Olympic organisers face up to the challenge of making the legacy work
As this year's Olympic Games edges closer, companies are working towards a lasting legacy by engaging more young people with technology and the opportunities it provides, says Russ Thorne
For many of us, the main bit of forward planning we'll be doing in relation to the Olympics this July will be deciding what events we want to watch, and maybe setting some time aside to take in the opening ceremony. But while the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will bring much sporting spectacle to the UK, many organisations involved in hosting the Games are already looking ahead to the legacy they'll leave behind.
It's an important idea, says East Ham resident and Goldsmiths student Arfah Farooq from the Legacy Youth Panel – a group of young volunteers who work with the London Legacy Development Corporation to help shape the post-Games legacy plans. "No-one can deny the excitement and momentum that surrounds the Olympics, but the hard work comes after the Games in keeping this momentum going. It's crucial to garner interest from local communities."
Former Olympic silver medallist Roger Black – himself no stranger to momentum – agrees, and believes that this can be achieved in part through technology, an area that can directly benefit young people in particular. "We're in an unprecedented time for technology. People will sit in the stadium filming Usain Bolt winning the 100m on their phones; that just didn't happen four years ago in Beijing." According to Black there will be more opportunities in IT and networking post-Olympics than in any other industry, "so we need to get young people involved and educated".
To that end he's been working as an ambassador for Cisco, one of the network infrastructure supporters for London 2012, going into schools as part of their Inspiration Roadshows. Along with Sean Kelly (see case study), his role in part is to speak to students about Cisco's Networking Academies – educational programmes run online and through local schools, colleges and even prisons offering training in IT and networking skills.
"What inspires me is seeing young people engaging in something with passion," Black explains. "In my career it was sport, but when you speak to someone like Sean, getting involved with technology and the Cisco academy changed his life. It's an authentic offering, and what underpins it is Cisco's involvement with the Olympics and their desire to increase their number of academies."
The current plan is to add 30 more academies in the London host boroughs to the 600 already in place in the UK. They'll help to upskill local workers to meet the employment opportunities that will be created after the Olympics by technology companies moving into the East End, and Cisco will also equip selected schools with online training programmes and lab equipment. "The long-term goal is to engage more young people with technology and the opportunities it provides," says Black, "and that's the real legacy."
Developing skills is also the focus for organisations operating in a wide range of sectors. BT are supporting various education projects, including one for parents, guardians and teachers designed to improve their coaching skills. "The impact of these education programmes will have a life beyond the Games," says one team member, "as young people develop their communication and collaboration skills."
Further up the employment ladder, BP's Class of 2012 programme gives 100 of the company's 2012 graduate intake the chance to work on the Games in a variety of jobs. "The legacy will be in their individual personal development," says spokeswoman Sheila Williams, "which has been harnessed by the unique learning opportunity and experience that they will have working at the Games."
Another big part of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy will be the stadiums and civil engineering projects that will have been constructed, such as the new rail network linking the Olympic park to the rest of the country, overseen by Network Rail. "The legacy of the Olympic Games is already in place for rail users, with billions of pounds invested in improving London's railways," says a Network Rail spokesperson. "These will service Londoners for decades to come."
But these large scale efforts will have other benefits, points out David Tonkin, UK chief executive officer of engineering firm Atkins, which has employed more than 1,000 engineers to work on the Games. According to Tonkin, these workers have developed new skills that they'll now apply to other projects around the world and there are also plus points closer to home. "As a nation we're currently short on some engineering disciplines. We hope that we can change this by showing the role engineering played in delivering the Games and inspiring a future generation of engineers."
Ultimately, inspiring people is potentially the most potent legacy of the Games. That's certainly the case for Cisco, according to Inspiration Roadshow coordinator Sean Blackburn. "We felt that the Olympics were not just about the sport or how we're enabling them with our technology," he says, "but about how we can encourage things like education, to encourage employment and the innovative IT industry in East London." Blackburn is clear that this is more than a recruitment drive. "We can't expect everyone to pursue a career in IT," he says. "It's about inspiration – perhaps people will become determined to continue in a path they feel strongly about. One student thanked us after a session and said that it had really inspired him to reach for his goal to become a film director; and that's a great thing for us."
Once the final race is run and those pictures of Usain Bolt flood onto Facebook from the Olympic stadium, the Olympic and Paralympic Games will hopefully leave a lasting legacy in many ways. It might be the new skills, the new drive to find a career, or the new sites ready for homes and businesses. But it will also be the new memories, says Roger Black. "The Olympics is like no other event, it's about the whole world coming together. Memories will be made: everyone can remember something to do with the Olympics, and they'll be referred to for many years to come. You look back at Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis... these things are part of human history."
Sean Kelly is currently studying at one of Cisco's Networking Academies. He was introduced to the programme shortly after his release from Wandsworth prison, and now speaks to students in local schools about his experiences.
"I didn't have an interest in technology before – I couldn't even turn a computer on! So the course has been a massive change. It's given me direction, something to work towards and a life goal. It's been difficult at times, but anything worth doing isn't going to be easy; it's nice to be challenged like that.
"I study at an adult education centre. You get a lot of help and support from everyone involved, it's a close knit group and really well organised – it can sound intimidating at first, and I understand that because I've been there. But it's not like that at all, and once you start learning it really grabs hold of you, every day is a new experience. And it's completely changed my life, it's helped me professionally and personally.
"I wanted to get involved in the roadshows to give a little of what I've learned back to the younger generation. I messed up my life at the beginning, so if I can show someone that I could turn it around and so can they, then it's worth it."
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