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Have You Bridged the Generation Gap? (Part 1)

As published in the National Real Estate Investor(NREI Online)by Joseph Greenblatt
September 17, 2014

In my last column, I talked about the watershed changes that are taking place in our businesses, and in the offices and homes we manage as a new generation—Gen Y—becomes the predominant workforce population. The growing presence of the new generation is forcing major changes in the way we conduct our business, and today’s senior executives cannot succeed unless they recognize and embrace these changes.

In this installment, I would like to focus on the implications that arise in our training and educational practices as a result of the emergence of this highly savvy, tech-oriented generation.

As baby boomers, we are technological foreigners, coming to these latest advancements in digitalization and miniaturization relatively late in life. Gen Y, on the other hand, is made up of technological natives, people who speak the language of tech as naturally as if it were their mother tongue.

First, let’s make some important distinctions. As business leaders we have an obligation to train our workers and maintain a level of aptitude. But professional training is different from professional education. The first is a subset of education that directly goes to business process and directly benefits the employer. Education on the other hand tends to have a broader base of information and applicability and tends to more directly benefit the individual with only secondary benefits accruing to the employer.

Traditionally, how well you were trained was largely a product of your particular area of discipline and the company you chose. Firms like Equity Residential invest heavily and are committed to training and education. And then there are companies where it is enough to simply throw you into the deep end of the pool and watch you sink or swim, with a “this-is-your-job-now-go-and-do-it” mindset.

The problem is aided and abetted by the fact that the industry we are in, commercial real estate, is not really an industry at all, but rather, we are in multiple vertical industries. There is for example, the office building management industry, which is represented by BOMA International to give it a unifying voice. The apartment industry gets its unifying voice from such associations as the NMHC and NAA. There’s ICSC for retail. (IREM is an odd addition to this mix in that we cut across all of these verticals). But the overall result is that training and education in the commercial real estate “industry” is totally decentralized and so by nature, inconsistent, except for the unifying education and credentialing programs offered by IREM.

Whatever the disposition of your company toward training, it is safe to say that there is more of a focus on training and education today, due in large part to the increasing sophistication and awareness of the employing companies and the availability and accessibility of online educational programs.

That being said, training and education are much like physical fitness. It’s very easy to put aside when we get busy, and far too many firms today have a dusty operations manual somewhere that they promise eventually to trot out, dust off and embrace. Everyone aspires to conduct proper training. Getting to it is often another matter.

From the standpoint of the trainee, however, such intentions are no longer going to be enough. It seems that for millennials, the future is about knowledge and thoughtful, informed decision making, and as a group, they are both well-educated and value training and education.

That is one reason for the popularity of such programs as ITunes University, where young professionals—and savvy older types—can continue their self-education. It is a behavior that is common to that generation. That evolution of thought is something that today’s employers have to recognize and grapple with. Beyond the need and functional value of training and education, there is a growing expectation that is generational.

Company decision-makers who are closer to the baby boomer age have to rethink how they train, and what tools they are training on. As I asked in Part 1 of this two-part series, are you a preservationist or a leader of change?

Think carefully before you answer. It could determine if your company is seen as a magnet for up- and-coming talent or a relic from an older time.

Joseph Greenblatt, CPM, is the 2014 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. He is also president and CEO of Sunrise Management in San Diego, responsible for directing the day-to-day operations of the company, its portfolio of more than 12,000 residential units, and its 350 employees officed in San Diego and Sacramento, CA; Tempe AZ; and Las Vegas, NV.

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