When London hosts the Olympic Games in 2012, tourism is set to reach an all-time high, bringing with it huge commercial opportunities. Now that the bid team has secured the games, it is down to the UK's workforce to make sure that everything - from buildings and infrastructure to hospitality and telecoms - is ready for the estimated 500,000 extra overseas visitors.
Rebecca Rhodes, skills director at the Learning and Skills Council, says forward planning, especially with training, is vital.
"HR teams need to understand how their industry will be affected and identify the skills needed," she says. "This is a great opportunity to offer work placements and apprenticeships. Training young people now can help to build a skilled workforce for 2012. But my concern is that employers won't plan early enough."
The construction sector will be central to the success of the Olympics. According to the National Federation of Builders (NFB), 8.3bn of capital works are planned to support the games. Barry Stephens, chief executive of the NFB, has called for a detailed skills strategy in the sector.
"The risk is that we will fail to get the necessary influx of new skills to cope with the increased demand," he says.
Pell Frischmann Consulting Engineers is working closely with the London Development Agency in the Lower Lea Valley, where the Olympic Village will be built (artist's impression below). But its director, Peter Miller, says there is a serious shortage of high-calibre engineering design personnel.
"This is an inevitable consequence of the steady decline in the popularity of engineering degree courses in universities," he says. "This is due to the perceived absence of glamour, both in terms of the work and the salaries."
The dual HR challenge will be the retention of existing design staff and attracting new staff from a limited talent pool. This is an example of where good HR management could seriously drive commercial success. "Those firms that can demonstrate that they have sufficient skilled and stable resources on board are considerably more likely to win the work," says Miller.
Ted Runciman, HR director at construction and management consultancy Currie & Brown, agrees that the sector will face some big challenges.
"Offering attractive salaries and overcoming the shortage in quantity surveyors will have to be addressed," he says.
Runciman predicts that skil