Young Fish in an Aging Pond

Matt Wassel, an atypical millennial (he not only knows what a comma is, but knows how to use it), started working with us almost four years ago. He has become an integral part of our team and is also the unofficial editor of NeuerSpace. Last month, we were discussing the results of the recent survey by Buildout and TheBrokerList titled 2016 DNA of #CRE and he wrote the guest post below in response.

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I am a young broker in an industry that isn’t always encouraging to young people.  

I thought it might be me or simply our market. But when we reviewed the results of the survey completed by the Buildout and TheBrokerList titled 2016 DNA of #CRE, it not only reinforced what I thought, but took it to another level. What was more interesting than the results were the specifics of the demographic that responded to the survey.

Over 50% of the people that responded to the survey were over the age of 50, while only 6% were under the age of 30.

Was it that the survey was distributed in ways that catered more to the older demographic? Was it that younger brokers thought that responding to the survey was not the most effective use of time? I do not think so. The problem is that the distribution of younger brokers is disproportionate, and that this discrepancy is only widening.

Much is written about millennials and their propensity to switch jobs early and often, constantly searching for an environment that offers autonomy, flexibility, and the sense that they are contributing to the greater good daily. The attrition rate in this generation is undoubtedly higher, but there are glaring issues with the way junior brokers are brought into the industry, and it has left firms with an aging talent pool and little hope for this changing in the foreseeable future.

The first issue is getting your foot in the door, as the real estate brokerage world does not subscribe to the same protocol as most companies who are actively seeking young talent. While still in college, I went to countless information sessions, informal interviews, and job fairs on campus, and I cannot remember one commercial real estate firm making its presence known. Of course, brokerage does not require the type of systematic hiring that industries like investment banking, sales and trading, and consulting do, but shouldn’t we at least be on campus? The mindset of waiting until a client or a senior producer brings in a friend’s child to interview is not yielding the type of numbers that we need. If we want top talent, we should go find it.

The next issue, which I think is most important, is the accessibility to proper training. In my (admittedly bias) opinion, CBRE does this better than its competition in New Jersey. That said, there is still a void for the type of systematic training that young talent desires, particularly given that commercial real estate is a subject that isn’t typically studied in college.

I started in the research department at CBRE before transitioning to brokerage, which gave me a great base of knowledge. But what my senior partners did differently was insist on continuing the training process every step of the way. It is an anomaly if I am asked to do something without understanding why it is important or having its importance explained to me, and this cannot be understated. Instead of teaching junior brokers how to show space and adequately complete the busy work that senior brokers don’t want to do, help them understand the importance and impact that these steps have on the process. It’s the difference between taking the time to teach someone how to fish and handing them a fish, and it goes a long way.

As if the hardships of learning the market, the terminology, the process, and the ways to connect the dots weren’t enough, why would anybody want to show up every day and owe the company money? Junior brokers are constantly reminded that you are indebted to the company, and its control on you is only compounded further when you have the impossible task of trying to explain your job to your college friends who were immediately successful after graduation. The solution to the current model of the draw is not obvious, but there must be a way to motivate junior brokers so that they can enjoy the fruits of their labor while they are young in the process.

I am approaching my 4th anniversary in brokerage, and while each day reaffirms that my persistence (bordering on stubbornness) was well worth it, I will not claim that it was an easy process. I am lucky enough to have some great mentors, both at CBRE and otherwise, and I think this helped me maintain the foresight necessary to persevere through the struggles of the first few years.

 The intent of this piece was not to complain, but rather to put into perspective why other industries are awash with young talent while we struggle to keep young, hungry people on the job. Several of my friends that I started with are no longer at CBRE, and I would bet that many of the issues outlined above were involved in their decision processes. At some point, the 50% of respondents that were above 50 years old will retire, and the 6% that were under 30 will not be enough to keep the ship afloat.

What happens to the industry then?

It is time that we focus on this issue and provide young brokers with the structure they need to be successful in today’s changing brokerage world. In a commission-based business, it might sound counter-intuitive to complain about a lack of competition, but the health and future of our industry depends on it.