Commercial Real Estate Outreach

One solution to the pending workforce shortage in commercial real estate is education - and the earlier, the better, says Collete English Dixon.

English Dixon is executive director of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Chicago's Roosevelt University. She took the post in 2017 with more than 30 years of experience in transactions, finance, and joint ventures.

“The real estate industry, in some respects, is not very transparent to young people looking to make career decisions,” she says. “They may think real estate is interesting, but they're not really sure of all the roles you can play, and some of that lack of transparency is making it hard to compete for students. We've got to do better in that.”

Some of that transparency, she says, starts by engaging students while they're still in high school. “We need to bring an awareness of real estate as something that involves more than just single-family houses. The industry needs to find ways to break down the incredibly diverse number of roles that people can have.”

Once students enter college, she says, “we need to show up in their space consistently, talking about what real estate is. What are your skills and interests? Do you like working with numbers or design or working with people? Let's talk about how you can bring these skills into this industry.”

English Dixon is in a particularly good position on this score; Roosevelt offers two graduate degrees in real estate and this fall, launched a real estate major for its bachelor's in business administration degree. Students interested in the bachelor's program declare for the major when they become juniors, so English Dixon says there are plenty of outreach opportunities during students' freshman and sophomore years.

In the past, she says, “everyone who went through real estate programs in the academic space wanted to be a developer, but not everyone can be a developer. Educational engagement is helping students to see that there's more to real estate than building the next Willis Tower.

“There are so many disciplines in real estate,” she adds. “Students need to learn how their skill sets and talents can be used and how they can be transferred from one part of the industry to another. Anyone starting their career right now will see a few recessions, so they need to have their eyes open to where the industry is going and prepare to adjust as necessary.”

Especially important, she emphasizes, “Students need to understand how technology is impacting all aspects of this business. They need to be aware of the influence technology is going to have on how things are reported or underwritten or built. That is really key.”

English Dixon also hopes that students can become more aware of areas like capital markets and investment sales. “They tend to get less attention because of concern about early commission structure,” she says. “Students need to know that they can make money, but getting in the door and staying there is really hard to do. That has limited the diversity of talent going into those areas.”

Current real estate professionals can do their part, too, she adds, by stepping up to mentor students. “At Roosevelt, we have a more diverse student population, and it's really important for them to see role models in the industry.

“Experienced industry participants should be open to sharing their experience and to helping cultivate the success of future leaders by engaging with students. That will make a huge difference in getting people in the door and having them stay.”

Sarah Hoban

Sarah Hoban is a business writer based in the Chicago metro area.


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