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Grass is greener after industry award win for TAFE NSW grad

TAFE NSW Kurri Kurri

Grass is greener after industry award win for TAFE NSW grad

James Ophir now works for Lake Macquarie City Council after graduating TAFE NSW

Swansea local and TAFE NSW Kurri Kurri graduate, James Ophir, has been named the Sports Turf Association NSW Graduate of the Year. 

James, 30, who now works as a Sports Field Assistant with Lake Macquarie City Council after finishing his Certificate III in Sports Turf Management in 2022, said the award opened him up to career opportunities.

“I’ve always had a passion for sports fields after playing cricket and rugby league for years. I didn’t get into this industry to win awards, but it’s a wonderful recognition that opens me up to many different career paths, and opportunities to learn from some of the industry’s leaders.”

Sports Turf Association NSW’s Executive Officer, Jenny Zadro, said finding graduates like James through TAFE NSW was critical for the future of the industry. 

“For the first time in a long time, as with many industries, we have significant skills gaps and a critical shortage of staff. 

“Sports turfs are often taken for granted, but it really is a science. TAFE NSW is so important in maintaining the pipeline of skilled workers and strong future leaders in our industry. 

“The Graduate of the Year program aims to recognise graduates who have something extra and who have a real passion and enthusiasm for what they do, and James embodies all these traits,” Ms Zadro said.

James said TAFE NSW provided a learning environment that worked for him. 

“I’m a very hands-on person and I can’t sit still very well in a classroom, but when I’m out in the field, I thrive. A lot of people learn like this, and the benefit of TAFE NSW is that you get the experience with the technical aspects of the job, like testing soil health, assessing plant nutrition, and operating and maintaining irrigation systems.

“I waited a little longer to start my apprenticeship for a few reasons, but I knew without the qualification from TAFE NSW I was limited with how far I could take my career. I can now step up to supervisor when my boss goes on leave – I couldn’t have done that without this qualification.”   

 TAFE NSW teacher, Greg Smith, said the Kurri Kurri campus was ideal for Sports Turf Management students.

“TAFE NSW Kurri Kurri’s great because we have so much open space, which allows us to build something the students can learn from hands-on. Building these practical skills gives our students, like James, the capabilities that will see them walk out of TAFE NSW and into good jobs in the industry,” Mr Smith said.

James will now be considered for the National Sportsfield and Grounds Graduate of the Year in Adelaide at the Australian Sports Turf Management Conference from 19 to 23 June 2023.  

Media contact: Emily Graham, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist,, 02 7921 3756.