The commercial real estate
industry is at the start of what is predicted to be a significant talent shortage, according to CEL & Associates, Inc., a national real estate consultancy and research firm. The shortage, which could last through 2019, will perhaps be felt most acutely in 2015, when the first wave of Baby Boomers retires in force and leaves behind a shortage of 15,000-25,000 qualified workers per year within this industry.
Add to this another disquieting statistic: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 145,340 property, real estate, and community association managers in 2000. By May 2009, that number increased to only 150,850 – a net gain of just 5,510 positions – in an industry that has made substantial increases in square footage in office, industrial, and retail buildings, all of which need management staff.
Never has upgrading the industry’s talent pool been so critical.
Attracting New Talent
For an industry that can’t just look to any college and tap into a vast well of graduates with “commercial real estate” degrees, the question becomes how to best recruit and train new talent, and how to best advance and pursue opportunities for those already in the industry.
“In general, I look for those candidates who have a business degree,” says Marc Fischer, senior vice president and director of management services for Transwestern. “In my experience, those candidates with a business degree can hit the ground running. They understand the basics of accounting, finance, law, and a host of other topics that are important in our business.”
The real estate business itself is in a state of monumental change. Adds Fischer, “I’ve been with Transwestern for 20 years, and we’ve come a long way from the property manager of the 1990s walking the building with a giant ring of keys on his belt. Many of the things we do today simply didn’t exist back then – controlling waste, managing electricity, implementing sustainability programs, and adopting new technologies. Back then, if you took out the trash and changed the light bulbs, you were hired. Today, there is a higher level of expectation for property managers. There is almost always a best practice for everything we do, and the bar is constantly rising.”
Other attributes that Chris Lee, president and CEO of CEL & Associates, Inc., says are almost always mentioned by employers as they search for successful candidates include:
- Overall business acumen and ability to create value
- Communication skills
- Sensitivity to and experience in providing customer-centric solutions
- Professional industry involvement
- Creativity, motivation, and “extra” effort activities
- Leadership and collaboration skills
Appealing to Generation Y
Of course, interviews are two-way streets, and candidates will be interviewing your company to ensure a cultural fit like you interview candidates to ensure they will be a professional fit.
“Candidates must do their homework before they have an interview in order to align their experience and capabilities with the values, culture, and style of the organization to which they are applying,” Lee adds. “To recruit young people today, a company must offer a dynamic future and demonstrate that it is a socially conscious, environmentally friendly organization that takes time to build and perfect the skills of its employees. It must have values, demonstrate growth opportunities, and speak the language of Gen Ys.”
For example, successful firms will replace the title “property manager” with “business leader” or “enterprise leader“ when trying to recruit young people into property management. “The title ‘manager’ is not appealing to Gen Ys. Young talent needs opportunities, training, mentorship, and feedback while simultaneously knowing that their voice and opinion counts and that their contributions matter and make a difference,” says Lee, who acknowledges that young candidates also have to adapt for the workplace. “Young people seeking jobs need to dress appropriately and withhold using slang language and Gen Y babble.”
Recent graduates may not yet have much of a resume, so they need a way to set themselves apart from the competition. A little involvement can go a long way: join a commercial real estate association, run a committee, or serve as a junior board member. Get active in your community, help fundraise, join a charity, or open doors for those in need. All will demonstrate transferable skills.
For more mid-level and senior management positions, the key to professional development and enhancement is – just as it is for a high school senior looking to land a spot at a top college – being well-rounded.
“I define successful managers by thinking of a Trivial Pursuit game piece, with a successful manager being the one who has every wedge in their game piece,” Fischer says. “They’ll have a wedge for construction, operations, client services, accounting, finance, etc. In order to be successful in a high-performance organization like Transwestern, they absolutely must have a wealth of experience in a variety of areas. It’s a full-court press every day.”
Fischer also takes a hard look at the companies from which managers have come, knowing that some cultivate well-roundedness more effectively than others.
“In some companies, the property managers do not handle construction projects or, if you can believe it, budgets, operating expenses, and financial reporting. Those tasks are handled elsewhere in the organization. I can’t hire property managers with those limited skill sets,” he says. “I want someone who has had full responsibility for the entire property management scope of work – because that is going to be their job when they arrive here to work. I’m looking for exceptional performers who have the mentality and the knowledge to manage a commercial building better than anyone else. I also want someone who comes from a building that’s benchmarked with ENERGY STAR. Surprisingly enough, I talk with many potential hires who have no idea how to benchmark their buildings. If they haven’t benchmarked their office buildings in ENERGY STAR, that’s inexcusable, and in most cases, the interview is over.”
Committing to Life-Long Learning
Employers are also paying more attention to candidates who can demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning through their participation in formal and informal educational programs, as well as their pursuit of professional designations. Programs could include BOMA International’s “Foundations of Real Estate Management,” which covers the fundamentals of commercial real estate administration, management, building systems, accounting and reporting, and contract management. Other options are BOMA’s RPA, FMA, SMA, and SMT designations, along with the Institute of Real Estate Management’s CPM and CCIM designations. Any of these options can serve as capstones for any manager’s professional education. Energy management classes that provide a more in-depth understanding of ENERGY STAR and LEED are also critical.
And, just as education should be a lifelong pursuit, so should networking. Whether you’re securely in a position you love or actively in pursuit of a new opportunity, create a list of people in the industry whom you admire, and make it a goal to meet one person from that list every other week for lunch or a quick cup of coffee. Perhaps most importantly, go to those mentor-building meetings not with the idea that you’re looking to get something out of the other person, but that you are bringing value to the table.
Choosing a Career Path
Successful candidates target companies that can help them meet their long-term goals.
“The smart managers will choose companies that will set a trajectory for the rest of their careers,” adds Fischer. “Employees should look for companies that will expose them to opportunities to build their skills. More than ever, employees need to be conscious of where they want their career to go. You can’t just get on the ‘lazy river’ in this industry and float. A far more effective approach is to look for problems and ask to be part of the solution. Ask what building or project needs the most help, and then be in the thick of it. Be the problem solver.”
Lastly, always remember that being in the right place at the right time cannot depend on luck. Whether you’re a statistics junkie or lean toward anecdotal evidence, it’s clear that the real estate industry will be hungry for talent in the coming years, and it’s up to you to prepare for that inevitability.
“Companies are on a continuous search for the ‘right person,’” Lee says, “and when the Boomers retire, they’ll leave a huge leadership void. Their knowledge, experience, and skills – developed over 25 to 40 years – cannot be easily replaced. Their relationships and insights cannot be handed off. So the time is now – for the real estate industry as a whole and for individuals who want to have a place in the industry over the next 5, 10, 15 years – to position ourselves before it’s too late.”
Boyd Zoccola is chair and chief-elected officer of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and executive vice president of Hokanson Companies, Inc. Learn more about BOMA at www.boma.org.