If they build it…who will work there? Reminiscent of the 1989 American fantasy-drama sports film, “Field of Dreams,” Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley specifically will be faced with a daunting challenge leading up to and through the 2028 Olympics: building a massive workforce of employees and volunteers capable of managing nearly a month of Olympic and Paralympic events and festivities.
In July of 2028, the sacred flame will be lit to commence the summer Olympics for the third time in Los Angeles. The city will be the only in the nation and third in the world to host the Olympics three times. The bid committee stated in 2017 they are committed to including the greatest number of Angelenos in 2028. The Olympic organizers anticipate a workforce of up to 6,000 paid staff and an unknown number of contractors. (The Rio de Janeiro Olympics employed about 40,000 staff and contractors). Indeed, the San Fernando Valley is home to nearly half of L.A.’s population and the area will gain the Valley Sports Park located in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area. The venue will bring the Olympic Games to the Valley for the first time.
Civic organizations, business leaders, and local government officials anticipate the Olympics as a transformative event. However, I believe, in order to be successful, Olympic planners need to work with Valley leaders need to examine the labor pool starting now in order to prepare a workforce that can serve this mega-event.
Currently, the United States is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in more than a decade. In Los Angeles, the unemployment rate hovers near 4 percent. It is unlikely the record low unemployment will endure for another 8 years. However, Olympic organizers will need to be resourceful and creative in planning a future, massive workforce. The decisive success factor is to determine where there are workers available now and leading up to 2028.
According to the most recent Census reports (2019), in the San Fernando Valley, the unemployment rate is 5 percent. Of those employed, 25 percent are part-time, and 13 percent of households report “no one” working. These numbers are generally higher than the rest of the local region. According to economy data provide by Town Charts, the Valley’s average hourly earnings is $24.32, which is $1.80 less than the state’s average.
With the opportunity and resources, the 2028 Olympics can serve as a turning point if the appropriate investment is made in workforce development. The Valley must develop a workforce strategy that can benefit individuals, families and the community. Here are three ideas to start:
Develop a blueprint to better understand the existing pipeline and future skills needs for growing sectors within Los Angeles. This will include identifying career pathway opportunities that can assist with job placement once the Olympic Games conclude. For example, construction is sure to be a major need in advance of the Olympics. However, according to the most recent data available, construction employment ballooned year over year in 2018 by 6.7 percent. Could the Olympics offer the opportunity to smooth out volatility in the construction worker market?
Build on existing training, educational and workforce development programs. As globalization and automation continue to reshape the labor market, it is essential to provide the necessary education and skills to lower-wage workers. After the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games provided outplacement facilities where Olympic employees were provided resources to assist with job placement and transitioning. Could organizations with additional funding such as the Valley Economic Alliance (with multiple workforce development programs) prepare, place and retrain workers for the Olympics and post-Olympic industry?
Establish partnerships with businesses and neighboring counties to promote a workforce pipeline and recruiting opportunities. Los Angeles is home to thousands of businesses and the Olympics can serve as an opportunity to develop an “employee volunteer” or “employee lending” program. Other partnerships include businesses creating a talent pipeline with Olympic staff; creating a market for employers to build relationships and engage with potential candidates on their terms and vet the individual on a deeper level than the typical hiring process. Could organizations such as Valley Industry and Commerce Association encourage partnerships in advance of the Olympics? Higher education also plays a role – Pepperdine Graziadio has a campus in Encino as well as four other locations in the region which can capably train professionals who could work on Olympics-related endeavors.
If the Los Angeles region including the Valley is going to make an impact and show the world how to do the Olympics the right way, we should show the world how to achieve a return on the $6.9+ billion investment. Los Angeles can ill afford to go for anything other than the gold.
David Smith, Ph.D., is professor of economics at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School.