Real Estate Asset Management

Recruiting Youth- The Final Step in Creating the Ideal RE Workshop | Globe Street April 17, 2015

Globe Street | Justin Pelsinger | 04/17/2015

The professional recruiting process can be a daunting and difficult prospect. Care must be taken to ensure that each quality—experience, intelligence, drive, etc.—is valued appropriately when comparing different candidates. Candidates themselves should consider the range of choices available to them when pursuing an employment prospect. In commercial real estate development, different firms place differing levels of value on youth and the perspective that it brings.

Industry experience is critical to the success of any commercial real estate project. Commercial real estate is intricate, and professionals with decades of experience bring necessary institutional knowledge to a complex and competitive environment. Entry-level hires, even the brightest ones, simply haven’t yet accumulated sufficient development experience, and industry veterans possess an expertise that up-and-comers will find hard to match.

As a result, some firms may be tempted to find only the most superficial value in their entry-level hires. Younger employees bring with them ambition, energy, and a tech savvy that can be a significant driver of progress. But an often-overlooked value that younger employees tend to offer is perspective, particularly perspective on how their own demographic can be best served by a commercial real estate project.

With so many new development projects geared toward young professionals, potential employees who are inexperienced are, ironically, often uniquely qualified to weigh in on what they might be looking for in a development project. With respect to “lifestyle development,” which includes the development of hotel, multifamily, and mixed-use buildings, millennials are a core part of the consumer demographic. In hiring millennials, firms are essentially putting members of the “target audience” on staff. Firms often overlook this perspective as an accretive opportunity for recent hires. In assigning employees only entry-level tasks, they miss out on the opportunity to uncover valuable perspective in higher-level strategy discussions.

The benefit of including younger employees in broad strategy decisions is consequential. Each demographic—baby boomers, Generation X, etc.—has its own set of values, standards, and preferences, and the needs and desires of each demographic is best understood by its respective constituents.

At GFI Development Co., younger employees are not only trained to become industry-experts; they are quickly asked to weigh in on aspects of development projects that relate to their own demographic preferences. Integrating entry-level employees into some of the most critical conversations we have offers them an opportunity to understand and affect how decisions that influence the rest of their work are made. All young employees climb the traditional ladder with respect to their development skills, but they are already experts in the preferences of their peers.

Over the last few years, residential projects with green spaces have become increasingly popular. Whereas traditionally developers had devoted fewer resources to green spaces, changing tastes among younger tenants has skewed towards their greater use. Being in tune with the values of your core audience is important, and it would be unfortunate to have customers flock to your competitors because of a generational gap such as this.

A number of our development projects have implemented non-traditional amenities that likely wouldn’t have been considered economically viable in the past. In one particular residential project, we constructed a green area where tenants could plant their own herbs and vegetables. While it may have, in the past, seemed counterintuitive that residents of an upscale building might want to spend the time growing herbs rather than buying them, changing attitudes towards local food has made the green space a popular feature in the building.

The same can be said for a rooftop lawn that that has proven a popular feature of a recent project. In earlier years, many believed that the idea of a rooftop lawn would be a poor use of space, but younger demographics have demonstrated a preference for green spaces. By incorporating the opinions of some of the younger members of our team, we have been able to produce targeted projects that incorporate the viewpoints of members of our intended demographic.

The advantages of youth, however, should not be overstated. While it’s important to have a fresh perspective at the discussion table, it is of course critical to have veteran hands steering the process. In my experience, the most productive environment for a real estate development workplace includes a healthy mix of voices across the age spectrum. Experienced professionals are critical in operationalizing and commercializing some of the great ideas that our youngest team members propose.

There is no doubt that finding the perfect mix on your real estate development team is a formidable challenge. But by including members of your target audience, you ensure that your firm possesses an important voice: that of the end-user. Firms that take the step of incorporating younger voices into the decision making process will find their projects grow and adjust to fit emerging tastes.

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