Labor Pains

By Teresa O’Dea Hein, MHN Managing EditorDoesn’t it always seem ironic that yesterday’s Labor Day is when most of us — happily — tend to do the least amount of actual labor? It’s a great tradition, originated in 1882 when the Central Labor Union of New York City sought to create “a day off for the working citizens.” Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 in one of Congress’ better moves. However, labor issues in the property management industry remain challenging, with double-digit turnover. For 2007, the average employee turnover rate for on-site leasing agents was 29.3 percent, 20.45 percent for on-site property managers, and 35.5 percent for on-site maintenance staffers, reported Christopher Lee, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based CEL Associates, in a presentation at this year’s National Apartment Association (NAA) education conference. Furthermore, Lee added, the average age of a property manager is now 43.5 years. Retention and recruitment of talent were the top two 2008 priorities, respectively, for multifamily executives, according to a CEL survey.And yet, government economists expect that jobs for property, real estate and community association managers will grow faster than the average for all careers through 2016. The projected increase is 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. Department of Labor.So where will we find new employees for the property management industry?To address this need, industry associations like the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) and the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) have reached out to colleges and universities to develop curriculum on the subject of property management, as well as to sponsor internship programs. Companies like Kettler, a developer, owner and property manager based in McLean, Va., have also found internship programs to be a great source of talent.In another initiative to attract new property management talent, the NAAEI recently launched a Web site called www.ApartmentCareerHQ.org, focusing on careers in the apartment industry. To date, the site has garnered more than 17,000 hits.While it is designed for anyone interested in entering the apartment industry, this Web site was specifically created for high school and college-aged people, with the goal of providing a central location for learning more about careers in this field. The site provides details about each career track—maintenance, leasing and management, along with job search tips. In addition, www.ApartmentCareerHQ.org provides a free, searchable career database and the opportunity to upload resumes, hosted by ApartmentCareers.com. Visitors can also download the career brochures, watch videos about each career path and read stories about real-life success stories from people in the industry.Plus, the site has a page dedicated to colleges and universities that offer Residential Property Management majors, minors and graduate degrees along with courses and certificate programs.Once you’ve found good employees, keeping them is the next challenge. To retain employees, you have to be attuned to the fact that different management styles are needed with different generations. “Feedback styles that may appear informative and helpful to one generation might seem formal and ‘preachy’ to another,” explained Alex Jackiw, CAPS, CPM, executive vice president of Buckingham Companies AMO, in her recent Florida Apartment Association conference presentation, entitled “The Changing Face of Our Workforce: Four Generations Working Side by Side.” Buckingham is an Indianapolis-based management, development and construction company. “Feedback that an X-er thinks is immediate and honest can seem hasty or even inappropriate to other generations,” Jackiw said. “Some older generations have been told that there is a time and place for feedback, but younger generations haven’t necessarily been taught this ‘rule.’ “Veterans seek no applause but appreciate a subtle acknowledgement that they have made a difference,” she added.”Boomers are often giving feedback to others but seldom receiving it, especially positive feedback,” Jackiw noted. In contrast, “X-ers need positive feedback to let them know they’re on the right track, and Millennials are used to being praised and may mistake silence for disapproval; they need to know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.”Jackiw pointed out, “Information flows in all directions in a company or on a property. The most successful managers find a way to let every generation be heard. This appreciation of diversity allows each group to contribute and be a part of the growth and success of your company or property.”Changing times call for—cry out for— changing approaches to improve labor relations.