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How the Property Management Industry Can Address the Challenge of the Talent Shortfall

It takes both a national and local effort to increase the visibility of the property management profession and its lesser-known benefits.

COVID-19 seems to be the gift that keeps on giving, and we can add the a severe global talent shortage to the ever-growing list of trends not started, but accelerated by the pandemic. So widespread is the personnel shortfall that, once more, “We are all in this together.” And no vertical is spared. Whether you are a restaurant, a pharmacy, a physician’s office or even a property management firm, you’ve felt the pinch.

But there are solutions, or at the very least, for property managers, there are the foundations of long-range solutions. Let’s do a deeper dive into the issue at hand.

Specific to our industry, AppFolio recently partnered with the National Apartment Association (NAA) in a survey of more than 1,000 property managers to gauge the impact of the shortage on their businesses. The results were revealing. When asked what their biggest post-pandemic challenges were, more than 50 percent of the respondents positioned HR, staffing and recruitment at the top of the list. 

Not surprisingly, in a game of workplace dominoes, the talent shortage was a driver of the other two top-rated challenges: operational efficiency and maximizing revenues. And it should come as no surprise that no company was immune, no matter the size. Companies managing portfolios of all sizes put staffing as their number one issue. Also, not surprising, the top solutions for survey respondents revolved around compensation, with sign-on bonuses, increased pay and better benefits leading the list.

Uncovering the benefits

The talent shortage gets more severe every year, as the commercial real estate population ages. (The National Association of Realtors, back in 2018, stated that its membership averaged 60 years old).

But there is a special irony when it comes to property management, specifically, its talent issues are at least in part due to the profession’s very benefits. We largely fly under the radar, certainly when it comes to the positive press, as well as in public perception. The profession doesn’t garner the mega-million-dollar headlines that brokers, developers and investors often enjoy, and because of its relative stability, it’s too often seen as unexciting. And there are still those who equate property management solely with maintenance

This flies in the face of the reality that property management is a vibrant and challenging field, one that informs the strategies of investors and developers. It’s an intensive, people-focused career, one that changes with every new day. And yet, for all of that change, it’s relatively stable, and practitioners can count on the reliability of their income, no matter the economic conditions. 

IREM recently launched a series of blogs highlighting our up-and-coming members. We call it “Building the Future,” and one of the benefits of a career in property management that our interview subjects point to is the range of opportunities they are exposed to, touching as it does on such other disciplines as brokerage, asset management and construction, to name a few.

And yet the light of property management remains hidden under the basket of the broader commercial real estate industry. 

Solutions will take time

IREM has, of course, addressed this issue head-on, but there are no quick fixes. It comes down to a question of stepped-up awareness. To raise the profile of the profession, we have—for years now—mounted campaigns in conjunction with local colleges and universities, and we are seeing a regular growth of property management as an accredited curriculum.

But this is an initiative that should not reside solely at the national level. As an example, I point to Mayra Ramirez, CPM, the subject of a recent “Building the Future” blog and president-elect of the IREM Orange County, California chapter. Largely at her prompting, the chapter today has a memo of understanding with Cal State Fullerton to promote IREM, its courses and its certifications. That the initiative was due in part to the efforts of a young professional should be lost on no one.

The message here is obvious. It takes both a national and local effort to increase the visibility of the profession and build awareness of the many benefits of this often hidden, but highly impactful industry.

In a sense, we all promote the industry every day, simply by pursuing our careers with the highest ethical best practices and a keen eye to the needs of all of our varied constituents. But more can be done. I urge every member, every chapter, to analyze their outreach potential, to follow the lead of Orange County and other chapters that are spreading the word of property management.

In so doing, we can do our part to help solve the crisis of talent we all face. 

Chip Watts is the 2021 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he serves as president and executive CPM for Watts Realty Co., Inc. in Birmingham, Ala.

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