Gen Y talent in demand in property management

Friday, July 4, 2008

Atlanta Business Chronicle

The need to replace aging baby boomers as they begin to slowly but surely exit the workplace has the property management industry scrambling to find ways to recruit replacement talent from members of the group known variously as Generation Y, Millennials or echo boomers.

According to a winter 2008 research report from the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA) and San Francisco-based consultant Kingsley Associates, members of the baby boom generation, born from 1946 through 1964, comprise more than 50 percent of the workforce in the commercial real estate industry as a whole. As those boomers retire, the relatively small Generation X cohort (born between 1965 and 1977) behind them “can’t even begin to fill the vacancies that will be left,” while members of the much larger Generation Y “are either approaching the industry on their terms or looking elsewhere altogether.”

In the property management sector, attracting job applicants from the Gen-Y pool of “20-somethings” is an especially daunting task these days, says Florence Barbour, vice president of Boston-based Winthrop Management L.P. and president of the Atlanta chapter of BOMA.

“Unfortunately, there’s a perception among this group that the property management business is ‘risky’ with lack of job stability,” said Barbour. “They also tend to see lower compensation in property management compared to other sectors, such as leasing and development.”

And that’s if they’ve ever even heard of “property management” as a career in the first place.

“Most young people in school today do not know what property management is all about,” Barbour said.

“There are not that many programs in colleges and universities that emphasize the careers available in property management — and as a result, most young people just kind of fall into it,” said Fifth Street Management Company LLC’s Kinsey Roberts, 26, who works as an assistant property manager at the 500,000-square-foot Riverwood 100 office tower in the Cumberland/Galleria area.

With a degree in business administration and an interest in real estate, Roberts entered residential property management while living in an Atlanta-area Post Properties Inc. apartment community, “where I got to know the people in the leasing office, and they eventually offered me a job as a leasing consultant,” she recounts.

Specialized real estate classes at the collegiate level are necessary to get the word out that property management is a career option, Roberts says.

“There are so many aspects of commercial real estate — leasing, brokerage, development, etc., but a lot of young people still have no idea what property management is unless they have relatives or friends in the field.”

With a father in the property management business, “I grew up surrounded by commercial real estate,” said Jim Driver, 24, an assistant property manager with PM Realty Group. After majoring in business and real estate in college, “property management was a natural career choice.”

Getting more Gen Yers into property management careers is high on the to-do list of BOMA, says Barbour. In addition to the creation of a new BOMA International task force to address the issue, actions under consideration include the development of recruiting and training programs for high schools, trade schools, colleges and universities; creation of internship programs; and an increased emphasis on mentoring, developing and training young professionals.

Once they get a foot in the door, there’s apparently a lot for members of Gen Y to like about working in property management, especially those that crave variety and human interaction.

“Every day is different — there’s never any room to get bored,” said Roberts.

Working on financial and budgeting matters satisfies the number-cruncher within her, she says.

Meanwhile, building relationships with tenants and vendors “fulfills my needs to be involved in a sales-type environment — I really enjoy the interpersonal give-and-take.”

“The great thing about property management is that every day is different,” Driver said. There’s always a steady stream of challenges that require creative solutions on the part of the manager, who all the while has to maintain a strong customer service focus, he notes.

“It’s a very people-oriented business,” he said. “You have to enjoy solving problems, as well as dealing with a variety of different personalities on a daily basis.”

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