The Value of Continuing Education for Managers Turning the Page

The phrase “jack of all trades” could have been coined simply to describe the profession of residential property manager. To succeed in this fast-paced business, a property manager has to master a wealth of information and skills. More importantly, they continuously have to cultivate those skill sets and pools of knowledge, keeping up with new legislation, new accounting rules, new technologies, software and much, much more. Which is why continuing education is such a must for today’s property managers. Luckily, there are a host of educational opportunities from which they can choose.

Keys to Success

“It’s always important to keep up with the field and to keep up with the new rules, regulations and technologies,” says Marolyn Davenport of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). “It’s important to refresh what you already know.”

Sandy Frame, president of the Real Estate Education Center (REEC), a real estate education related school, agrees. “With the federal government, the city of New York and the state of New York regulations, it is to the benefit of the property manager to keep abreast of the laws that could be costly to their owners,” he says. “In addition, our industry is changing very rapidly as far as labor saving devices, which can keep the cost down [for buildings.]”

Adds Peter Grech, president of the New York Superintendents Technical Association (NYSTA) and director of educational services, and a current property manager, “The benefits [of continuing education] are endless and the courses are win-win,” he says. “The manager wins, and the building that he oversees wins. Keeping up with changes in codes as well as new technologies are only a few of the benefits.”

Continuing education is not a state or federal requirement for property managers unless they are also licensed brokers or salespeople. A certain number of continuing education hours are, however, required to maintain specific professional designations. Organizations such as the New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM) and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) are among two of the biggest offering designations and both provide educational opportunities.

In the Classroom

Whether managers are taking required courses or have signed on simply to keep abreast of the latest developments in their field, the types of continuing education coursework available to the city’s managers is vast and varied. At NYARM, courses focus on two key areas. “The continuing education material for property managers must concentrate on the two core responsibilities of a building manager: to maintain a safe and secure environment for all individuals who occupy the building and to provide fiscally prudent direction,” Margie Russell, executive director of NYARM, says. Beyond those core curricula, courses “should be accessible in easily digestible modules, reasonably priced and timely.”

Russell says that NYARM also insists on including ethics training as part of its continuing education curriculum. Quoting the NYARM Code of Ethics, she says, “‘[The] manager should use his best efforts to keep apprised of all new legislation or regulations affecting the owner; and the manager should always consider the safety and welfare of tenants and the public, even beyond the concerns of the owners.’

“The first excerpt directly addresses the importance of continuing education and the second addresses one of the core requirements of a property manager, which is to maintain a safe and secure environment,” says Russell. Also, ethics courses serve as a way to remind property managers of their central duties to their clients and to the residents in whose buildings they live and work.

Name the subject matter and there is likely a property management course out there for eager minds, whether neophytes to the field or seasoned professionals looking to add a spark to their understanding of the business. “Anytime there is a new law or requirement, we always do seminars and workshops,” says Davenport. “Right now, a lot of people are interested in green building and technology.” So those subjects have become more prominent on area syllabuses alongside standard workshops and courses on machinery, building technologies.

“Classes are also good for the financial side of things,” Davenport adds, allowing managers to get refresher courses on reading finance reports or learning about new accounting initiatives that might be able to save their clients and shareholders money—something that all boards and residents can appreciate.

Classes in building codes are popular, as are courses in “new local laws or changes in laws,” as well as new technologies in “building and heating systems,” Grech says.

The types of classes that teach specific skills are among the most popular. “Something that delivers to you a new skill, where you can say, ‘I have learned or mastered something new through this course,’” says Russell.

Most courses are designed to provide as much information to students as possible in the time allowed by their schedules. Property managers are, of course, notorious for having schedules that practically never sleep so most workshops or seminars are one-shots kept to a few hours at a time. Organizations such as REEC offer online courses and seminars on CD-ROM to service managers who are constantly on the go.

In terms of tuition, “90 percent of the time, the individual will pay for their (own) courses,” says Frame. Given the time involved and the fact that tuition is usually paid by the manager herself, the fact that a significant number of managers engage in these continuing education opportunities shows their commitment to the trade.

Education as Investment

Although many courses are taken by individual managers looking to get ahead, a number of property management firms are dedicated to helping their employees get the education they want and need in order to succeed. One of those companies is AKAM Associates, which offers an in-house education program geared both toward training new employees and providing continuing education and refresher courses for existing managers.

“It’s rejuvenating for everybody,” says Barbara Dershowitz, vice president of corporate development for AKAM Associates in Manhattan. “Managers have to know so many different disciplines: law, accounting, architecture, public relations, record keeping, computer technology—and that knowledge increases exponentially with the evolution of technology. They have to keep current on laws and finances and they have to be masters of all those trades. It’s very important that practitioners feel themselves to be as well-qualified as possible.” Each course is designed to help managers do exactly that.

The program was started as a way to help management apprentices move up the ranks and gain understanding and experience within the company. “An endemic problem in the industry is that very few people in their teenage or college years make the conscious decision to become a property manager,” Dershowitz says. “People usually come into this profession as apprentices, working until the industry decides they have enough experience.” AKAM’s program was designed to “cultivate property managers internally and find the best candidates externally,” she says. New students take part in a 12-week course that ends with a final exam. Passing that exam earns them an AKAM RPM certification, “custom-tailored to the New York City property management field,” Dershowitz says.

Current employees are encouraged to take part in the educational training program as well. “We put out the class syllabus and invite everyone in the company, no matter what department, to audit the class,” Dershowitz explains. “They can do everything from brushing up on their reading of financial statements to learning about a new building technology.” Throughout the year, the firm also brings in outside speakers to talk about things like contracts or other ever-evolving areas of the field. Staff is encouraged, too, to earn and maintain outside credentials with organizations such as NYARM. “Our courses are not theoretical, not static,” Dershowitz says. “They are fluid. We constantly bring people in to talk about new legislation, mechanical functions, technology, accounting.”

What has this focus on education meant for AKAM and its employees? “The program has resulted, frankly, in an increase in loyalty,” Dershowitz says. “People are feeling very much connected to the company and seeing the program as an investment in them.” The firm, in turn, sees the program as an investment in their employees as well. “We’re forming a powerful core of uniformly trained personnel – educated, highly-competent property managers.”

No matter what the circumstance, whether earning continuing education credits to maintain or earn a professional designation, or signing up to learn about a new innovation or a piece of legislation, or simply taking classes because the subject matter is appealing, the value of ongoing adult education is undeniable. It provides values for the boards and residents that the managers serve. It helps firms compete with strong, well-versed staffs. And best of all, it keeps the excitement of a fast-paced and tough profession alive and well, opening practitioners’ eyes to all that this field has to offer. It’s a win for everyone involved.

Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor toThe Cooperator.

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