“Athletes make the best employees,” says Joyce Russell, President of Adecco Staffing US. In the following interview, she discusses how the recruiting and workforce solutions firm has partnered with the United States Olympic Committee to help our country’s elite athletes as they bring the skills they learn on the field into the workplace.
Could you explain what the Team USA Career Program is? At Adecco, we saw a need for career-related programs and services for America’s best athletes. The U.S. Olympic athletes you see in commercials or on cereal boxes only make up a very small minority of the athletes competing – at best. Most of these athletes are actually looking for work while they’re training for the games. Some of them are sponsored by their families, but many of them are just like you and me—trying to make ends meet every day. So we created a partnership with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to help them, and it’s been very, very successful. We recently had a summit at the USOC in Colorado Springs, where many employers signed on to take ‘X’ amount of athletes within their companies. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to connect with many more employers and educate them about the athletes who are coming back and will be looking for full-time employment. We want to be that matchmaker between the Olympic athletes on their return home and the client companies here in the U.S. There’s a lot more work to be done.
What unique benefits do athletes offer employers? They’re the perfect employees: They have drive, dedication, motivation and resilience; they’ve been top performers in their sport; and all of that absolutely transfers to the workforce. While visiting a client company yesterday in New York, one of their associates, who was a silver medalist in rowing, was telling us how the skills, talents and attributes he acquired from his Olympic career transitioned over to his success in the business world today. The resilience, dedication, motivation, and the focus he learned as an athlete are contributing to his success today at his company.
I’ve also heard you say that they bring inspiration into the workplace. Why is inspiration important? I think we all need inspiration and motivation in our lives. It just helps us make that extra step and rise to that challenge. These athletes certainly don’t lack in showing us that we’re all able to dream and to challenge ourselves both personally and professionally.
What are some of the challenges athletes encounter as they’re entering the workforce, and how do you help them overcome those challenges? Switching gears from athletics to business and career definitely requires a different mindset. Most of these athletes have been focused on their sport since childhood, and now they have to make a transition into the world of work. We help them make that transition by coaching them and training them on the skills companies are hiring for right now. The woman who runs our program actually was an elite athlete, so she understands what athletes go through. We at Adecco really take the time to understand these athletes’ hard and soft skills. We spend the time going through resumes that may have been on the bottom of a pile somewhere else because it didn’t meet the traditional resume’s pattern.
What other programs is Adecco involved in that are similar to this one? We have a Veterans program, as well as a program targeted at mature workers. The goal for all of these programs is to take people who have a wealth of experience, but who may not fit the ‘traditional’ [job candidate] model, and really help employers see what they have to offer. Veterans are sort of similar to Olympic athletes because they spend years doing something extraordinary, and when they come back, they don’t necessarily have a traditional resume to show for it. Just because these workers may not have the keywords we search for when looking at resumes, it doesn’t mean they don’t have those skills. As for mature workers, this is a population who is very dedicated to working. They’re looking for that same flexibility the younger generation is looking for, but they’re saying, “I might not want to work 40 hours, but I could give you an unbelievable 32 hours!” As employers, I think we need to be flexible as well.
What’s your best piece of advice for clients? Time is the most precious asset that any of us can give anyone right now—time to look at the resumes of these athletes, or of these veterans, or of these mature workers. They might not be exactly the perfect fit, but should we give them that chance to make an impact on our company, and just have the heart to take that extra time to take a peek.