Nurturing the Talent Pipeline

NAAEI’s certification programs supply the apartment industry with a skilled workforce

In 2005, the National Apartment Association (NAA) held a strategic planning meeting in which it determined that its existing education program should do more than train employees—it also needed to develop a pipeline of new talent to supply to the industry.

The result was the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI), a 501(3) organization that was formed with the two-fold mission of training people currently in the
industry, as well as providing a supply of skilled human capital.

The Institute’s training programs target, in particular, onsite staff—property managers, leasing agents and maintenance technicians. For many years, the ongoing need for these workers has been greater than for those in all other apartment job positions. “That is where the critical need is for jobs, because of the high turnover,” says
Maureen Lambe, CAE, executive vice president of the NAAEI.

Among NAAEI’s offerings are the following certifications, which encompass three onsite career paths: Certified Apartment Manager (CAM), National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) and Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT). In addition, NAAEI offers certification for portfolio managers through its Certified Apartment Portfolio Supervisor (CAPS) designation. These programs are offered through NAA’s local chapters.

“We develop and market high-quality industry training programs,” says Lambe. NAAEI supplies the instructor and student manuals as guides, and there are online examinations. The local apartment associations bring in the instructors, some of whom are from medium and large companies, from once to several times a year, to conduct the training according to the manuals provided by NAAEI.

After it was formed as a non-profit, NAAEI used the proceeds from its fund-raising drive to expand its educational offerings. The Institute rewrote its certificate programs and developed skill standards to be used for the certificate programs. These skill sets are available on its public domain online, and are useful to apartment companies, especially small- and medium-sized ones, that may find it hard to develop their own standards, says Lambe.

“NAAEI’s certification programs provide employees with a well-constructed, professional program so that we do not need to have to spend the time and energy to develop our own programs,” agrees Jeff Lowry, CAPS, president of NAAEI and senior vice president, Multifamily Housing at McDougal Companies. Lowry’s company is comprised of about 150 employees and has submitted about 10 employees to the CAM and another 10 to the NALP certificate programs each year.

Buckingham Management LLC, which has about 350 employees in its management arm, expects to train about half to a quarter of its employees annually, says Alexandra Jackiw, president. The company sends its employees to classes with local NAA affiliates, but also provides the course internally through officers who have undergone the NAAEI instructor training.

Buckingham Management conducted an internal study on the financial performance of its own properties and found that properties that had CAM- or CAPS-certified onsite managers on staff actually outperformed properties whose employees did not have the certifications. Eventually, Buckingham Management wants most, if not all, of its employees to have the NAAEI certification.

On the job front, NAAEI has developed partnerships with various organizations to use their programs to train workers and direct them to the apartment industry. With the federally funded Job Corps, for example, NAAEI has established a relationship in which Job Corps students would complete their course requirements by training onsite at apartment companies, thus providing a pipeline of potential workers for the companies.

“You have a chance to audit a student for a full-time job,” says Lambe. “It is an opportunity to look before you buy.” Plus, there are federal financial incentives for companies that hire Job Corps graduates, she notes. So far, NAAEI has partnered with four Job Corp sites in the Washington, D.C. area.

NAAEI has also partnered, through NAA local affiliates, with technical and community colleges across the country to educate job applicants about, and direct them to, the apartment industry. Local NAA affiliates hold career fairs for those who are graduating, and the NAAEI has put out literature, such as “A Career in Property Management: Transferable Skills,” outlining career paths in the various onsite professions.

NAAEI has initiated two pilot programs, though the Indiana Apartment Association and the Charleston Apartment Association, to make available the CAMT program to local technical colleges. There is also a pilot to offer CAM through a community college in Maryland.
Another pilot program, instituted through the Arizona Apartment Association, is integrating CAM, NALP and CAMT into the for-credit two-year associate degree program of a community
college, says Lambe.

Additionally, NAAEI is also testing how well CAMT will work with high school students in its pilot program with a technical high school in Columbus, Ohio. “More and more high schools are trying to graduate students with certifications that allow them to gain entry to a career field,” says the Institute’s Lambe.

For the purpose of finding talented future community managers, NAAEI is targeting members of Delta Epsilon Chi, an association of high school and college students studying marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality and marketing sales and services. “Most of [the members] have not even heard of the apartment industry,” says Lambe. “Our goal is to put careers in leasing and management on the radar screen of these students.”

Every year, some 4,000 industry professionals subscribe to NAAEI’s certification programs, and about 5,000 renew their designations, says Lambe. One of NAAEI’s challenges “is to get more companies and local apartment associations to reach out and create linkages,” says Lambe.

And from employers’ points of view, contrary to assumptions, a market slowdown is the time to invest in valued employees, argues Lambe. When the economy turns, people who are staying at their jobs now could leave. She adds, “Nothing says you care for your employees more than training them to grow into the next job in the company.”

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