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Abeceder and OPEN - 13-03-2006
Abeceder along with 125 other companies across the United Kingdom has joined OPEN the Olympic and Paralympic Employment Network. Launched by the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association the aim of OPEN is to boost employment opportunities for Britainís elite athletes and coaches.

The campaign aims to help future, current, and soon to retire elite athletes and coaches to find employment that will enable them to build a career outside sport.

There are approximately 2,000 athletes who are eligible to compete for a place on Team GB. Achieving the level of performance required to be a member of this elite squad means making a full time commitment to training. This commitment means that everything else, family, friends, social life and employment have to take second place.

Despite the popular perception that sport is awash with sponsorship money, the reality is that for the majority of our elite athletes and coaches, who compete in sports that do not attract television coverage the level of sponsorship is minimal.

Only 5 percent of our elite athletes, the names that everybody knows, receive enough sponsorship to allow them to focus on sport full time. The other 95% have to find work, hopefully with a sympathetic employer, who will offer them the flexible working arrangements that their training and competing commitments demand.

The logic of OPEN is simple. If you have somebody who you want to focus on the achievement of an objective and there is something that is distracting them, in this case the need to earn a living, you remove that distraction and the individual is more likely to achieve the objective.

Which seems like a good summary of what any good manager would want to do for their employees.

This is not the only similarity between the principles of good business management and the ideals of the Olympic movement.

Businesses like Olympians are all aiming, to be swifter to deliver, to achieve a higher standard, and to be stronger than their competitors. And just like in the Olympics, increasingly in business how you compete is just as important as winning.

Members of the elite squad of athletes soon learn that technical ability in their sport is just one of the skills they need to be successful. Like business people they are learning that to be successful they must also develop an arsenal of softer skills.

  • Empathy

  • Understanding

  • Negotiation

  • Teamwork

  • Leadership

  • Time management

  • Communication

  • Entrepeneurism

  • Creative thinking

These are the sorts of skills that business leaders have been calling for the education system to provide, and which the Government have only just launched plans to introduce.

Tushar Patel is a good example. A Paralympian, marathon and 5,000 metres athlete he narrowly missed out on a place on Team GB to go to Athens, and is now working towards a place at Beijing 2008 and potentially London 2012.

He is one of the lucky ones. He works for OPEN sponsor Blue Arrow, who have provided him with flexible working arrangements that accommodate his training and competition commitments. His athletic career is much like running a small business. Everything needs to be brought together at the right time, and the final product, him, delivered to the customer, the track, in perfect condition. To make it all work like clockwork Tushar has had to think and act like a manager, to take risks, rise to challenges, and develop these softer skills.

His involvement in the Paralympics has also an effect on his colleagues at Blue Arrow. Lots of people know who he is, and take an interest in his sporting career. Which he enjoys but, the best thing he says is when somebody tells you that you have inspired them to get involved in sport, or to take a few steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

He is fully committed to his sporting career, and is equally eager to be successful in his career with Blue Arrow. At work I have to produce exactly the same standard of work as my colleagues. Itís not easy balancing both careers I have to be as focused at work as I am in a race so that I can get everything done. Nobody is carrying me, and I donít expect them too. It is just great having an employer who has taken the time to understand my sporting ambitions.

It is not only Britainís aspiring Olmypians who have benefited from being involved with OPEN. The scheme has also benefited those who competed at the Athens Games.

Christian Cormack is a past world champion and competed in the Athens Olympics as the cox in the Menís Rowing eights. With the help of OPEN he has been working in the marketing communications department of IT company Atos Origin since December 2003.

The flexible working contract that has been agreed between Christian and Atos Origin allows him to use remote access technology to progress his work. So he can be at home or at a training camp and still be in the office. Itís not as easy as it sounds Christian has to carefully plan his work around his training schedule to ensure that he meets his deadlines and that his work is never compromised by his training. As Christian explained, ďThe work is challenging and has to be done to a high standard, but Atos Origin are extremely understanding of my training commitments, which can be up to 40 hours a week, and have designed my role to accommodate thisĒ

Christian has won several medals at international level. He is a current world bronze medallist in the rowing eight, the blue ribbon event of international rowing. Previously he has twice been a World Championship silver medallist, 1999 and 2000, before becoming a world champion in 2002. He was also the cox of the Cambridge team that won the Boat Race in 2001.

OPEN encourages a balanced approach to work sport balance. Each athlete is supported by the Performance Lifestyle advisors at UK Sport, who work with elite athletes to plan their sporting, career and other lifestyle demands.

The number of employers getting involved in OPEN and enthusiastically embracing the idea of supporting Britainís elite athletes is increasing all the time.

The DIY chain B&Q has just revealed its very own squad of Olympic employees, Team B&Q. The squad of employees are all either existing or potential Olympic athletes. They are given the benefits of full time employment with the flexibility to work part time hours around their rigorous training and competing schedules.

Team B&Q will be making a valuable contribution to the motivation of other employees said David Roth Marketing Director of B&Q, capturing the essence of B&Qís Ďyou can do ití culture to inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and achieve something they never thought possible.

OPEN is not just a big company initiative and neither is it purely about providing recruitment. Abeceder has been involved since the campaign was launched. Our role has been in providing advice to athletes and coaches and introducing athletes and coaches to potential employers. There really is a whole range of ways in which a company can get involved in supporting Team GB.

Membership of OPEN is completely free.

Joining doesnít actually mean that you are going to employ an elite athlete either. There arenít enough to go round.

OPEN complements your existing flexible working obligations and offers every employer who becomes a member the opportunity to make a real contribution to the future sporting success of Team GB. In return as employers they benefit from the skills and commitment the athletes can offer Ė motivation, enthusiasm, ambition.

Contact Abeceder for more information about OPEN.

British Olympic Association

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