Nurturing the Next Generation of CRE Professionals

By Rebecca Steffes, RPA, LEED Green Associate

Senior Property Manager, Piedmont Office Realty Trust

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in commercial real estate is the level of generosity displayed by those of us in this industry.  We give back to make our communities better places to work, live, raise families and do business.

Over the years, BOMA/Chicago Building and Affiliate members have taken a leadership role through programs like the LifeSource Blood Drive and annual holiday food drive to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

This year, my company, Piedmont Office Realty Trust, took a step in a similar direction, but on a more personal scale: We hosted a summer internship program that gave five young people from Chicago International Charter School a behind-the-scenes perspective on what it takes to manage an office building and work in a professional business environment; and hopefully, we offered them a better chance to reach their full potential as adults.

Becky Steffes with students from the Chicago International Charter School

Now in its second year, the four-week program got its start this way: Our team at Piedmont was brainstorming ways to improve our community involvement, which is a requirement to succeed at all levels of The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) awards.  We considered volunteer programs at hospitals, foundations and other organizations, but decided to develop a program that would bring students from Chicago International’s charter school campuses here to our offices.

As a trained teacher, I took charge in designing the curriculum. The students met here at the Piedmont Offices three days per week from 8 a.m. to noon.  They were not assigned specific work tasks, but they were given some hands-on assignments to complete, which taught them the value behind proper business protocol.

For example, they were required to write thank you notes after meetings with visitors and counseled on how to manage and control their profiles on social media sites like Facebook.

Our key objectives:

  1. Expose the students to a variety of professionals in commercial real estate so they would get a big-picture perspective of the industry.  They met with the team lead of a Jones Lang LaSalle  leasing team to learn about the marketing strategies they employ.  They met with other members of the property management team to learn how we tackle administrative and management duties.  And, we even paid a visit to Chris Happ of Goby, the building environmental consulting company, to discuss green design and energy efficiency and visit their green rooftop.
  2. Broaden the students’ knowledge of the business world and the world beyond their immediate communities. Our interns, who are all high-school aged, live in all corners of Chicago and many were not exposed to what happens in the office buildings downtown.

The students learned that many of us in this industry had different career paths that led us to commercial real estate.  This revelation inspired some very provocative comments from the students.  Here are a few they shared.

  • “This entire experience has impacted my thoughts about my college studies and possible career choices.  Before, I knew I wanted to go to DePaul and become an accountant. But now, I have so many different career paths to choose from.  Thanks to this internship, my mind is open to new things.”
  • “One of the many valuable lessons I have learned in this program is about recognizing myself as a brand. Before the program, I was only vaguely familiar with the term. After it was explained to me in detail, I began to feel a sense of refinement and confidence every time we met new people.”

We really enjoyed this opportunity to partner with CICS and support the community and the real estate industry in such a worthwhile activity.  It proved to be a mutually beneficial experience for both the students and our Piedmont team and positively exemplified Piedmont’s core corporate value surrounding stewardship.

At this year’s BOMA International Conference, nurturing the next generation of commercial real estate professionals was a big topic of discussion.  Our internship program is a step in that direction.  What’s your property or company doing to pave the way for young people to work in commercial real estate?  Your thoughts and ideas may inspire others, so please share.