Making business better through sport

The Sport for Business Round Table on Employment took place on Thursday, July 26th on the eve of the London 2012 Olympic Games. With sport all around there was a strong turn out from the business community. Representatives of Ulster Bank, Accenture, PwC and Sigmar Recruitment were joined by those from the UCD Smurfit Business School, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and a number of other individual members.

Our subject was to look at the importance of sport in terms of attracting and retaining talent; the role of the workplace in encouraging sports participation and the idea of using sporting infrastructure as a backdrop for programmes that could help counter youth unemployment.

As is our usual format, a list of ten take away points emerged from the Round Table, as well as an action list of initiatives in the area we would like to progress.

The take away points

1. “I will learn more about the character of a colleague through 60 minutes of sport than I would through many months of working alongside them in an office environment. Sport reveals as well as creates character in an individual.” This contribution neatly summarised the importance of sport for those building or managing a team.

2. Sporting and cultural capital within major companies is becoming more relevant and coming under closer scrutiny from future employees and business partners. It is no longer just about financial capital.

3. At PwC one enthusiastic individual set out to establish a running club, expecting a few dozen members. Within months there were 400. This shows the value of an evangelist for a sport in the workplace. They will get things started and maintain momentum in the early stages. They also need an ally in senior management who will provide company support, approval and a path for staff to see how they can use sport to network internally.

4. Ulster Bank’s invitation to staff to play Gaelic football in a tournament that would end up in a game at Croke Park attracted no fewer than 4,000 applications. Companies that introduce more formal events will succeed if showing imagination and ideally working in tandem with a sports organisation with whom they have a relationship.

5. One of the most familiar phrases heard by an overseas colleague when talking to Irish colleagues is ‘I used to play…’ Work should not be seen as a drop off point where people end participation because of time constraints. Rather it should be nurtured as an opportunity to maintain active involvement in sport and as a return path for those who may have not participated for a while.

6. 53% of British men said they talked about sport at work at least once a day. We felt that in Ireland the figure would likely be closer to 80%. In terms of engagement between staff, as a means of breaking through ‘silo’s’ and as a boost for staff morale it has very few equals.

7. It was felt that sporting bodies might do more to create structured programmes that would provide easy access to sports. The SARI Soccerfest and a corporate Olympic Handball event taking place in Temple Bar this September were highlighted as good examples of how companies can be brought into the world of sport.

8. With declining proportions of national students in third level education, there is a growing need to attract international interest which will have a natural spin off benefit for Ireland. Sport is an ideal way of doing this. Credit was paid to the UCD soccer scholarship programme in particular which has benefitted many players since its introduction in 1979.

9. The transition of sporting ‘stars’ into the workplace is not as smooth as might be imagined. Employees who are known in a community have a benefit in an ambassadorial sense but they do need to be effective and accountable for their roles, just as any other employee would.

10. The Erasmus for All Programme within the EU has a budget of €19 billion between 2014 and 2020. Irish sporting and other organisations need to have a strong awareness of how they can contribute and benefit from a programme that has the reduction of youth unemployment as a key target in its objectives.

What do we want to make progress on?

Sigmar Recruitment and Sport for Business will put on a broad based breakfast seminar for leading HR professionals and senior managers with the theme to “Make your Business Better through Sport.”

Sport for Business will coordinate a major sports participation initiative in the spring of 2013 whereby eight companies will compete in a range of adapted sporting competitions utilising existing teams and groups within their workplaces.

Sport for Business will  facilitate at least two ‘Sport in the Workplace’ programmes with governing bodies on a pilot basis.

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