Horticulture career focus: Arabian Gulf League stadium and training pitches maintenance


"The turfgrass industry is based in science and people don’t realise it. You have to understand the soil, the grass and need to know what the problems with the plants could be. You also need to know when to apply chemicals, fertilizers and what is best for the plant given the conditions currently and in the future weeks."

Studying horticulture, says Dubai-based Shane Burke, gives students skills varying from accounting, to hands on planting and maintaining machinery

What course(s) did you study?

Bachelor of Science in Horticulture (level 7)

What is your job title and how did you get the job?

Senior Maintenance Manager with SIS Pitches in the Middle East. The job was advertised online.

What does a typical week look like for you?

I am a maintenance manager in charge of 80% of football clubs stadium and training pitches in the Arabian Gulf League. My typical week consists of driving all around the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Hatta, Al Ain, Sharjah and Ajman) liaising with staff making sure the football pitches are up the highest possible standard and making sure the maintenance plan is being followed closely. I also meet with clients and customers about renovation times and process and match and training schedules. I also have to write reports for clients on progress made on their pitches.

What do you like about your job(s)?

Every day is different, and I have not had 2 days the same. As I do a lot of driving, my day differs quite a bit and I am in a different location every day. From training staff how to use machinery, to bring fertilizer to sites and ensuring that it is being spread correctly and at the right rate. Meeting with clients also is a weekly task, ensuring they are happy with their pitches and to answer any questions they may have.

What did you like about the BSc. in Horticulture course in WIT?

I liked the diversity of the course, as it was not all about sitting in a classroom studying – in Kildalton College I really enjoyed the practical side of things as I got hands-on experience of machinery, sowing and also planting etc.

Where did you do your work placement?

I was lucky to get my work experience in Croke Park stadium. My day to day duty was the preparation of the pitch for big league and championship games at the weekend. I also was responsible for maintaining machinery ensuring it is in proper working order. I also learned about fertiliser and chemical treatment protocols and application rates and how to combat the effect of the stands shading the pitch and causing uneven growth. On match days I was liaising with match day divoters, and the coaching staff of teams as I had to instruct them on where to do their warm ups. I also liaised with match day stewards and officials.

What things did you learn on the course which are invaluable in your job today?

Good communication and confidence in yourself and your ability is key!! There’s so many subjects that will help you in everyday life. For example, things like computer skills, communications and even accounting that will give you a better understanding of how a business works. In the position I am working in now, communication is key, especially when I’m dealing 5/6 different nationalities on a daily basis. It’s vital that you have good communication skills and are able to explain yourself properly to clients and staff. Subjects like plant biology, give you a better insight into how the plant system works which is very beneficial for understanding the turf better. Subjects such as flower arranging also I found very enjoyable as it was different and gives you a different insight into horticulture as a whole.

What life skills did your time in WIT give you?

You meet great friends with all the same interest and goal. You also make great contacts in the industry with open days and talks given by professional business owners in the industry also. It gives you skills in all aspects of life from accounting, to the hands on planting and maintaining machinery. There is a big range of subjects and experiences that will help you.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to stay in Dubai as long as I can as there is amazing opportunities here. I would like to go back home at some stage and set up my own sportsground maintenance company.

What advice would you give to a school leaver who is thinking of studying horticulture?

Horticulture is an industry that is growing very fast (no pun intended) around the world. Nowadays, highly qualified skilled people are hard to find for the industry and there is a big demand for them. There are opportunity all over the world for horticulture students, not just turfgrass but landscaping and other areas also.

What advice would you give to a parent of a horticulture student?

Horticulture is very diverse and I don’t think many people realise that. When I meet new people and tell them about my job, there reply always is ‘’oh so you just cut grass’’ which is true but is not the only thing I do. The turfgrass industry is based in science and people don’t realise it. You have to understand the soil, the grass and need to know what the problems with the plants could be. You also need to know when to apply chemicals, fertilizers and what is best for the plant given the conditions currently and in the future weeks.

And it’s not just turfgrass which requires scientific knowledge; nursery production is also very technical as you are only given a certain time to grow certain types of plants, so the window for this is very short.

Horticulture course in WIT is very diverse, for example some of my class mates look after the gardens in a castle, another is working on Donald Trump’s course in Doonbeg, another is working on the stunning new Adare Manor Golf Course, while others are working in well-known garden centres. So there are many different opportunities for students in the horticulture course that I could spend many hours explaining them all.

Follow Shane’s updates on his experiences in Abu Dhabi on Twitter (@Shane5434).

Read about Shane’s involvement in preparation for the FIFA Club World Cup, on RTE.ie.

Related Courses

Bachelor of Science in  Horticulture (Kildalton College)
Bachelor of Science in  Horticulture (National Botanic Gardens)

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