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The real estate workforce: winning the war for talent

Jul 13, 2022

Commercial real estate is well-recognized as a jobs generator and major contributor to the nation’s economic recovery. In 2021, building development and operations of existing buildings supported 8.5 million jobs and contributed $1.2 trillion to GDP, according to industry trade group NAIOP.

Still, commercial real estate itself is hardly immune to the challenges facing nearly all employers stemming from the Great Resignation in which millions have voluntarily exited from their jobs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The real estate industry needs to become more agile, tech-proficient and strategic to win the war for talent.

Firms need to think differently about the people they already have on board to focus on retaining them at a time when it’s become one of the strongest “buyer’s markets” ever for America’s workers.

Because many real estate development, investment and asset management companies are relatively small operations from a staffing perspective, they may not have to contend with filling a huge number of vacancies like large organizations do, but finding that “needle in a haystack” candidate or two to fill out a team has become especially difficult.

Given the competition for talent, real estate companies need to be more broad-minded and action-oriented than they have in the past to fill positions. Here are key approaches to help you find individuals with the right fit and how to retain them over their career:

Adopt strategic hiring practices

  • Get proactive: It’s not enough anymore to post job openings on LinkedIn, Indeed or your own website and expect the right applicants to simply show up. Develop a more sophisticated recruiting strategy for how to look for candidates.
  • Attend networking events: But don’t limit them to the real estate industry. Broaden your contacts in related fields, like construction, hospitality and others that may lead you to individuals whose knowledge, skills and abilities can translate to your office’s needs and pain points.
  • Reach out to universities: Find schools that may not have been on your radar to develop a pipeline for entry-level employees. In addition to new graduates, they often have strong alumni networks you can tap into.
  • Stay mindful of generational motivations: Newer generations eagerly seek to embrace the vision and mission of the company they work for. It’s on you to make a compelling case for an individual to join. Make sure you articulate what your company stands for and aspires to be, apart from its financial goals. Employee well-being, social responsibility and diversity initiatives have become paramount for many of today’s workers. From the onset, you want to provide interested candidates with a reason they should join and, more important, stay with your organization.
  • Consider pre-hiring assessments: Help your firm make smarter hiring moves and shorten ramp-up time. Behavioral assessments like Predictive Index®, in particular, can “decode” candidates’ motivations and help you determine if they’ll be the right fit.

Implement new ways to retain your people

  • Make sure your onboarding process works: The experience your new hires have as they get up to speed about your company will affect their feelings about the organization, and likely their intentions to stay put for a while. They need details about what it takes to be an effective and productive member of the team. The incoming workforce has a much more transitory mindset about jobs than previous generations, so they need to feel connected to an organization from day one.
  • Develop meaningful, relevant training: Even a small firm needs to invest in resources that keep employees engaged and growing. Look into LinkedIn Learning and other on-demand online programs, as well as professional trainers, either in-person or online.
  • Keep things flexible: Be open to a three- or four-day workweek. Giving people the freedom to work remotely or during non-traditional hours is becoming the norm and will surely set you apart from firms that haven’t evolved in terms of tech capabilities and their definition of the workday. Be sure to set people up for success in terms of engagement with colleagues and clients.
  • Compensation matters: Be sure your rewards for performance are exemplary. More than 87% of real estate firms offered merit increases in 2021, with an average raise of 3.4%, according to CEL & Associates. Given the resurgent year for the industry, bonuses were offered at 90.5% of firms, according to CEL, rebounding from 2020, when their prevalence fell to about 25%.

Develop career pathing

  • Discuss employees’ ideal future career state: Ensure that new hires have a clear understanding about what their role could lead to down the road and how they get there. It’s not a promise of a promotion, but rather a path that is available if they achieve and thrive as expected.
  • Listen to your employees’ aspirations: Don’t expect they’ll fit into neat boxes that your company has laid out in the past. Be prepared to develop roles that fit the strengths and interests of your new hires. Individuals should feel encouraged to express their professional goals.
  • Think of the benefit package more holistically: Beyond the salary, 401K and profit sharing, it’s important to recognize work-life balance and the well-being of employees outside of work. Community service projects and philanthropic giving can go a long way furthering the connectedness of your team members. The value proposition for employees has to align with company mission, vision and values.
  • Grow future leaders: Bring on people with the potential to grow into leadership roles, and be sure employees understand how that path works.

How Wipfli can help you win the talent war

Wipfli advisors can help you identify and implement hiring and employee retention strategies that can keep your business growing. Real estate firms need an edge during these competitive times to attract candidates who are excited by your company’s vision and see a path for career growth. Learn how we help.

There’s one more article left in Wipfli’s five-part series on how real estate firms can adapt to change and pivot to remain relevant and continue to thrive. Next up, how the real estate industry can plan for an uncertain future. Don’t miss it. Sign up to receive our real estate content and information in your inbox.

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Tina Nazier, MBA, CPC
Director, Strategic Alignment
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