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LAS VEGAS-With hope of avoiding the lack of thirty-something talent that now exists in the real estate industry, big companies are working diligently to attract and retain the oldest of Generation Y and the youngest of Generation X. To be successful those companies will have to overcome significant challenges that have heretofore resulted in high turnover rates, according to a panel of experts discussing the topic at the ULI fall conference in Las Vegas this week.

The lack of experienced thirty-somethings is due to Generation X passing over the industry in the early 1990s because of the credit crunch and again in the late 1990s in favor of dot-coms and high tech firms in the late 1990s. So instead of having a stable of talent ready for mid-level and senior management jobs, there’s a hole–a hole that will get wider and deeper as Baby Boomer begin retiring over the next five years.

“Part of that generation is lost and we will be paying the price,” said David Jacobstein, a senior advisor to Deloitte & Touche’s real estate group, citing statistics from a company white paper on the subject that says 50% of senior managers in the real estate industry will be retiring between now and 2010.

While the industry looks to recruit management-level talent from other industries to fill that imminent hole it is also focused on making sure it doesn’t happen again by making sure it attracts and retains its fair share of Gen Y, which is just now turning 25, and the back end of Gen X.

It’s a tall order. The group has very high expectations and little patience, according to a panel that in addition to Jacobstein included Lynn Gray, who runs recruiting for Lehman Bros. global real estate group; Kathy Ranek, the Equinox Partners managing director in charge of Select Leaders, and onsite job posting and listing Web site; and David Funk, director of Cornell University’s graduate real estate program.

According to the Deloitte & Touche white paper, Gen Y is generally looking for multiple experiences within a single organization, a sense of purpose or meaning, the availability and access to mentors, work-life balance and flexibility, a tech-savvy work environment and a social network that provides open and honest communication. “Those of us on the older side of things will be the first to acknowledge that many of our companies don’t fulfill all those needs,” Jacobstein said.

The easiest part of attracting and retaining Gen Y may be finding them; they are in college and online. Ranek says that in addition to online sites like the one she runs, employers need to be on sites like Facebook and MySpace, where Gen Y profiles itself, as well as sites like Vault, which offers career advice counsel. “Real estate companies should be sponsoring or otherwise promoting themselves on these sites,” she says.

One of the problems is getting them interested in what the real estate industry needs them to do. “We found in a study with Cornell University that one of the hottest real estate jobs out there is property management, specifically analysts and accounting positions, but those are not what people are applying for,” Ranek says. “There’s a gap between what’s out there and what people are interested in. People are looking for deal orientation, but property management may be a way to get into the industry; we have to get that across.”

Although not necessarily for the jobs available, Funk says there was a huge migration into real estate-related higher education a couple of years ago. Already this year, however, in part due to the latest credit crunch, he’s seen a fall in students interested in real estate. “That has real implications – at least from universities – for feeding that market,” he says.

Gray isn’t seeing the decline in interest from students at Lehman Bros. By keeping close relationships with the Ivy League schools like Cornell, it usually has hundreds of resumes to choose from when looking for talent. The problem for Lehman is retention. “What we are looking for is the next managing director and we are seeing some real superstars,” she says. “The problem is these kids are so smart and so motivated that they are not patient enough to start out as an analyst and hold out for 10 years to become a managing director.”

Funk says the impatience is not only with the speed of their ascension within a company but also with people who they do not see as their equals, who do not have the technological skills they have grown up with. He cites a recent report from an ongoing 45-year study of college freshman that found the 2005-2006 class had the highest impression of themselves in the history of the study.

“It’s the resume-building generation,” he said. “Parents told this generation they can do anything and they believe that. The go in and take a job and (after a very short time) feel like they are ready for the next job, whether it’s with the same employer or a new one.”

That said, he adds that the benefits of such a well-qualified and confident pool of talent far outweigh the negatives. “The challenges is recognizing these differences and then making the most of them,” he says.

Gray agreed they are worth the time to figure out how to make it work. “These are very bright kids; their whole educational experience is much more enriched than we ever had,” she says. “It is challenging but they have so much to contribute and become so much more accretive to business so much earlier” than previous generations of graduates.

With regard to education and practical experience, Ranek says people who specialize in real estate as opposed to getting a more general MBA degree are “highly preferred.” Indeed, Funk says his ROI studies for the past 10 years show that if you go ahead and finish grad school as quickly as possible, you will be rewarded financially; you will make 20% to 40% more than you would have had you gone into the real estate industry without an advanced degree.

The caveat is that the advanced degree needs to be specific and needs to be from a well-respected program. “It’s a little self-serving but the research bears it out,” he says.

For people who have already put in two or three years as a real estate analyst, “we don’t’ encourage anybody to go and interrupt their career at that point,” says Gray of Lehman Bros. “The problem economically is that if you start out an investment bank and start making money, if you leave to go back to school and then come back as an associate you might be making less money and you’ve lost two years.”

Instead, Gray brings the education to the employees. “We have an alliance with NYU where employees take classes at Lehman from NYU professors, and we also kids getting their MBAs and masters in real estate part time while continuing to work with us,” she says. “It’s been very easy in the last 10 years to be successful; we’re now in an environment where skills and training will be much more important.”

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