A frantic push to safeguard the Paris Olympics promises thousands of jobs and new starts after riots

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Job seeker Fandio Aldo poses for a photograph during the Olympics jobs fair at sport center in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. Organizers urgently need many thousands of recruits for the huge security operation that will aim to keep athletes and spectators safe during the July 26-Aug. 11 Summer Games in the French capital that has been repeatedly hit by deadly extremist attacks. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS – With a name that doesn’t ring old-school French like Jean, Pierre or Jacques, and a home address in a tough suburb of Paris where riots flared, Salah Benkadmir is discovering how hard it can be to make prospective employers in France see beyond their prejudices.

Despite having a high school diploma in sales and work experience as a vendor on his resume, the 19-year-old job seeker says that when he sends it to stores making hires, often no one calls him back.

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“I feel like I've got a label stuck to me. It is very unpleasant," he says.

But with the Olympic Games soon to hit Paris, Benkadmir thinks his fortunes may be about to improve. Organizers urgently need thousands of security guards to help keep athletes and spectators safe and reduce the likelihood of another deadly extremist attack in the French capital.

Demand for people at checkpoints, to scan tickets and help manage crowds is so great that France's state employment agency is offering free and expedited security guard training courses, with no specialist qualifications required.

The “We need you!” approach and promises of plentiful paid work from July to September during the Summer Games and Paralympics are a welcome change for job seekers who feel ostracized from the labor market. Benkadmir hopes that by training for and then working in the huge Olympic security operation, his skills afterward will be more evident to employers in the retail industry than his mix of French-North African roots and his post code: 92000 Nanterre.

Nanterre was the epicenter of rioting that spread across France over the summer after a police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old in the town just west of Paris. The death of Nahel Merzouk during a traffic stop hit Benkadmir close to home: Some of his brothers were friends with the youngster, he says.

Like other suburbs of Paris with large immigrant populations, Nanterre is blighted by inequality, disadvantaged housing projects and young people who feel the odds are stacked against them, in part because they're Black and brown. Benkadmir hopes to bust through those obstacles with an Olympics security job that will "show we are versatile, that we invest ourselves in different projects, that we don't just stay in one place, that we really want to succeed.”

Proof of that: He and about 30 other young men from Nanterre invested a morning of their time earlier in December to attend an Olympic jobs presentation in Paris. Benkadmir and his friends got a ride there from one of their dads. Others traveled by public transportation. Gathering in a semicircle, they listened intently as an introductory speaker explained: "The Olympic Games are coming and there's a huge lack of personnel."

In the Paris region alone, state employment agency Pole Emploi is looking for at least 6,000 people in the next four months to take a free three-week training course that will qualify them to work as security stewards at the Olympics and other public events like concerts. That's on top of the 14,000 security workers who have already been newly trained.

“It's rare to have so much work all at one time,” said Najat Semdani, in charge of the recruitment drive. She said it will “benefit people who have been left by the wayside a bit” and those who have experienced “the accidents of life” — including people who left school with no qualifications, youngsters from underprivileged neighborhoods and those who have long been unemployed.

After more than 20 years of living on the streets and in assisted housing, Starsky-Aldo Fandio thinks an Olympics security job might be his ticket to longer-term work afterward. A Pole Emploi adviser wearing a “We are here for you!” badge on his lapel walked the 45-year-old Fandio through how to apply for the training.

“Then you'll get job offers and be asked if you're interested in working for the Olympic Games,” the adviser, Stephane Lange, explained.

The Olympic security operation will be unprecedented in scale for France, with tens of thousands of police officers and thousands of soldiers to be bolstered by an additional 17,000 private security guards, rising to 22,000 on the Games' busiest days.

Bruno Le Ray, the organizing committee's security director, said he can't yet gauge whether they'll fall short and, if so, by how many. In an interview, he described the security operation as “colossal." If private stewards can’t be recruited in sufficient numbers, the military could be called upon to provide additional resources.

Mourad Kassir, who runs one of the private security firms that has contracted with the Paris Games' organizers, is confident that he will find the 1,000 stewards he needs for a half-dozen of the Olympic venues. He already has more than that number of candidates signed up to WhatsApp groups that he's set up in preparation.

The training for new recruits includes how to pat people down and how to react if they're armed, how to interact with crowds, some first aid and the legal do's and don'ts of security work, Kassir said. He expects the layers of security will be so dense that Olympic sites will be practically impregnable.

“For someone with a knife, a gun, a grenade, to get to a venue, well, bravo," he said.


AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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