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What keeps managers awake at night? Workforce development.

Last November, at a special session held during the annual Education Conference of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM[R]), the 600 IREM member attendees were asked to identify and prioritize the most critical issues facing today's property management professionals.

Technology was ranked Number One -followed by workforce development, business competition and risk management.

A special IREM report titled "Transforming Real Estate Management: Four Strategic Issues" addresses these issues, the challenges they pose, and suggestions for dealing with them.

Following is the segment of the report that focuses on workforce development.

Challenge: In the midst of changing demographics and declining profit margins, how can I attract, develop, reward, and retain staff to achieve a quality workforce?

No one argues with the fact that over the next decade, Baby Boomers will be leaving their jobs in vast numbers. As summarized by the U.S. Department of Labor's November 2005 Monthly Labor Review, "The baby boomers' exist from the prime-aged workforce and their movement into older age groups will lower the overall labor force participation rate, leading to a slowdown in the growth of the labor force."

Clearly, the threat of a serious shortage of talent looms on the horizon. It is a threat that is being faced by all industries--and property management is no exception. As a result, securing a qualified workforce with the right mix of knowledge, skills, abilities, and motivation is expected to demand unprecedented effort. Managers are being forced to focus more than ever on identifying, attracting, developing, rewarding, and retaining qualified staff --a task made even more challenging in the face of declining profit margins, higher labor costs, and competing career options.

Preparing for a future marked by "a slowdown in the growth of the labor force" will require effort in many directions: attracting young people into the business to fill entry-level jobs, developing and nurturing future leaders, creating an environment that draws a more diverse workforce, and finding ways to keep older workers, among others.

In a study conducted by RHR International, a human resources consultant, half of the companies surveyed reported that they expected to lose 50 percent or more of their senior managers by 2010, while another 15 percent said they expect to lose 75 percent or more of their senior managers. Add to this the high turnover rate experienced in the property management industry--according to consultant CEL & Associates, for example, the overall employee turnover rate in multifamily property management industry is 31.8% in 2004--and the challenge takes on overwhelming proportions.

Here are some relevant and practical suggestions and best practices that have been contributed by IREM members for addressing the workforce development challenge:

Make employee recruitment a continuous process. Always be on the lookout for talented people. Don't wait until you have an open position to recruit. Encourage existing employees to be on the lookout for talent by offering a referral fee.

Recruit young people early and creatively. Tap into local schools--community colleges, colleges, universities. Participate in college career days. Implement an intern program for college students--with the goal of hiring them when they finish the internship or get their degree. Post open positions where young people are more likely to look, particularly online jobs services. Make the company one that appeals to younger workers by offering cutting-edge technology and a workplace environment in which younger people feel comfortable.

Hire with patience and discipline. Recognize that every new hire is an investment that requires due diligence. Utilize effective screening to carefully match the person with the job. Develop a decision-making metric for hiring. Put in place a selection and hiring process to find the right persons. Assess candidates on criteria that will likely lead to success based clearly articulated core competencies. Foster the use of hiring teams. Use pre-employment selection tools.

Start out right. Have a solid new-employee orientation program. Conduct new-employee orientation programs regularly--don't wait too long after the start date. Conduct all or part of the orientation online. Provide new employees with information about the company's goals, mission, vision, culture--as well as its policies and procedures.

Grow and reward existing staff. Recognize and encourage talented people within the organization who are looking for new challenges. Provide positive feedback and immediate recognition. Create a recognition program that is visible and meaningful. Give employees the opportunity to learn new skills, prepare for future advancement. Invest in younger leaders and staff development. Give older leaders an active role in encouraging the next generation of leaders and valuing their ideas. Create reward systems based on the right metrics that support company success (e.g., the value of the lease). Provide ongoing training and development of all kinds--skills-based training, computer training, fair housing training. Recognize that new managers need training and provide it to them so they can more effectively select, motivate, support, and coach in their new role. Provide soft skills training when needed-younger workers often have the technical skills but may not have the requisite people skills.

Promote from within.

Seek diversity. Reach out to secure a more diverse workforce. Make it a goal to reflect the diversity of the communities you serve--particularly in places with growing immigrant populations.

Create an atmosphere that promotes work/life balance. Create a family-friendly work atmosphere--flexible work schedules, work-from-home opportunities, a kid-friendly office, a welcome basket for new employees, recognition of significant employee anniversaries (10, 20, 25 years), providing time off for volunteering locally. Promote a healthier balance between work and personal/family life. Create manageable jobs that allow time for family life, relaxation, and renewal.

Create a human resources culture that supports organizational goals. Be sure the human resource department is focusing more on developing talent and less on enforcing policies and processing paperwork.

Evaluate in-house capabilities and weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing administrative HR functions. Make the human resource activity part of all strategic planning.
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Title Annotation:Property Management
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Sep 13, 2006
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