Training is in full force for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, but one type of training taking place doesn't involve a stopwatch or qualifying heats. Instead, it involves personnel who will serve the public and athletes at the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games this September.
Training has become a major topic of conversation of the Beijing Organizing Committee 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG) Executive Board, which called for "the enhancement of training of key personnel. Such people can be assigned to new posts only after they have passed an examination. The training quality should be increased so that the trainees can provide highlevel services."
A training department of 21 people is responsible for training more than 600 BOCOG staff, which includes employees, interns, and short-term associates. Training also has been given to contractors and vendors who will provide services to the Olympic Games; referees, officials, and their assistants; and more than 100,000 volunteers who will provide guest reception, translation, transportation, security, medical service, spectator information, venue operations support, and media operations support.
"The training started when the organizing committee was launched," says Weixing Nuo, deputy director of the Human Resources Department for BOCOG. "We focused on the staff's general information training, jobrelated training, and English language training. Training is expected to continue after the Olympic Games."
The training function is led by Binghua Li, the executive vice president. The 21 full-time trainers came from either an HR or teaching background, or from the world of multimedia education. The entire staff - nine males and 12 females - is Chinese.
The HR department is responsible for training the BOCOG staff, contractors and vendors, and the referees, officials, and their assistants. The volunteer department trains the volunteers. Beijing also has organized a training coordination group to teach those working in tourism, sales, and transportation.
Complex training programs
Training for the different groups can be complex. It involves more than just skills training. Training encompasses psychology, attitude, and manners, as well as history, language, and culture. The volunteers receive training that emphasizes 22 core qualities in seven categories, including knowledge, personality, value, attitude and motivation, appearance, and physical health.
Training for the working staff consists of Olympic knowledge, the organization of the Olympic Games, stadium management, and management skills. Training for contractors and vendors focuses on how to supply and service the stadiums. Officials and referees receive foreign language training as well as knowledge and skills training. The majority of the training for volunteers is on stadium and field knowledge and job-related knowledge and skills.
"We don't have the experience of the previous Olympic Games and are very short on talent and experience," Nuo explains. "Plus, because the organizing committee is a temporary organization, the people all came from different organizations and all have different backgrounds. That can make training very challenging.
"Olympic training needs to be specific," Nuo adds. "Few general training resources can be used directly - they need to be tailored to each individual event."
Training workshops are conducted to help staff bone up on Olympic knowledge, and organized delegations also visit cities that have hosted previous Olympics to learn from their experiences.
Volunteers receive knowledge training in Chinese history and traditional culture, history and cultural information about Beijing, and in how to serve people with disabilities. Trainees also acquire some medical knowledge and first-aid skills.
Foreign language training takes place in workshops and online. Management training involves train-the-trainer courses and volunteer management training.
"We also work with different vendors to provide train-the-trainer programs," says Nuo. "Based on the content, some of the training courses are also conducted in universities and training vendor companies."
Etiquette is gaining importance at the Olympic Games. The volunteers are receiving training in three areas: foreign etiquette technique, etiquette knowledge, and foreign language for daily contact. Students from Switzerland, Poland, Japan, and Kenya serve as volunteer trainers, sharing knowledge and experiences about everything from cuisine to daily contact.
About 1,400 students, most between the ages of 16 and 17, are going through physical conditioning and professional training for dress and etiquette to serve as stewards during the Olympic Games. Along with balancing a book on their heads, students have practiced the proper way to shake hands.
A section of the Olympic Movement and Olympic Volunteers handbook outlines the basics of decorum, including manners, appearance, attitude, and etiquette, saying, "Olympic volunteers are ambassadors of the Beijing Olympic Games and will mirror and reflect China. When they make contact with people, they need to show a fine appearance and gentle manners, speak politely, and work with a dedicated spirit."
Nuo admits that training is sometimes hindered by language barriers, but she says that the training department spends a lot of time focusing on English training because, according to the China International Travel Service, Beijing will host 4.8 million overseas athletes and spectators.
"We spend a lot of time and effort on English training," she explains. "We have published two books: Oral English for Olympics (elementary and advanced levels) and Olympic English 100 Sentences that we use in training."
The training department also works with a local training company to provide English translation training and workshops. Each staff member is given an online account to study English.
"We have different requirements for different positions," Nuo says. "We provide general English, and also teach specific English terms for different job categories and sporting events."
