Twenty years ago, most estate agents – apart from chartered surveyors – were unqualified. They joined an office straight from school and learned on the job. Then, in 2007 the National Federation of Property Professionals (NFOPP) introduced regulated qualifications. Now, there’s an increasing demand – partly driven by calls for regulation – for estate agents to hold relevant qualifications and an increasing number of routes to qualify. The Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) route is one. There are a number of property related University Degrees in various disciplines, from land management, economics and real estate or finance and real estate, through to building surveying – 369 RICS accredited options. NFOPP provides qualifications through its NAEA and ARLA diplomas and technical awards, while the Guild of Letting and Management offers BTEC qualifications.
That’s quite a bundle of qualifications. Some intersect – many property degrees are RICS accredited, giving candidates entry to the APC without taking a postgraduate conversion course; others don’t. There’s no regulatory requirement for agents to be qualified, so no single qualification is a gold standard – even those from RICS.
WHICH ROUTE TO TAKE
However, many agency chains have now chosen a route for their staff. Belvoir chose the Guild of Letting and Management (GLM), signing a preferential deal giving its staff reduced rates for the GLM diploma and gaining accreditation via the GLM for its own three week induction course, which Belvoir believes is an industry first.Waterfords, on the other hand, chose ARLA, making qualification compulsory for their lettings staff, said Sean Wickes. On the sales side, Waterfords encourages staff to take the NAEA technical awards, upping the ante for small agents, who may not have the resources of larger groups but still have to compete on professionalism.
Some larger agents operate graduate entry schemes; Knight Frank takes on 20-25 graduates a year, though many end up on the commercial side. Lauren Strangleman, Graduate Manager at Knight Frank, says that outside the graduate scheme, their ‘resi’ side tends to have staff from a wider mix of backgrounds, with some moving from legal or finance careers into property, while most joining the commercial side are already qualified. Some internal hires move across from administrative or marketing roles, too. Lauren says, “Many will already be in a sales office so we give them on the job experience and negotiation skills training. We’ll buddy them up with someone more experienced, and we’re very patient with people who are new to an area.”
Christina Hirst of the Chartered Surveyors Training Trust says that property is the career pathway least well understood by young people, who often associate surveying with construction – “they don’t appreciate the valuation, agency and management side of the career.” But she’s glad that employers from the agency sector are more interested in apprenticeships leading to RICS qualifications. “It’s been much slower than in construction,” she admits, “but it’s increasing this year.”
Belvoir sees many franchise owners coming from outside the industry, needing effective technical training to get them up to speed – fast. The induction course gives classroom based training with real world experience – delegates go on accompanied viewings and spend time at the corporate- owned Grantham shop to learn the ropes. Belvoir will launch an apprenticeship scheme next year, which will allow franchise owners to take on young people within a programme providing support and training leading to recognised qualifications. It has also launched an advanced programme of senior management training for experienced franchise owners.
What individuals want to know is whether having a relevant qualification will get them a better job. Traditionally, residential property didn’t require qualifications, while commercial property took graduates, but this is changing. Lauren Strangleman says, “There might have been a bit of snobbery about residential, but that’s no longer the case.” (However, she says, university courses are very much geared towards commercial property, so some students feel they’ve been pushed towards that, and Knight Frank has to make the case for residential careers.)
She believes that a relevant qualification can give individuals a better chance, “A property related degree can get them into a bigger firm straight away – otherwise it can be quite difficult to get that foot in the door.”
Scott Sullivan, Learning and Development Manager at Colliers, says candidates for both residential and commercial roles are now very interested in training. “It’s the second most common question we get asked – what training do we offer? The Y generation is looking for an employer who can teach them something today that makes them a better prospect tomorrow,” he explains. Firms without a good training scheme – one that offers recognised qualifications – are likely to lose the best candidates.
But estate agents’ training has to go further than the technical stuff involved in gaining a qualification; while it’s important to get new recruits up to speed, it’s also vital to continue to boost existing employees’ skills. Scott Sullivan says Colliers’ training programme includes a range of subjects, “from the best way to show people round an office to emotional intelligence for leaders.” Knight Frank offers courses on time management and interview skills training for line managers, while one of the courses getting the best feedback has been “visitor experience training,” focused on how staff handle client visits to the office.
Waterfords’ Sean Wickes says, “We look into alternative methods of training which go beyond teaching the basic skills.” A recent initiative had Claire Gaudry offering ‘Brilliance Brain Consulting.’ “We wanted to capture our employees’ attention and make us look at how we approach our style of work. We wanted staff to develop their style of empathy in difficult situations.” That’s not something a BTEC offers – agents need to look beyond qualifications when assessing training needs.
Training senior managers is important. Scott says the courses change as you move up the tiers. “With senior people you work more as a facilitator to help those with experience share that and learn from their peers; technical stuff is more important for graduates and those with less experience.”Janet Tully, Group HR Director for Badger Holdings (owner of Townends and Regents), says that the Badger Holdings School of Excellence includes training focused on the needs of support and administrative staff, as well as the foundation academy (for staff in their first six months) and the executive academy (business leaders).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The cost of training has often been an issue. However, the internet has made a huge impact, enabling training to be delivered online. Belvoir says its monthly webinars cost £5 per delegate, with 200 attendees in 2013, “developing training methods that counter the rising cost of sending delegates on courses.” Topics include, “ten steps to a successful appraisal” and an overview of social media.
Colliers has built an extensive resource of webinars and lectures – one advantage being that such training can be archived for future reference. Colliers has the advantage of having a strong infrastructure, but online training can also work for smaller agencies. Richard Rawlings’ Agent Masterclass is a subscription service offering 30-minute training modules online, with fresh modules every month; a mix of topical subjects, ideas and best practice. Agent Masterclass also has contributions from experts on subjects such as Land Registry and photography. Waterfords uses Agent Masterclass, Sean says, initially with its branch managers, intending to roll it out across the company. Other users include Winkworth, Ellis & Co, and CJ Hole.
There’s an air of excitement in training at the moment. Susie Crolla, CEO at GLM says she has seen in increase in the demand for qualifications; last year 2,600 courses were completed at Colliers UK. Belvoir doubled its number of courses and trebled the number of delegates taking them.
Clearly, training is delivering business benefits to firms which take it seriously. Glenn Wakeham of Belvoir Guildford puts his branch’s increasing market share down to its professionalism – all the team take a BTEC level 3 in lettings and property management, as a minimum. “This allows us to stay ahead of the game,” he says.
At Colliers, Scott Sullivan claims that, “Good training really makes a difference to our clients and what they’re doing. We’re trying to create a culture where our people aren’t just transactional brokers, but have the skills they need to deliver good advice, to differentiate us from the competition.”
But perhaps the best rationale for training as an investment comes from Richard Rawlings. Too often, he says, agents who have been successful in the past start to stagnate. Training, he says, isn’t just about basic competence – it’s about spotting innovative, fresh ideas that can deliver increases in market share. If better training provides the tools you need to resist dropping your commissions, isn’t it worth paying the price?