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Skills: The great centre of learning

The ODA is taking steps to address the skills shortage.

The Olympic sites will together form the largest construction project in Europe. There are currently more than 2,600 people working on site and at the peak of construction there will be nearly 9,000 workers at the Olympic Park alone. The workforce for the three major projects - the Olympic Park, the Olympic Village and Stratford City Đ is expected to total 20,000 in 2010.

But with a much-discussed national skills shortage, where will all these people come from? The ODA has put in place an employment and skills strategy with a number of partners, including the five host boroughs, the London Development Agency, Learning and Skills Council and Construction Skills.

The strategy includes the establishment of a National Skills Academy for Construction for the Olympic Park that will coordinate training from public and private providers for people to get work on site, and liaise with the ODA and its contractors over what skills they will need people to have.

The ODA is exceeding its target to recruit at least 10 to 15 per cent of the contractor workforce from the local area and at least seven per cent to have been previously unemployed. As well as the Plant Training Academy on the Olympic Park site (see box) the ODA will be going into schools to encourage 14-to-19-year-olds into the industry.

Howard Shiplee, the ODA's director of construction, says the project is just getting started. "As we move into the big build phase after Beijing, the two years of intense activity, we'll have the training facilities running, turning out people and upskilling people to work on the Park and of course beyond.

"We're just starting now to look at bringing young people into training and we're looking at bringing together a number of agencies to help us with getting young people into construction," he says.

The ODA is aiming to get 2,000 people into apprenticeships and work placements. After some debate, the ODA has not made taking on apprentices a condition of contract and instead will produce contractor league tables showing who is employing how many.

"We are required to show how many apprentices we have and their level of training," says ODA chairman John Armitt. "We are relying on encouragement, collaboration and a little bit of peer pressure to get people motivated. We will produce league tables and no-one likes being bottom.

"Currently, there are 90 apprentices and trainees working on site.

"We need people like steel fixers and there are none being trained in London." The plan is to set up a civil engineering training centre by next June.

Jobs will be advertised locally. If, after 48 hours, the jobs have not been filled, they will then be advertised through the UK-wide Jobcentre Plus network.

Shiplee says the skills people will learn will be to the Games' benefit.

"If we can get people into work, then we've really scored."

The Plant Training Academy

The Plant Training Academy has been open since last November and more than 175 people have been trained there, many from the five host boroughs and some who have been unemployed.

Contractors work closely with the National Construction College (NCC) which runs the courses, and have particularly asked for people to be trained in the use of excavators, telescopic handlers and road rollers.

There is a good mix of people on the courses, including 13 women, although the NCC's commercial manager Andy Walder says: "There are still not enough women." The NCC has itself employed one of the women who trained on site. "She is now a support worker for us. She prepares the ground for the plant courses using an excavator and dump truck," says Walder.

The centre will move once the ODA needs the land to develop an athlete's training centre and negotiations are in place for leasing a site close by.

Walder says: "The key thing is that it is demand led and industry led. It's what the industry needs to deliver these projects. We can get it set up and delivered very quickly - within a week of getting the ODA licence."

JCB has provided the equipment and the centre is funded by the Learning and Skills Council, ODA, London Development Agency and the private sector.

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