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How to Attract Young Professionals

We need to actively place property management at the forefront of rewarding career options and dispel the preconceived notion that it is somehow a less-than-sexy arm of the real estate industry.

Let’s face it, this industry is aging. While the average age of an American worker today in any industry is 43 years old, the average age of a property manager is 50.1 and the average age of a CPM is 52.3 years old.

As if that weren’t enough, Baby Boomers are retiring at the rate of 8,000 to 10,000 a day. The result is a dwindling, aging crop of management professionals.

This brings up two serious concerns about what the multifamily and commercial management industries will look like in the next three to 10 years. The first is that we as an industry might increasingly be servicing a clientele that is younger than we are. The second is that, to respond to this ever-younger clientele and self-sustain the industry, the management profession needs a strong source of young professionals to continually add to our population.

On the first issue of an ever-younger clientele, there is an implied but growing disconnect. Apartment renters are more than ever made up of multigenerational families and Millennials working but not yet ready to buy their first home (or who simply prefer the renter’s lifestyle), in addition to Boomers who have had enough of homeownership and the responsibilities it carries.

On the corporate side, young professionals are bringing down the average worker age, although this certainly varies by industry and sector. On both sides—multifamily and commercial—as the age trends downward, it becomes key for managers who interface with them to understand how they think, what they want and need and, probably most importantly, how strong a bond they have with their property manager.

The second issue, attracting new young talent, speaks to relevance and branding. I got into the business by chance rather than by choice, and I think that is very true today. When I talk with young professionals around the country, a lot of them still get into the business because they were referred by someone, so it is still very much a chance process.

But we as a profession, as an industry association, cannot leave our future to chance. We need to actively place property management at the forefront of rewarding career options and dispel the preconceived notion that it is somehow a less-than-sexy arm of the real estate industry. We need to compete against the allure of brokerage, for instance, which comes with images of headline-commanding deals with giant paydays.

Few realize that the first two or three years of a broker’s life are fallow as they strive to create a book of business, and it can take six months to more than a year before even a smaller deal is nailed down. As we have discussed at various leadership meetings over the past year or so, even the very name “property manager” belies the fact that we work hand-in-hand with major private and institutional industry strategists to create a plan that yields major financial success on an ongoing basis. It belies the fact that we get to solve a problem and move on to the next, in a fast-paced and intensive career choice.

For this, we gain the security of a paycheck every other Friday, plus incentive bonuses along the way. Meanwhile, most brokers eat what they kill without guarantee that they will make money, even if the dreamed-of payday is higher.

There’s one other aspect of property management that should be key to a young professional’s career decision. Regardless of what is going on in the economy, someone has to manage the asset. You don’t earn gray hairs without having survived a couple of recessions. I’ve been through a few and can remember downtimes when brokers would plead with me for jobs because they were struggling significantly during a recession, but wanted to stay in the industry.

This is a compelling story for young professionals to hear, especially those who were coming of age 10 years ago, but have not experienced for themselves, first hand, the worst an economic downturn can bring.

We need to spread the gospel of property management to both the population of people beginning to blaze their career paths and those just getting active in the profession. IREM is not alone in its efforts to provide course materials to colleges and universities around the country. Other industry associations facing the same age issue do likewise. These materials are both specific to management and generalized content on the real estate industry.

Simultaneously, we have for years visited colleges to spread the word of rewarding, recession-proof careers in property management. However, this is no longer enough. Now we are drafting plans to begin attending high school-level career days in order to plant the seeds earlier, even before future paths are formulated.

We are also working with our sister associations, CCIM, SIOR and NAR, to develop a scholarship program that would introduce people coming out of school to all of the associations, with the theory that all boats would rise equally through that exposure. Simultaneously, as we enter our 85th year, we are analyzing our branding to enhance our message of ongoing relevance to tomorrow’s leaders.

This dovetails nicely with our efforts to promote our young professionals through such content as “30 Under 30,” a feature in IREM’s Journal of Property Management (due out in the July/August issue), wherein we celebrate the best and brightest up-and-comers.

But this effort should not take place only at the association level. Individual members too have a stake in this issue, for after all, they are the ones on the front line of hiring. They too have to network more than they ever have with colleges and universities and other associations and even other industries.

We can all contribute to solving the puzzle of an aging industry.

Michael T. Lanning is 2017 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he is senior vice president and city leader for the Cushman & Wakefield, AMO office in Kansas City, Mo.

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