To be selected as a volunteer, applicants must undergo a three-part English exam that consists of reading, translation, and dialogue. The exam is done orally in front of exam administrators. Volunteers are also given suggested methods and techniques to use when learning a foreign language.
Thousands of volunteers, who will serve events at the Paralympic Games, are undergoing sign language training. China's sign language is different from the international common sign language, so most Chinese volunteers have to learn this new sign language standard. Challenges arise periodically, but Nuo admits that the training department has unwavering support from BOCOG.
"Although we have found the training to be challenging, we have sufficient support from the BOCOG and enough financial support for our training events," Nuo says. "Also, we have built up an effective training management system, which is led by the HR department and supported by other departments.
"Each department develops a training plan and submits it to HR. Then, HR monitors and evaluates the training," Nuo adds. "Every month, we create an internal newsletter that reports on the status of the training. We are constantly evaluating the process, and making plans accordingly. We also have borrowed a lot of experiences from previous Olympic host cities."
The training department also has 10 advisors, including a Sydney Olympic Games Organization Committee executive and an Athens Olympic Organizing Committee training manager.
"They are very dedicated and have provided many good suggestions and comments," says Hui Zhang, manager of the training section of the HR department for BOCOG. "Also, the technical manual provided by the International Olympic Committee is a very helpful guideline for training."
The training department is using myriad methods to train the large pool of workers. It is dispersing training through many diverse long-distance processes, including online, through the media, and with correspondence training. Some training is done face-to-face, or through simulations and books.
"It really depends on the training content or target group," explains Zhang. "We may use lectures, workshops, observation, or simulation. We started simulation training for our vendors four years ago."
BOCOG has also created Olympic textbooks filled with fundamental Olympic training information that will help volunteers chat with foreign visitors about general topics and specific sports issues. The books were prepared by more than 200 experts and professors over the course of a year, and include useful words about the Olympics, about sports matches, and about daily communications; and information about Olympic awareness and proper etiquette.
Trainers are also using case studies so volunteers can learn in simulated situations. The situations focus on practical issues, such as what to do when a guest's vehicle breaks down, because most of the problems that volunteers will confront during the games will deal with real-life scenarios.
Evolution of training
Training volunteers and service personnel in the Olympics began in 1952 at the Helsinki Olympic Games. Training was simple back then with just enough provided so that the workers could give "their best service," according to the Olympic Movement and Olympic Volunteers handbook.
Training continued throughout the Rome and Montreal Olympics, but it became more creative and more complex for the 1980 winter games in Lake Placid. Volunteers spent most of the summer of 1978 in training and seminars. Immediately after the training, the volunteers were assigned to their respective positions - based on skill level and experience.
In 1984, Sarajevo and Los Angeles introduced knowledge about the cities into the training, along with information about the Olympics, the individual sporting events, and special terms. The 1988 Calgary Winter Games used reference books, videos, and venue demonstrations to deliver training.
By the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, the volunteers were receiving their training through videos, multimedia technology, textbooks, and magazines. Standards for language ability, technical levels, and knowledge of media became tougher at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, because volunteers were being asked to do so much more in preparation for the individual events.
The 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, started using suppliers to provide training. Four years ago in Athens, Greece, training focused on customer service and operational duties at individual venues. Training lasted anywhere from two weeks to one month. Volunteers had to pass exams before being cleared to work.
With about six months remaining until the start of the 2008 Olympic Games, training has become more focused. It is now highlighting job-specific tasks at each venue.
For example, 200 trainer-volunteers serving the equestrian events are undergoing 80 hours of intensive training for different services, including frontline help, translation, and media support.
In the gymnastics venue, more than 740 volunteers were briefed on venue operations, competition information, marketing, firefighting, accreditation, and other matters relating to the individual events. They also received training to familiarize them with the structure,functions, layout, and equipment for the events. They passed exams in both Chinese and English, and have undergone several rounds of selection and professional training.
Job training highlights job responsibilities, specific job tasks, business procedures, and operating norms. All staff, volunteers, vendors, and referees must pass skill and knowledge examinations before being cleared to serve at the games.
"Four years ago for the Olympic Games in Athens, we focused on general training about the Olympics, stadium management, and job-related training. For these games, we are focusing on training for each individual event," says Zhang.