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Olympics in secure hands

Author : Tim Fryer

04 July 2012

Vanessa Young

The security contract for the London Olympics was won by G4S. One of its biggest challenges has been finding and training the G4S component of the 23,000 strong team. All is in safe hands, as the company’s Support Services Director Vanessa Young explained to Tim Fryer

G4S have actually been involved in the London Olympics right back at the earliest stages when it ran some research to support the initial bid. So it has been a long journey for some of the G4S team. As well as being a service provider, G4S are also a Tier 3 sponsor to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which gives them marketing rights in the UK.

It is now on the verge of the delivery, with a contract that covers a portfolio of 110 venues that includes not just the Olympic Park but every direction across the nation from it, as far as Hampden Park in Glasgow. The contract principally covers security access to the venues, asset protection and there is also a role for the company’s canine division.

The company has set up a separate division for the Olympics. This is partly so it can provide complete focus on supplying security to the event, and partly so that it can ring fence its main Secure Solutions business, ensuring that all existing customers’ contracts are honoured.
Vanessa Young is one of the senior people who have moved across from G4S Secure Solutions to manage the programme, although others have been recruited from outside the parent business. In fact it is the scale of the security team that is being mobilised that is impressive – or daunting, depending on your viewpoint.

Young commented that one of the biggest challenges has been to define the size of the project in purely personnel terms: “People have always seen the Games as being a long way off but for us it was not - it is looming ever closer. We have been getting geared up for this from quite early on and sometimes when we were really trying to get some numbers early on people were not quite so switched on to the Olympics because it was always so far into the distance. What we are finding now is that the interest is just amazing – we have received about 75,000 applications to date.”

These 75,000 applications (expected to be nearer 100,000 by the time the recruitment process ended) represents an over-subscription on an Olympic ticketing scale, as G4S are looking to recruit in the region of 10,000 staff over the duration of the contract. The entire security team will number in the region of 23 to 24,000 that will comprise the 10,000 new recruits, 3,000 who have arrived through the ‘Bridge The Gap’ scheme, existing G4S employees, MoD volunteers and incumbent security staff at some of the established venues.

The personnel count was defined by the security solution that was designed by LOCOG but drew on G4S’ expertise in the field. But even with this extensive experience, I asked Young, how does that translate to a totally unique contract like the Olympics? “It is still about service delivery – it’s still around quantity and quality,” she explained. “We have drawn on KPIs that we have utilised in other areas of the business but we have also worked with LOCOG to make sure that we have got some bespoke and specific KPIs that work for this contract as well.”

The problem then was not designing the security solution, but how to recruit and train the people to fulfil it. One segment of the workforce will come through the ‘Bridging The Gap’ scheme, which is aimed specifically at students who are interested in working at the Games. Around 3000 students are being employed through the scheme that is intended to add security skills and work experience without disrupting studies.

All successful applications have been put through the industry-standard SIA Door Supervisor training. Young commented: “This is a four day course, but that is just to provide statutory compliance and the skills and qualifications needed within the security industry. What we are then doing is furnishing people with additional skills and training for the roles they have been recruited for. So dependent on whether it’s for an asset protection role, whether it’s for a PSA role – airport style security - whether it’s for a vehicle searching role, they will have additional training on top of the statutory security training.

“Everybody will have some role specific training because this is about working at the Olympic Games and understanding the processes and procedures for this particular contract, so everyone has that additional training.”

Some of the established venues like the football grounds will already have an incumbent security team who will provide the bulk of the security provision, with G4S adding an ‘overlay’. This will involve the additional, baggage checks and so on as part of what Young describes as a ‘blended approach’. All security staff, whether incumbents or part of the G4S overlay, working at any Olympic venue will have been accredited by LOCOG along with other identity and criminality checks. They will, incidentally, be clad in a bespoke green uniform for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics.

The recruitment drive has been the biggest paid recruitment drive this century and has presented a spectrum of applicants that have provided a mixed workforce with many having relevant experience – ex-police and military for example – blended with others seeking to gain experience with a view to longer term employment within the security industry. Recruitment centres in East and West London have been supplemented by teams roving country–wide to attract the right applicants.

But now the focus has switched to training. A massive challenge? “Yes it is,” said Young. “. We have a dedicated facility in Stratford - a school that was first used as a recruitment centre and is now rolling into its training delivery phase. So we have got numerous classrooms and capacity and trainers. A lot of the trainers we have got previous Olympic training experience as well. It is certainly quite a challenging programme but we have got the people with the skills and got the facilities to deliver it.”

The process has also been balanced to stagger the training demands. Young explained how the role specific training was being managed: “If for example it was for CCTV then people would go through the statutory CCTV training to get the CCTV SIA licence. Then we’ve got supplementary CCTV training for people in the control rooms. For people operating the x-ray equipment there is specialist training delivered to them along with the familiarisation training delivered to them, so it is not all done in one big lump, but we will deliver the core competencies and then deliver the specialities further down the line.”

Which highlights the contribution that G4S, unofficially on behalf of the security industry, is making to the much vaunted legacy component of the Games. From a security perspective this contribution is in training this huge body people for future careers in the security sector. “It is a great opportunity for some people,” claimed Young. “They get paid to attend the training, which results in a SIA Door Supervisor licence - so that is for them to utilise for the three years until the licence expires. And then of course there experience of the roles that they are being trained in – all along with the Olympic experience. Now it means that they are getting more and more experience and venue familiarisation and seeing how venues are changing from construction phase through to games time delivery stage.”

Even making sure that the security team is on site when needed has required careful planning. “We are accommodating some of the workforce, especially those who have got a significant commute into a venue, so we have certain accommodation site secured. All of this is quite complex and interdependent so we have got a team that are solely focussed on operational support to make sure that we have accommodation that is equally supported by transport, that is equally supported by any catering that needs to be included for that as well. They would be supported by coaches if any contingency transport was necessary.”

Even given that I spoke to Young with several months still left before the Games opens, she was clearly satisfied with preparations to date: “We have done all of our recruitment activity based on robust processes. We’ve got security checks in place from our perspective and background checks to back up LOCOG accreditation. We’ve made sure that we have got the facility for training – we have got all of that sorted. We are making sure that from training onwards we are giving people the right equipment to do their job, and accommodating and feeding people. So the whole package is there.”

But as I final thought I put it to Young that, being British, we will always look for the negative. As far as security provision is concerned, is the best result that it is neither noticed or talked about? “Absolutely. The Olympics is there for people to go and watch a fabulous sporting event. We are just there helping to enable that. So if everyone gets in quickly and safely, watches the event and goes home and if we can help make that happen rather than be any sort of focus then it will be a great result for us.”

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