Express Employment Professionals: Strengthening Athens One Job At A Time

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Kim Whitworth and Richard Shirkness are a married couple with North Alabama roots, five children between them, grandkids, and both had a burning desire for years to be back in the Athens area. Together, having had decades of experience in corporate America, the time finally came when they both knew they wanted to do something else. Richard is a software engineer, and Kim developed training for AT&T in Atlanta. Kim and Richard have both experienced layoffs and understood the stress and fear of being without a job.

Richard and Kim set to work to find something that fit with their moral and spiritual values, their strengths, as well as experience in the market place. They wanted a franchise opportunity which was linked to a stable and established company that was unashamedly pro-America and pro-military. They found it in the form of Express Employment Professionals, which was started in 1983 and has more than 800 offices nationwide. The company is headquartered in Oklahoma City, and right on the front of their building are large brass letters that say, “God Bless America.” Kim told me, “We were overwhelmed with the welcome we got. People lined up and applauded us as we entered the building, and they didn’t just say it, they meant it.” Express Employment Professionals is picky as to who they allow to represent their brand. “They get thousands of serious inquiries a year, and they select only about 80,” said Kim.

A requirement for being allowed to purchase an Express Employment Professionals franchise is to give back to the community. Would-be franchise owners must select the charity or charities of their choice, and demonstrate that they are partnering with them to strengthen their city or town. Another thing that is encouraged is to call up other franchise owners so they can “talk shop” and find out how things are going and what challenges have been faced and overcome. All in all, everything was a perfect fit, and they opened their doors for business with success as a result.

When COVID-19 hit, they were considered an “essential business,” and the whole Decatur office decided to stay open while following the CDC guidelines. They had a brainstorming session as to how they could be compliant and still find creative ways to build the business. For example, they used only one pen for applicants, and sterilized it after each use. “We have an amazing staff – they are so dedicated, and see what they do as a calling. They truly care about our applicants and our clients,” said Kim. One of their fellow franchisees came up with the idea of doing a “drive-through job fair,” and this is how the relationship with Family Resource Center in Athens was born.

They had always wanted to open an office in Athens. “We held a Drive-Thru Jobs Fair in August of 2020 in the parking lot of the Family Resource Center parking lot on S. Jefferson Street. It felt like 110 degrees outside, yet we had 35 people apply for jobs,” Kim told me. That was when the partnership with Express and the FRC was solidified. They soon opened the Athens office inside FRC. “Working with FRC has been fabulous, and we are so honored to rent office space there, and thankful for the support they have given us,” said Kim. She added, “Tina Cook, Director of the FRC, and Jaquata Thompson from the Career Center do so much for the Athens community, so partnering with them has been a great fit.”  Express team members are there all day on Tuesdays, Friday mornings and also by appointment. “Our goal is to be there full time within the next few months,” said Kim.

In general, Kim is out in the field seeking out and vetting businesses that could use their services, and Richard trains associates at the office. “Richard is like a proud papa when they get hired,” said Kim with a smile. One of their first success stories at the Decatur office was helping a single dad who was raising four children get a much-needed job that worked with the needs of his kids. Others have said, “You saw in me what I didn’t see in myself.” Richard in particular enjoys the fact that most often if those seeking employment have a coach who believes in them and helps them to polish their skills, they end up being a successful employee. Even in the chaos of COVID, between both offices, Express Pros were able to continue to place applicants, and more than 200 people were hired permanently. One man at the Athens office had just gotten out of prison and needed a bike to get to his new job, and FRC helped with that.

The reason why Express Pros works so well is the time and expense they spend getting to know both the client (business owner) as well as the associate (person seeking employment). “We never charge applicants fees for finding them a job, or for their drug test,” said Kim. Express Employment Professionals have placed applicants in jobs ranging from fast food outlets to highly specialized professional positions. If you are in need of employment and you are ready, willing and able to work, give them a call today. Likewise, if you are looking to hire and need help finding the right fit for your company, contact them. They would consider it an honor to have you as an associate or a client.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner