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May. 7, 2013

Where Tech Meets Touch

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

If a training center is to be truly effective in elevating standards of professionalism among property managers, it must merge the most up-to-date technology with opportunities to go hands-on with actual building systems.

That’s precisely what Cooper Square Realty set out to do with its new Learning Center in Manhattan. The facility acknowledges that while technology-enabled training is valuable, at some point it must yield to real-world lessons.

Cooper Square property managers get up close and personal with everything from plumbing equipment to facades and windows. All the while, their lessons are reinforced by means of a variety of technology-based learning aids.

The ways technology tools are incorporated into the center include the following:

■ Property managers tour learning stations using iPods with headphones to listen to descriptions of how different building systems work

■ A fully operational front concierge desk introduces managers to CooperSquare Connect, the company’s web-based communication system through which a professional, efficient and safe environment can be maintained

■ Flat-screen TVs project professionally produced and voiced videos depicting building systems that cannot be explained through life-size replicas

■ Upon finishing the curriculum, students take a final examination, which will soon be administered on iPads.

On-site and hands-on 

The first Cooper Square Learning Center opened nine years ago at the company’s old 43rd St. office. Upon moving to its new main office at 622 3rd Ave., Cooper Square built its new and improved Learning Center, christening it in the past six months, company CEO David Kuperberg says.

“Property management is not a general program individuals take in college,” he observes. “Most of the education available for property management is done by trade associations or within a corporation.

“None of those courses I’ve ever seen deals with physical building systems. Yet how can property managers effectively manage buildings without at least a rudimentary knowledge of how building systems work? If I’m a property manager and I need to know the condition of my elevator, and I don’t know the first thing about how elevators work, I’m behind the eight ball.

“We built this learning center to help educate our managers and staff in physical building systems.”

The Learning Center has 17 different stations offering, wherever possible, life-size replicas of building systems. There’s a heating plant, a boiler-burner, an elevator cut-away, roof water tank, and exterior station featuring varying types of common construction, roofing, plumbing and electrical. Also offered is a risk-management module, teaching property managers how to more effectively reduce liability at Cooper Square buildings.

As students visit each station depicting operation of a building system, they listen on iPods to an audio script explaining how the system works. “Rather than teaching the manager how to repair a boiler, for instance, the manager is taught the working parts of the system,” Kuperberg says.

At the life-size concierge desk, which includes everything the concierge requires, property managers sit down and learn how to use the software to authorize entry, log in parcels, handle resident notifications and access both live feeds and playback from security cameras on the screens they’re viewing which simulate on-the-job scenarios.

For the most part, stations are representations of what the property managers will see in their real-world buildings. But in some instances, it’s impossible to show within the Learning Center the full operation of a system.

Such is the case with the life-size elevator cab, which trainees can enter and in which they can handle the equipment. “What we can’t do in our confined space is make that elevator go up and down,” Kuperberg says.

“We have an animated presentation depicting how the governor operates and how the cables work around the pulleys. Where it’s not possible to have the physical representation of the real-world system, it’s supplemented by videos.

“Another video supplements part of the plumbing. In tall buildings, your plumbing lines have circulating hot water. So that’s depicted in a video.”

The nitty gritty

Many of these lessons could be presented to property managers through PowerPoint demonstrations, Kuperberg says. But those lessons would likely not be as well remembered as they are when managers come face to face with real-world systems. “There is a place for technology-enabled training, and there’s a place for real physical training,” he says. “There are times when it’s necessary to use technological components. But for the most part, at the Learning Center we have tried to use representations of what they will see in the real world.”

To pass, students have to score at least an 80 on the final exam, and they must pass each one of the center’s stations.

“If they know everything about every station except elevators, for instance, they fail,” Kuperberg says.

As part of a media tour in New York City last year, 2012 Institute of Real Estate Management president James Evans and other dignitaries were invited to tour the Learning Center. “We went over there with not a lot of expectations,” Evans recalled recently. “And I’ll tell you, when I walked in I was blown away.

“It was something to see. They have taken the concept of hands-on training to an entirely new level. It’s one thing to tell somebody this is how you fix a roof, but it’s an entirely different thing to have them do a hands-on learning experience. They’ve taken an approach I’ve personally never seen…. Embracing technology is great, but hands-on is still how this industry works every day. You need to have the technology and the hands-on blended together.”

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