers.
Because our staff must do so much multitasking, training is an ongoing process. It starts with identifying potential employees that have the ability, interest and desire to work as a team within a fast-paced environment and pay attention to detail. All must have a valid driver’s license and the ability to drive a truck pulling a trailer. We don’t require a CDL license as our Public Works Department transports and operates the larger equipment.
I’ve designed a checklist to cover the initial training required for new staff members, and have developed and compiled a broad assortment of handout materials covering different aspects of the program. We give a set of those materials to the individual and keep an up-to-date file of them in our office. As training materials are revised and new information added, copies are supplied to the staff. Included in this are printouts of the dimensions and different layout options for each of our fields, proper equipment operation and safety information.
Staff members train on every piece of equipment used within our program. For new employees, this training is handled one-on-one for each piece of equipment, usually with the foreman or the crew leader. Each person must demonstrate proficiency with each machine before they are allowed to operate it independently. The training steps, times and dates are documented in writing with both the individual and supervisor signing the document, which is kept on file.
Most new equipment comes with a training video covering safety and proper operations. Our staff watches the video together and then each staff member has the opportunity to operate the machine under supervision. We follow the same procedures for demonstration of proficiency and documentation of training.
Each January we hold a field maintenance and setup review with our full crew to make sure everyone understands what is needed and can perform all aspects of the processes. One member of the staff is our designated sports field specialist and is charged with ensuring that all fields are prepped, with all mound and home plate areas properly constructed, all bases and soccer goals properly placed and all measurements and chalking, lining and striping accurate. He conducts the majority of this training, giving everyone the opportunity to refresh their skills while getting the fields ready for action.
I plan additional one or two-hour training sessions for the full crew about once a month throughout the year. Some topics, such as mower safety and proper mowing operation, are covered annually. I pick up ideas for other topics from multiple sources, including trade publications and green industry conferences, and sometimes discover an issue that needs to be addressed through our work log data or by talking with or observing a staff member.
These sessions allow me to provide more in-depth information, incorporating elements of soil science and turfgrass physiology to help everyone understand why we do specific procedures and how that improves our fields.
During our hands-on training sessions, I ask a staff member to demonstrate a procedure. They know this shows I have confidence in their ability to perform at top levels and train others to do the same, so it has become a point of pride. I’ve also found that practicing a skill with those most experienced in performing it helps those less experienced adopt the proper techniques more quickly.
I like to use different resources and methods for training. The University of Florida provides some excellent training videos and publications on best management practices (BMP) and identification and control of specific problems that work well for our program. Vendors are another great training resource for staff training sessions.
We’ve hosted a couple seminars for the Florida #2 (North) Chapter of the Sports Turf Managers Association at our complex where multiple vendors participated in classroom-style and hands-on training, as well as showing their products. Hosting is another form of training for our staff as they prepare our facilities for viewing by their peers, lead tour groups or demonstrate procedures, and interact with presenters and attendees.
I’ve found that preparing training sessions also helps me brush up on specific topics or pushes me to research something new. Organizing the material in a written format for a handout or PowerPoint presentation requires me to lay out the information clearly and concisely. This past year, I’ve decided to share those benefits. I’ve sent my foreman and crew leader to different OSHA safety training classes, and following these classes, I’ve had them prepare a presentation to train the rest of the staff on what they learned.
While staff members often are assigned to the tasks in which they’ve demonstrated the greatest expertise, our training program gives us the flexibility to operate more effectively.
Tim Legare, CSFM, is director of leisure services for the city of Callaway, Fla.