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Alchemists hold the key

WRITTEN BY Claire Middleton
POSTED ON September 11, 2019

The need for increased diversity at entry level, in recruitment and career development underpins any attempts to close the skills gap

STAKEHOLDER engagement is becoming a key area for GRESB assessment and the ability to deal with stakeholders – clients, customers, occupiers, tenants (call them what you will) – has become a key skill for anyone in a client-facing role.

Investment managers – for whom customer has previously meant investor – are coming around to the view that the definition is now much broader than that.

However, there is a widening skills gap which has become especially yawning in the office sector where the disruptors have had a field day shortening leases, providing excellent customer experience and pretty much doing away with the service charge.

This prompted the British Council for Offices to commission customer experience consultancy RealService to carry out a major piece of research.

The BCO was interested in how the office sector, and primarily its property managers, was dealing with the new emphasis on customer experience and how businesses were going to retrain, retain and recruit staff who were suited to this new world order.

And while the full report is an excellent read (The Customer Experience Revolution Closing the Skills Gap) and can be download for free via www.bco.org.uk, one of the areas thrown up by our research was how diversity – or the lack of it – was impacting on the recruitment and retention of the sort of staff best placed to thrive in a customer-first, space-as-a-service industry.

All the companies we interviewed had policies around equality and expressed that they were doing their bit to help change the image of the property industry from ‘male, pale and stale’ into one which better reflected the industry’s customers.

It was a similar story in terms of inclusion. Behind the rainbow-themed Twitter logos and lots of posts on mental health awareness, especially during Pride/Mental Health Awareness month (or similar), there is clearly some good work going on.

However, we found two ongoing issues.

  • First, the production line for those going into the property industry still (in the UK anyway) usually begins with a “relevant” university degree (as emphasised by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors)
  • Second, even as the universities do their best to attract a wider range of undergraduates, once that production line reaches the leading property companies even the most diverse of candidates becomes moulded into the old-fashioned, traditional system

As the report found: “The road to diversity is not yet well trodden; those with great customer service skills are not being attracted into the property industry, which still predominantly recruits from traditional universities offering ‘relevant’ degrees. Property management is not perceived as attractive an option as investment or asset management.”

There are alternative routes into the property industry which might attract more women or black, Asian or ethnic minority candidates and there are many examples of best practice.

However, while major companies run apprenticeship schemes (there’s a government levy on larger businesses), they are not major areas for recruitment. Indeed, there is no guarantee an apprentice who completes their qualification while working at a property company will be offered a job there.

“There is a welcome drive to increase the diversity of students coming into the UK property industry,” we say in the report.

“Property Needs You and, especially, Pathways to Property, with its emphasis on state-school recruitment, are doing their best. RICS, too, is endeavouring to widen its base and overcome what it calls the ‘unconscious bias of middle management’.

“The need for increased diversity at entry level, in recruitment and career development underpins any attempts to close the skills gap.”

We concluded the conundrum around this skills gap, and by extension the lack of diversity, needs a radical solution.

So, property managers of the future must be alchemists, with a combination of base skills – customer service, technology, business and marketing to name a few – which can be turned into CX gold. While some technical knowledge is still required, property management no longer revolves around bricks and mortar. In fact, the term ‘property manager’ is obsolete.

Alchemists will not come into the property industry via traditional routes. They will have a wide range of degrees and come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They will be capable of disrupting the disruptors. Currently, they are being plundered from the hospitality sector and are providing the sort of customer experience which keeps occupiers happy and the rent coming in.

And that will be music to the ears of investment managers.