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Staff Focus: Work experience and the pathways into racehorse care

INDUSTRYWeb Master
The pedigrees of racing’s human participants are often as impressive as the horses in their care, but the industry is doing all it can to attract and welcome newcomers from outside of any equestrian background in the hope they might establish future dynasties of their own. A shortage of staff Europe-wide means it is vital that new initiatives are introduced and supported, to encourage young people to seek careers within racing.   A traditional route into racing has always been simply knocking at a door and asking. While many trainers will welcome schoolchildren looking to gain experience, not every trainer finds them useful and not every young person finds the experience useful. The key lies in matching the correct yards to those taking a keen interest, and the Racing To School programme in Britain and the similar Go Racing Kids’ Club in Ireland are proving beneficial in that respect.   Racing to School is a free education programme offered to schoolchildren and students, delivered at racecourses, trainers’ yards, and studs across Britain. A practical, lively approach aims to tie in with the national curriculum subjects, hopefully sparking an interest in horseracing and showcasing the many different career opportunities within the industry. The programme offers unique behind-the-scenes access, attracting children who have previously not been racing, so the experience inspires them to increase their understanding of the industry and improves the prospect of them seeking a career within racing.   Horse Racing Ireland’s (HRI) Go Racing Kids’ Club Education Days are proving just as successful, and a record attendance was recorded recently at the Curragh Racecourse, where almost 550 pupils from eight local primary schools took part. Again, the objective is to build ties between the racecourse and its local community, encouraging an affinity with racing that will hopefully produce future racegoers and industry staff.   Activities include meeting groundsmen and seeing how the track is prepared, using a racehorse simulator, seeing a farrier in action, meeting a trainer and racehorse, and meeting a jockey, all of whom speak in depth about their role, routine, and equipment.   Evan Arkwright, Commercial Manager at Curragh Racecourse, says of the experience, “We really enjoy entertaining so many enthusiastic children from the locality. It is important that we help develop a strong awareness amongst children so that they appreciate how much the Curragh racecourse and training grounds contribute to Ireland’s position as one of the world’s foremost horseracing nations.”   Tying in well with these initiatives, but moving the experience a step forward, is the new British scheme Take The Reins, launched in May. A nationwide campaign centred around Lingfield Park Racecourse in the south of England and trainer Richard Fahey’s yard in the north, it aims to encourage inner-city teenagers to seek careers within horseracing and it’s supported by sports charity Active Communities Network (ACN), with the backing of the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) Racing Together initiative.   Lingfield Racecourse hosts a number of visits for pupils from London, who receive behind-the-scenes tours, while teenagers are also offered the chance to undertake specific employability courses with work experience programmes offered at Lingfield and Fahey’s yard. Once completed, the qualification will allow them to use skills learned, within any role.   Amie Canham, Fahey’s partner and a key instigator of the programme, says, “People aren’t exposed to racing enough and, not coming from a racing background myself, I thought a programme like this would open people’s eyes. We have to try to find staff from somewhere, and hopefully in the long-term there’ll be plenty of yards taking part in this.”   Former jockey Hayley Turner, an ambassador for ACN, shares with Canham a lack of racing background and agrees. “It’s great these young people get a chance to see the inner workings of the racing world. I didn’t come from a traditional racing background and was inspired by visiting a taster day, so if we can inspire these young people to think about a career in the racing industry that’s a great success.”   Having sparked an initial interest, the task then is to allow progression to employment, with most recent BHA figures showing 1,700 vacancies advertised each year but only 1,300 recruited, leaving a shortfall of up to 500 a year for trainers to cope with.   The pilot Entry To Employment Programme, funded by the Racing Foundation and developed by the BHA, British Racing School (BRS), and Northern Racing College (NRC), was launched in Britain in May, offering 32 places to equine college students. The programme, which is currently free of charge, consists of a four-week residential training course followed by a work placement at a training yard. It is designed to encourage those who already have hands-on experience with horses into a career as a racing groom or work rider and is part of a wider, ongoing initiative to address the stable staff shortage within racing. Upon successful completion of the course, participants will be placed into employment at a training yard.   