Engineering a place in the front row

Ace
– the Athletes Career advice and Education service aims to help ex-sportsmen
and women achieve a fresh goal – establishing a new career. Nadia Damon reports

British
athletes who have spent years concentrating on their sporting goals often find
themselves retired at a relatively early age without any real experience of the
workplace – and consequently very little to offer a prospective employer.

To
address this problem, the British Olympic Association and UK Sports Institute
have set up a joint scheme designed to offer competing and retiring athletes a
career advice and education service (Ace UK) and an employment placing
programme known as Open (Olympic & Paralympic Employment Network).

Rower
John Warnock, 29, a member of the Men’s Lightweight Eight crew is hoping secure
a place in the Lightweight Four crew for the Athens Olympics in 2004. Having
completed a PhD in mechanical engineering at the Imperial College of Science
Technology and Medicine in 1999, he wanted to build a career around his rowing
programme.

Flexible
approach

After
speaking with his allocated Ace UK advisor, Warnock was referred to Open, which
put him in touch with Penspen, a worldwide company that provides engineering
and management services to the oil and gas industry.

Penspen
was looking to employ an engineer and Chris Williams, operations director at
Penspen, had rowed in competitions until the age of 27, and therefore
understood the amount of flexibility a company employing an athlete would need.

After
interviewing Warnock, he decided his qualifications made him ideal for the job
– his PhD was particularly relevant – and Warnock joined the firm in September
2001 and is designing North Sea Oil and Gas pipelines.

His
training schedule allows him to work full-time for six months of the year –
during the winter. After that, his work schedule reduces to three days a week,
and he eventually begins full-time training during the competitive season.

Fitness
for purpose

This
schedule should enable him to maintain the level of fitness needed to compete
in the main regattas and championships.

"The
type of work John is doing means carrying out parts of projects which take from
a few days to a few weeks," says Williams.

"If
he is away for a period then we can just reprogramme work to suit. John’s
training plan is reasonably fixed, but there are bound to be variations and we
can cope with this. His colleagues know that he is paid for the time he works
and appreciate his efforts to fit in as well as he can so there is no problem
there."

Williams
claims an athlete’s attitude to their sport can make them a valuable asset to a
company.

"I
am firmly of the belief that athletes who compete at this level have to show
real dedication and organisation to be able to succeed. While the athlete is
competing you may have them for less time than other staff, but their other
attributes make them worth employing. Once they have finished competing at an
international level then they will become very valuable employees."

After
his experience with Warnock and the Open scheme, Williams says Penspen would
definitely consider employing more athletes in the future.

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