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New on the job? Take tips from NBA’s rookie program

Toronto native Anthony Bennett starts his first real job in October, as a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s already thinking about life beyond his basketball career.


Whether you're lacing up a pair of sneakers for a career as a professional athlete or taking a seat behind a desk for an office job, there are a number of skills you need to master before entering the work force.

That was the motivation behind the National Basketball Association's Rookie Transition Program, which provides skills training to the league's newest cohort of players. The three-day program teaches the league's newcomers about time management, financial planning, networking, stress management, social media management and overall professionalism.

"We like to think of the skills that they're learning as life skills," said Greg Taylor, senior vice-president of player development for the NBA.

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Toronto native Anthony Bennett will begin his first real job in October, as a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 20-year-old was first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, and said his biggest takeaway from the rookie program was long-term financial planning.

"The average NBA player plays 4.7 years – that's really short if you think about it," Mr. Bennett said in an interview. "You have life after basketball, which is about 30 or 40 years, maybe 50 if you're lucky. So [preparing for] life after basketball was the biggest thing I really got out of it."

Mr. Bennett, who describes himself as a "humble guy," said he is determined to not let his sudden fame change his decision-making.

"After all the hard work I've put in, I have to make disciplined decisions," he said. "I have to be on time for things … have to take the time to get to practice on time."

The NBA rooking training program, the longest-running program of its kind, was developed in 1986 to help support recently drafted players before the start of their first season. The mandatory program is conducted by the NBA and National Basketball Players Association staff, former players and other experts.

"It's a critical program because we know that as first-year players come in, they're the new ambassadors of the game," Mr. Taylor said in an interview. "We want to prepare them to be successful on the court, and that requires that they master the challenges and the necessary experiences off the court."

Mr. Taylor said the young players are also taught how to manage all aspects their personal brand. "We say to them, 'Listen, you're the head of your own company now, so being able to make smart and thoughtful financial decisions is a skill, and let us provide you with the information and the training to develop that skill.' "

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Barrie Carlyle, director of talent acquisition for recruiting agency Knightsbridge Human Capital in Toronto, said proper time management training is vital for all workers, no matter what their field. Whether it's a matter of getting to meetings or to practice on time, he said it is important to show co-workers and teammates that their time is valued.

"The problem is that people without training and without mentorship often determine for themselves what the most pressing time-management issue is," Mr. Carlyle said. "It is about respecting other people's time. … How do you determine the internal meetings that are important, the internal time commitments that are important? That is the biggest time-management issue for any new employee."

Mr. Carlyle sees many ways in which the typical workplace can learn a thing or two from the NBA's program. For example, he believes office environments should put a similar emphasis on providing mentorship for new hires.

"In the business context, let's make sure that new employees have a real, honest mentoring relationship with a veteran employee on the team who knows how the office runs, who knows what the expectations are, who has been through some of the growing pains himself or herself, to be able to share that in a safe environment with a new employee," Mr. Carlyle said.

Although many of the skills taught during the first NBA rookie program in 1986 are still applicable, newcomers now face challenges that are unique to their generation. For example, new employees in any career path now need to consider how their online persona changes on their first day on the job.

"Everything you do on the Internet stays there forever," Mr. Carlyle noted. In their orientation programs, employers "should not just have a social-media policy, but really talk to people about what it means to understand the value of what you're doing on Facebook and Twitter."

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While some of material covered by the NBA program and other orientation programs might seem obvious, too many young people enter the work force lacking those basic skills, said Lauren Friese, co-founder and chief executive officer of Talent Egg, a Toronto-based employment website.

"This is a course for becoming an adult. You're not taught these things in school … you see so many people coming out of school without any idea of what time management is and how to effectively manage their time," she said. "It would be incredible if every new grad went through a program like this."

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