Carole Goldsmith, the BHA’s Director of People and Development, says of this initiative, “We have been working with equine colleges for some time now, providing careers lectures to showcase the employment opportunities in racing. We have also partnered with Racing to School and their rider programme to ensure that all equine college students get the opportunity to visit a yard and racecourse to really experience the working environment. Following a small pilot last year we established a requirement to upskill equine college graduates with more specific training related to riding and caring for racehorses to get them ready for employment in a racing yard.”   Stephen Padgett, Chief Executive of the Northern Racing College, points out that the racing schools are keen to extend their services, both to students and to the industry. “Being responsive to the needs of the racing industry is an important part of our role at the NRC,” he says. “Delivering more trained staff who are passionate about horses to work in the sport is a priority and we are delighted to be involved in the initiative.”   Similarly, trainer Donald McCain highlights the need for practical measures to be taken in staff recruitment when he says of the programme, “This is a great initiative and I know of a number of young people who this would suit down to the ground. Anything that can be done to recruit more stable staff should be applauded.”   Attracting staff is only the beginning, however, and staff retention is almost as big a problem. Many feel that young people enter the workplace with false expectations and quickly become disillusioned and leave. Respect and recognition are key elements of any workplace and it’s important for staff to feel valued, and that includes racing staff.   To that end, the National Trainers’ Federation (NTF) has announced a “Team Champion” title to be awarded annually to the stable with employment practices that create the best team ethos, with the first winner announced at the NTF’s annual general meeting next February. It is hoped that the initiative will help combat the long-term stable staff crisis affecting many yards.   The award will be judged on the methods trainers use to attract and retain staff, plus the safe working practices employed. The winning team will receive an item of infrastructure or equipment, funded by award sponsors Lycetts. In addition to celebrating the benefits of teamwork, it is hoped the creation of a team champion award will demonstrate that British trainers provide rewarding and well-supported jobs.   NTF chief executive Rupert Arnold says, “It is important for the NTF, as the body supporting employers, to take a lead role in initiatives to tackle staff shortages. The workplace is our main focus and the team champion award integrates with several projects we are working on relating to management practices and employee engagement for racing grooms and riders. We are looking for ways to recognise the role trainers and their staff, acting as a team, play in developing the foundations for a successful racing stable.”   Part of those teamwork building blocks have possibly been enhanced by a simple change in job title. As of this season, the age-old term of stable lads and lasses has been replaced by the more respectful and specific titles of racing groom, work rider, racing staff, and stable staff. This simple rebranding aims to highlight the skilled nature of the job and the benefits it offers in career progression.   “Job descriptions haven’t been specific and the point is to make job titles something that are relevant to young people to engage them, when going into schools and meeting parents to attract people to appealing jobs in racing yards,” says Arnold.   George McGrath, chief executive of the National Association of Stable Staff, which has more than 6,600 members, welcomes the change. “It’s about moving forward and giving a professional workforce a professional name,” he says. “We needed to create a more professional image.”

First published in European Trainer issue 58 - July - September 2017

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The pedigrees of racing’s human participants are often as impressive as the horses in their care, but the industry is doing all it can to attract and welcome newcomers from outside of any equestrian background in the hope they might establish future dynasties of their own.

A shortage of staff Europe-wide means it is vital that new initiatives are introduced and supported, to encourage young people to seek careers within racing.

A traditional route into racing has always been simply knocking at a door and asking. While many trainers will welcome schoolchildren looking to gain experience, not every trainer finds them useful and not every young person finds the experience useful. The key lies in matching the correct yards to those taking a keen interest, and the Racing To School programme in Britain and the similar Go Racing Kids’ Club in Ireland are proving beneficial in that respect.

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