On the fast track: what skills does London need to ensure a successful 2012 Olympics?

According to the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, Simon Clegg, the Great Britain team should be aiming for fourth place on the medals table at the London 2012 Games.

But at the London Development Agency (LDA) – Ken Livingstone’s team responsible for driving the capital’s economic growth – there are much loftier ambitions. The mayor has said he views the Olympics as an opportunity to develop London’s skills base in a variety of areas and to “consolidate its lead as the world’s most successful international city”.

But to achieve this, some skills chiefs believe the government should be pulling out all the stops.

Immigration route

Last week, Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People 1st – the sector skills council for the hospitality and tourism – said foreign chefs must be given the same immigration fast-track as Premiership footballers to ensure visitors to London during the event encounter a level of cuisine commensurate with the city’s standing.

The hospitality sector has probably been the most proactive in developing skills for 2012. In March, People 1st launched a national skills strategy document, which offered a 10-point plan for up-skilling and retaining the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism workforce over the next five years.

Skills passport

Key to this business-led plan is what has it calls a UK Skills Passport – a web-based resource that provides information and tools on skills development, training, jobs, qualifications and access to funding.

Another initiative in this sector was launched last month when the LDA announced it was providing a £227,000 grant to pay for catering and hospitality training courses for residents in West London.In all, the scheme is planned to train 150 people in the next three years.

The money comes from the LDA’s Opportunities Fund, a cash pot reserved for schemes that develop skills and community businesses in London.

According to Sarah Ebanja, the agency’s deputy chief executive, the 2012 Games is a major catalyst to increasing training and employment in London. “It is our priority to ensure Londoners get the most out of Olympic opportunities,” she said.

But this doesn’t just mean securing one of the extra jobs created by the Games. It means using the buzz and excitement that the run-up to the games will generate in London to get people into training and employment.

Lasting legacy

As far as the LDA is concerned, the important point is not whether individuals move into employment related or unrelated to the Games, but that they are able to make that move in the first place. This is what is meant when people talk about the Games leaving a “lasting legacy”.

This point is picked up by Bex Bowtell, business development manager at City Gateway, a charity that works with young people in Tower Hamlets. It has also secured a grant from the Opportunities Fund to help train mainly ethnic women from the area in basic English language, IT, and childcare skills.

She said: “Many have very little English and low assertiveness skills. These new skills will help them find employment whether it be specifically for the Olympics or in the general workforce.”

ConstructionSkills, the sector skills council responsible the UK’s construction workforce, has also been making plans for London 2012, which it predicts will generate an additional 33,500 jobs. According to its director of skills strategy, Guy Hazlehurst, both specialist skills, such as roofing and scaffolding, and professional skills like project management are areas where funding must be targeted.

“The key question is whether [the Olympics] will be built in such a way to leave a genuine legacy for the communities in which it is built, and the construction industry more generally,” he added.

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