College graduates interested in property management careers have reason to be optimistic as the job outlook in the sector looks bright. Yet, future demand for this type of employment may not necessarily align with the goals of younger generations set on working in real estate.
As it stands, the average age of a building operator in Canada is more than 50 years old, and when this age group retires, they will leave behind opportunities for younger managers. Yet, some believe this complex field doesn’t necessarily have a large pool of people to draw from.
“The problem with the field is there is no career path to it,” says Jim Peece, president of The Building Owners and Managers Institute (BOMI) of Canada. “No young person wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to be a property manager,’ because they don’t know it exists and also, there is no educational path to get there. Once you finish high school, there is no program for property management at university.”
What seems to happen is people “fall into the business,” either through asset management or working as an operator motivated to advance their career in the system. Awareness of those well-paying jobs available to run buildings that are becoming more high-tech is lacking.
Property management skills
Peter MacHardy, former BOMA Chair and vice-president of national commercial property management at GWL Realty Advisors Inc., says that really incredible property managers are few and far between and the complexity of the industry is only escalating.
“The skills sets you’re going to require as technology advances are going to be more and more; we’re going to need technology-savvy operators to run buildings,” he says. “The building automation systems and lighting automation systems today are much more advanced than when I started in the industry and they are only going to get more advanced.”
This sophistication, along with the scope of property management, has been evolving for some time, from setting controls and testing air quality to managing tenant issues and security risks. With these elements comes the level of reporting now required—from financial records to energy usage—to help satisfy a data-point-starved industry.
“One of the things that has really changed in my world is a property manager has to be a really effective communicator now, and be able to present information in a concise manner,” says Keith Major, senior vice-president of property management at Bentall Kennedy. “In the past, that probably wasn’t as important as it is today.”
Major says one aspect of property management that is somewhat misunderstood is the level of diversity involved.
“The level of diversity you get from day-to-day activities in property management is significantly greater than other careers in real estate,” he notes. “If you take a large building worth one hundred million dollars, that’s a significant enterprise you’re effectively running and responsible for.”
Real estate jobs that are more focused on driving top-line revenue don’t have necessarily focus on other components that go into a balance sheet or the services provided in a building.
“You have a human resources aspect that doesn’t typically exist in other streams,” Major says. “You’re often managing construction one minute and coaching an employee the next, offering more diversity in terms of what you’re going to deal with in the course of a week.”
Yet, sometimes the intricate experiences inherent in property management don’t necessarily boost its reputation as a high profile position.
“The one challenge in property management is a lot of times people don’t recognize big milestones, so you don’t have the thrill you would have every time you close a transaction or a lease deal,” adds Major. “In property management, you don’t get that same level of satisfaction around the closure of specific events. You need to derive satisfaction around the ongoing maintenance and performance of an asset.”
However, he adds, different personalities attach themselves to different career paths, and not everyone wants to deal with acquisitions or leasing deals. Finding ways to attract those who are suited for such management positions becomes vital.
“The Canadian commercial real estate industry doesn’t necessarily promote itself at all,” adds MacHardy. “Property management certainly doesn’t either. Getting people interested in property management is going to require a tremendous amount of awareness. There needs to be some consistency across the country with regards to the different kinds of positions that are out there and what they involve. Right now a building operator can be called 15 different things across the country; that’s confusing.”
Values and motivators
Along with attracting people down a management path, also comes acquiring knowledge on what future generations value and need from a workplace. While studies on millennials don’t necessarily brain-pick all components of this cohort or completely differentiate their needs from older groups, some in the real estate industry flag key values among millennials.
Dr. David Scofield, assistant professor in the Real Estate Management program at the Ted Roger’s School of Management at Ryerson University, asked 70 of his students what they valued in the scope of their career paths. Among this small sample, income was a main priority, followed by job flexibility and lifestyle. Learning new skills also figured high on their list.
“They felt their ideal position would not only give them this great work-life balance, but expose them to lots of different opportunities to develop their skills,” Scofield says. “They know the market is tight and the global economy is not growing very quickly, that wages aren’t increasing tremendously and businesses aren’t investing as much.”
Companies need to foster and support professional development activities among new hires if they want to attract property managers, suggests Lesley Lucas, director of education and business development at the Real Estate Institute of Canada.
“Millennials have grown up in an environment that has required them to further their academic activities over and above the typical B. A. and in doing so, they have honed in, at an earlier age and stage, as to what they want from their careers,” she says. “Given the trend in ‘rightsizing’ and increased use of technology, millennials have faced stiff competition for positions that they are wanting. As such, they have had to find ways to make themselves stand out, either through specialization or advanced graduate degrees.”
Lucas adds that property management companies looking to attract the best talent need to be responsive and open in assisting new hires to gain the experience they need, with the support of the organization
“Millennials, in coming to the workforce with considerable book knowledge but less practical experience, will need mentoring opportunities in order to develop the skills that are necessary to succeed in this industry,” she notes.
This is also a generation that wants to advance quickly and be promoted in their careers. Often, Scofield hears from his industry peers that one of the main issues they are having with new hires is how to manage their expectations for promotion.
“That seems to be an issue with them,” he relays. “On one hand, they talk about developing a skill set; on the other hand, they acknowledge they don’t have the patience to put in their time.”
This is a generation that craves quick advancement, so offering them the opportunity to partake in advanced education is going to be critical, adds Lucas.
Training for the future
“The Certified Property Manager designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management or the EMBA/MBA with a speciality track in Real Estate Leadership offered through the Sandermoen School of Business are both excellent examples of programs that can help new hires move into positions that will allow them the opportunity to become tomorrow’s leaders,” Lucas says. “They get the intrinsic value of learning and developing their own skills, they get the extrinsic value of having their employers and colleagues know that they are working towards a higher goal, and if it is possible for the company to provide resources for the millennials (tuition costs, time away from work to study, mentoring etc.), it is a win/win/win situation.”
Scofield also suggests companies offer more programs where new hires experience different parts of the business—“to feel as though they are learning and developing, rather than just putting in their time in the hopes of a promotion that may or may not come.”
There is also room for further development within a school’s co-op program for students to take on internships and co-op placements.
“That might be a way to capture a larger group of potential graduates looking at property management as a potential career option,” he says. “If companies could provide more opportunities for students to experience the firm and organization prior to graduation that would be a very positive thing.”
At the moment, a lack of programs that deal with the full scope of property management, along with minimal company training funds, is pushing industry to address this lack of career path. For instance, BOMA Canada is developing a broad based certification process to train building operators to do that job.
“There is a transition that needs to take place that shows this is a skilled job, and there needs to be a process by which those individuals become trained to be able to manage the building,” says Peece. “These buildings are multimillion-dollar structures that need to have a sophisticated approach to being managed properly. Their systems are complex as soon as you start dealing with energy consumption and air quality and security. It’s not just the guy who pulls out the ladder and changes a lightbulb. There’s more to it now.”
Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management @rebeccachirp