“I don’t know of anyone who goes to college and says, ‘I would really like a career in property management.’ And that’s a shame because it’s an awesome career,” said Carolyn Carter Singh, executive vice president and chief talent officer at Brixmor Property Group.
So Brixmor, like many other commercial real estate companies, is beefing up outreach and educational opportunities to college students and recent graduates. Through internships, employee development programs and other initiatives, human resources professionals and CRE managers are endeavoring to introduce young people to fascinating career opportunities they may never have considered or even heard of before.
Brixmor, for example, piloted and recently formalized a two-year leasing assistant development program for new college graduates in business, marketing and finance studies. The program assigns each participant to a supervisor and also to a mentor, then cycles each graduate through a series of professional activities and projects designed to provide them with well-rounded knowledge of commercial leasing and revenue.
“The goal would be that in about two years, they would take on their own portfolio for leasing and continue to grow their career with us,” Carter Singh said.
The development program has proven so attractive and effective that Brixmor is looking to launch two similar programs to train young professionals for its financial assessment management and its property management departments. Property management trainees would learn the full range of the position’s fundamentals from seasoned professionals as well as distinctive aspects of Brixmor’s approach to managing its properties. The company’s strategic goal is to make its open-air retail facilities the center of the communities they serve. Consequently, property managers need to become strong members and supporters of their community, including in difficult times.
When Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle in October 2018, Brixmor’s severely damaged shopping center in Panama City became the hub of that community’s emergency response efforts.
“We had the Army Corps of Engineers set up in our parking lot so people could get blue tarps for their roofs and even get assistance putting them up,” Carter Singh said.
There were trucks onsite providing water, medical care, emergency supplies and tenant support. Nearly 100 Brixmor employees – organized by Brixmor’s volunteer Disaster Assistance Recovery Team – aided the recovery effort on- and off-site.
Carter Singh points to the hurricane response as one reason why “property management is a great job where you can have an impact every single day.”
Across the industry, companies are using internships to introduce students to myriad CRE careers and inspire them to develop professional skills.
Hines Vice President of Human Resources Dana Morrey likes to describe her company as “a world of opportunities in real estate.” Hines’ annual summer internship program gives college juniors and sophomores a substantial and challenging introduction to real estate development or investment management.
“On the investment management side, interns are assigned to a fund team, specializing in domestic, emerging markets or multinational funds, and they really learn the ropes,” Morrey said.
Interns are assigned mentors, tasked with researching new markets or product types, and work with senior team members as they vet potential investments and underwrite new projects. Each student must also complete a capstone project.
“At the end of the internship, they present their findings not just to the senior officer who assigned them to the capstone project, but to a roomful of executives. So it’s a great opportunity for the intern to develop their presentation skills too,” Morrey said.
Similarly, interns at Duke Realty “participate and are exposed to various business meetings and work on real projects that make an impact,” said Jenny Bean, vice president of human resources. “They may work on identifying leasing or development opportunities or run models on the finances of a company that might lease with Duke Realty.”
Duke Realty is also making concerted efforts to attract a broader range of people to its internship programs and job opportunities. The company recently created an MBA internship program with the goal of attracting and hiring women and/or diverse candidates. Every member of the company’s management committee is responsible for engaging in diversity networking, Bean said. Specifically, they must become actively involved (through volunteer hours, delivering presentations, hosting outings or other activities) in an organization that puts them in the middle of a different mix of people than may exist in the senior ranks of the commercial real estate industry.
A key goal of that networking “is to bring new candidates to us whether we have an immediate opening or not,” Bean said. “When are hiring, we make sure we are generating a diverse slate of candidates for managers to interview and not just interviewing a friend of a friend or focusing too much on certain demographics or socio-economic groups… There’s so much growth and opportunity in this industry and in this company. We want to bring that opportunity to a broad community.”
Linda Strowbridge is a freelance business writer based in Baltimore, MD. A long-time journalist in Canada and the U.S., Linda now writes extensively about the built environment, economic development, green business and the insights of business leaders.