Job search on after the Olympics

Sunday, January 20, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Instead of buying lunch, Justin Jones eats the sandwich his wife packs for him. Instead of spending $14 to see a movie, they cuddle up to watch one at home.

The intent is to save money, a subject on Jones' mind a lot these days. He's an employee of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which will dissolve two months after the 2002 Winter Olympics ends.

Like Jones, hundreds of workers will be left without jobs.

"My wife (Tiffany) is taking inventory of every penny that we own," said Jones, who is in charge of the pool of assistants who help dignitaries while they're in Salt Lake City for the Olympics.

"I'm anxious because the future is uncertain, but at the same time it's wide open because of my experience here," he said.

Tiffany Jones decided to stay home with their eight-month-old son, Parker. Jones' income has to support the family of three. So instead of buying a Christmas tree, the Joneses bought a $10 permit, trudged into the forest in a blizzard and cut their own tree. They agreed to spend no more than $50 on each other for Christmas.

Jones, 30, is on a leave of absence from a state government job helping the needy find work, but he'd prefer not to go back to the government.

"The Olympics is fast and exciting and dynamic," Jones said. "It's such a rush. I'd love to run away with the circus, so to speak, and work for the Torino (Italy) Olympics" in 2006, he said, mentioning his fluency in Italian. "I'm feeling the pressure of this. I'm looking at my calendar all the time."

Finding job offers

SLOC hired about 1,500 permanent workers and only about 17 percent have post-Olympic employment. Organizers want 90 percent of their employees to have at least one job offer by opening ceremonies Feb. 8.

Nearly 25,000 additional people will be hired by SLOC or contractors to provide services for the games. The organizing committee does not provide job-placement help for this group.

Workers know going in that the job will end with the games.

"These people bought into the idea of temporary work because it had a promise," said Michael Bednarski, a New York psychologist. "Of experience. Of the idea that they'd get something from it."

But opportunities that may have seemed abundant one, two or three years ago, evaporated as the economy slowed. Gloom or panic could set in with the prospect of unemployment.

"The dynamics of the job market have changed so much this could be a shake-up time for them," Bednarski said. "Now it's a whole different ballgame. It's a time of reckoning."

The 17-day competition draws many who've never worked for the Olympics. They find they like the pace and enthusiasm so much they try to ride the Olympic wave to the next host city.

About a third of SLOC employees are in event management, a group that not only stages Olympics, but World Cups, Goodwill Games, Pan-American Games and other athletic events.

English language advantage

Three of the last four Olympic Games have been in English-speaking cities -- Atlanta, Sydney and Salt Lake -- allowing those hooked into the circuit to find jobs relatively easily. That may not be the case for the next three games in Athens, Greece; Torino; and Beijing.

However, English is the language of technology, allowing many Americans a leg up in those areas.

While some wait for work and others long for skiing, employers see SLOC as a pool of talent waiting to be tapped. SLOC works with about 500 companies to find jobs for their employees after the games.

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