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Commercial Real Estate Still Struggles with the Talent Deficit. What Solutions Are Available?

A recent report from consulting firm Deloitte looks at some ways to increase the talent pool for CRE positions.

It’s tough sometimes to see ourselves as others see us. But that’s exactly what happens every year when Deloitte issues its Commercial Real Estate Outlook, this year polling some 500 global investors on their views of everything from technology to talent. Now, it should be said upfront that the poll was a generalized view of commercial real estate as a whole, without breaking out specific areas of focus, such as property management. Nevertheless, it offers a glimpse worth considering.

If you’re tired of hearing about the talent deficit, which we’ll focus on for this column, consider that this, in itself, might be part of the problem. It’s clear, investors say, that an aggressive and often policy-shifting attack on the issue of executive recruitment is called for.

“Next-generation talent, both millennials and Gen Z, appear to prefer working in a start-up culture,” according to Deloitte. “The industry, meanwhile, seems unprepared to recruit, engage and retain this talent pool—93 percent of pension funds and 95 percent of hedge fund investors believe so. As a result, many commercial real estate companies continue to face a scarcity of skilled talent.” The phrasing there is key. It says to me that you don’t need to be a start-up. You need to think like one. But what does that mean? Deloitte lays out some clues.

First, comes the young talent view of technology. As you know, our industry is in a transition stage, where such developments as artificial intelligence are refining and redefining roles, relieving us of the more redundant tasks so we can focus on higher order strategizing.

“Workers’ jobs will likely be oriented toward tasks that require human intervention,” the report states—good news for service-minded property managers. “They could be supported by technologies that execute more of the routine and repetitive tasks inherent in their work. Investors also believe that commercial real estate companies should prioritize the use of business intelligence and predictive analytics to enhance the talent experience. As examples, AI and predictive analytics can be used for résumé screening and to spot turnover risks, respectively.”

That turnover portion is key. Best practices dictate that we should be hiring for longevity and succession, rather than simply to fill an open seat.

Then there’s the question of diversity. Happily, the IREM community is better represented than most disciplines in terms of women in positions of leadership. Nevertheless, more can be done, as Deloitte makes clear:

“Senior leadership teams and boards should also include a fair and more even representation of women, minorities and the LGBT community. Investors—particularly 92 percent of the respondents who were large investors with more than $30 billion in assets under management—believe that a more diversified board helps generate better returns.”

That’s not just a showcase or cosmetic consideration. History shows that those returns come in large part from a greater diversity of thought. The ability to attack a problem or shape a business strategy from a variety of viewpoints and experiences pays off. It’s that simple. Toward that end, the report suggests mentorship programs designed to groom women and minorities for leadership roles.

If you’re hiring for longevity, the need is clear to provide incentives that inspire loyalty. Recognizing that today’s up-and-coming workforce responds to different triggers than (possibly) we once did, survey respondents said commercial real estate executives have to reach far beyond the niceties of treadmills and cappuccino machines.

“For example, commercial real estate companies can consider structured corporate social responsibility programs that give a sense of purpose to employees by connecting them to the community,” the report states. “Along with this, companies should consider using the power of social media and branding to change marketplace perceptions and attract next-generation talent. It’s important for companies to recognize that today’s digital natives have different aspirations and expectations.”

We’re proud at IREM of the work that is being done by our Diversity & Inclusion Succession Initiative, as well as by our Student and Academic Outreach Advisory Board. But as always, more can be done, at both the national and the local level.

Pardon the hackneyed phrase, but I’ve seen the future and it’s now. And now is the time to rethink your approach to human resources to meet that future head on.

Don Wilkerson is 2018/2019 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he is president and CEO of Gaston and Wilkerson Management in Reno, Nev.

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