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You’ve probably heard the concern, and you might even be living it. The shortage of talent eyeing careers in real estate is reaching crisis proportions–largely the result of the exodus that took place about a decade ago when potential candidates chose–in droves, apparently–to opt out of property and into the promise of prosperity in the dot-com world. In this first installment of a two-part look at the human-capital issue, IREM president Robert Toothaker (he’s also chairman of Real Estate Management Corp. in South Bend, IN) looks at the crisis from two angles. He addresses the cause and effect and–maybe with a bit of the flag-waving you’d expect from the chief of IREM–the benefits of a career in property management. Next week, another property manager gets specific about how the crisis hits home.

GlobeSt.com: I know you see property management as THE place to be. Why now more than a decade ago?

Toothaker: There are many things that are happening. There’s been a transition that has occurred over the past 20 years or better. All that’s happened in the investment world has caused the need for a more sophisticated, better trained and better connected professional to manage the investments out there. Plus we’re building more real estate all the time. Given all that, and our increasingly service-oriented society, the need is there for a manager to do more and know more. Rather than just collecting rents, you need someone who can plan, who can craft a replacement analysis and figure the tenure of projected ownership as well as the return on investment for leases. In years gone by, these were functions best left for others to do.

GlobeSt.com: What sort of background does that discipline demand today?

Toothaker: A lot of the folks who’ve come into the business have come from different backgrounds. We’ve seen a lot of people come in from accounting, who are interested in something more varied. We’ve had people come in from the education field. The people who tend to be a good fit typically are those with a good education and a grasp of the flow of numbers and can at the same time understand the physical and mechanical aspects of a property.

GlobeSt.com: Then what of the other part? We’re hearing the word crisis attached to the hiring issue.

Toothaker: I agree that it’s a critical concern. Where will these well-trained, specifically trained people come from? The current generation–mostly Boomers–grew up in this business. They acquired their talent over time as the profession evolved. The folks that are going to replace them won’t have that experience, but they’re going to need a certain amount of specific education at hand when they begin. Boomers represent a huge portion of the population, and Xers have neither the numbers nor, in some respects, the inclination. Gen-Y, from what we’ve been able to discover, has a desire for that very specific education and are looking to property management as a career. We see that population as filling the human-capital void. But it’ll come also from those who are changing careers and from people leaving military service.

GlobeSt.com: Despite the crisis proportions, I’ve heard very few companies–only 32% according to one survey–have a formal retention plan. Are we content just to complain about the weather?

Toothaker: I think 32% is typical. People don’t plan until they encounter the problem. As dynamic changes in the work environment arise, there are a few that have the wisdom to see it coming and prepare for it. There are those who catch it early and get up to speed, and others who get caught in the open when the storm breaks. We recently asked a number of people, informally, what they’re doing on the retention front, and some of the things our members have done include mentoring, which seems to be very important with employees today. Alternate work arrangements and a bit of a flexible scheduling also seem to be key. So is specific training and a team environment. Those are the over-riding concepts that keep coming back to management.

GlobeSt.com: We’ve heard it will be five or 10 years before the crisis is relieved. What’s your take?

Toothaker: I agree with that assessment. The Xers have expressed a perspective that doesn’t embrace a profession such as property management, and since they’re fewer in number, that contributes to the crisis. So how is it going to be fixed? In a number of ways. There will be certain pressure on Boomers–because of their buy-in and commitment, and some will stay a little longer than intended. You might be talking with one now. I also think you’ll see a number of those Xers, as they approach midlife, deciding to do something with more of a professional flair to it, and they may go back and get industry-specific education. Then as we mentioned, there are military veterans and people switching careers. Those are the players of tomorrow. That’s why we’ve been so strong in reaching out to the colleges and universities. We actually reached out to each other. And we’re working with colleges and universities to imbed our education programs in a four-year program so we have candidates coming out of college with the appropriate education in hand.

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