The PropTech industry is growing rapidly around the globe. More and more companies are opening shop every week and investment numbers, having already gone through the roof, are now up among the clouds and heading for the stars.
One of the most significant outcomes of this extraordinary success is an increasingly profound need to find and maintain a bigger and better industry workforce. Recruiting for PropTech is an issue which has recently come to the foreground with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) looking for ways to increase awareness of technology roles with the property sector and also answer some of our most challenging and important questions.
What skills should we be looking for? How do we attract the best talent towards PropTech? Are we doing enough to ensure that higher education establishments are promoting PropTech awareness? And, are the core practices of the recruitment industry appropriately suited to fulfill the needs of a maturing PropTech industry?
With these questions on an increasing number of lips, we thought it was a good time to take a quick look at how PropTech companies are attracting and retaining talent, and discuss what needs to be done to ensure that, as we move forward, our industry continues to thrive, supported by the best possible workforce.
PropTech and the Gold Rush migration
To get an expert’s view on this question of recruitment, I had a chat with UKPA member, Marty Sim, Managing Director at Hy-re, a recruitment firm set up to specifically feed the PropTech industry with the nation’s very best talent. I started by asking what had motivated him and his team to create a PropTech-specific recruitment agency?
“We are seeing a huge transfer of skills from traditional property towards PropTech, and whilst many of those required skills remain more or less the same, a vast amount of PropTech startups don’t actually know which positions and skills they should be prioritising at any one time.
Should they, for example, be hiring a CTO, or an HR manager, how many developers are required? On top of that, how much should they be paying them?
Because many PropTech CEOs and Founders have little to no previous experience of setting up a new tech business, these questions represent a gap in their knowledge that we are here to fill. Rather than wing it and risk making influential errors in employment decisions, they can work with Hy-re and we provide the knowledge they require.”
When we begin working with a startup, our first job is helping them make that difficult decision about what roles to prioritise. Only then do we head out and find the best person for the job.”
However, even once startups have a good idea of who they need to be hiring, there are other significant barriers to actually bringing those people in.
With regards to their recent recruitment experience, Infabode’s Business Development Director, Josie Nash, said:
“Infabode have found this very challenging – mostly in terms of identifying and then attracting tech talent. With small budgets it is hard to afford experienced professionals that have very specific skill sets to match our tech stack.
Limited budgets also cause problems because recruitment fees will often mean that you try to source recruits yourself in the hope of saving costs, this is time consuming and brings its own challenges.”
These are the sorts of issues that UKPA has raised during conversations with BEIS, themselves looking for ways to eliminate barriers to PropTech growth, hoping to instigate a more holistic approach to tackling the issues at hand and bring industry recruitment to the forefront of the department’s agenda.
From the C-Suite, down
Interestingly, Hy-re’s Marty Sim explained to me, we are seeing a significant migration of traditional property professionals looking to make step across into PropTech.
It started with senior figures, C-Suite level players from big property agencies, making the move, eager to contribute to the future of property rather than battling to survive it. Over the past 12 months, this trend has trickled down from the top and we are now seeing an increasing number of junior and intermediate property professionals follow the lead of their bosses.
However, while PropTech awareness is increasing among people already in the property industry, there is concern that it is yet to fully reach those who are still working towards or have recently started careers in real estate.
Promoting PropTech in education
Universities and colleges have long taught a number Real Estate courses, from diplomas to degrees, but as technology transforms the industry, it has become a real concern that tech is not filtering down into education establishments, the vast majority of which continue to follow very traditional syllabuses and promote very traditional roles as those for students to aspire to.
There is no doubt that some establishments are improving on this front. Professor Andrew Baum, for example, author of PropTech 3.0, PropTech’s first ever academic report, teaches Real Estate at Saïd Business School. One would assume his courses give good focus to technology, but this is not the case for most places throughout the UK.
For now, many students and graduates say that their first real exposure to PropTech, in some cases the first time they even heard the word, came when they started attending conferences and events. Until then, they did not understand how their knowledge and skills were relevant to PropTech. This is causing many to be totally unaware of the opportunities for them in technology.
Awareness, it seems, needs to be promoted much sooner. Over time, as tech becomes more and more prevalent, courses will naturally evolve, but can we afford to wait that long?
In order to accelerate increased awareness, UKPA are working with CREation, a network of property graduates and young professionals, to educate them around career prospects in PropTech. Together, they have launched a competition in which members can win 12 months free UKPA membership by identifying two ways in which they believe tech has positively addressed problems in property.
Creating a culture which attracts and maintains talent
“Attracting existing talent towards PropTech is not too much of a challenge,” says Marty.
“Everybody can see the built environment around them. They can see the impact of technology on property, it’s becoming obvious every time you leave the house or watch television. They can see the world changing around them and they are keen to be a part of it.”
Whilst attracting people towards the world of PropTech might, as Marty says, be relatively easy, there does remain a significant barrier to recruitment: the vast majority of PropTech firms are startups. And while the startup environment may be appealing to some, for those who have worked hard to gain real estate qualifications, the unpredictable, improvisational, and budget-conscious nature of startups can be concerning, leading many to gravitate towards the more corporate end of the industry.
To combat this and strike a more even balance, startups might need to start adopting some of the perks that corporate culture provides: job security, career development, Christmas bonus schemes, etc. Such words are rarely used in the context of startups, but maybe they should be?
Speaking on this subject, Christine Chenneour, Global Director of People & Culture at LEVERTON, said:
“It is often said that people are an organisations greatest asset. However, in high growth environments such as PropTech startups like LEVERTON, happiness and motivation of the people play a much bigger role.
The key is for HR to regularly interact with the employees to better understand their specific requirements, but also to ensure that these are aligned with the company’s goals and objectives, leading to more motivated employees and retention of talent.
When it comes to recruiting new talent, it’s easy to assume that you should only look at candidates actively seeking a new role. However, your new talent need not necessarily be unemployed.
The PropTech space is becoming increasingly popular by the day, and there is no denying that talent from other peripheral industries will be looking for new opportunities to work for high-growth start-ups in this space. It is key that your focus is on building a talent pool and targeting candidates who aren’t actively looking for a new role…stay on their radar and build a personal relationship as circumstances can change anytime. In order to do this, you must move from a hiring process of ‘recruitment’ to one of ‘strategic talent acquisition.”
In the coming months and years, PropTech needs to be considering the issue of recruitment from two distinct sides. First, from their own side; do we know exactly what positions we need to hire for and the exact skills required? And second, from the side of the young professional; how do we ensure that we attract and retain the high quality, skilled employees, desired by industries far and wide, that are key to pushing our industry into the future?
The former requires a complete understanding of what your individual company needs in order to scale and succeed over the short, mid, and long-term. And the latter requires PropTech companies to offer their staff the security, progression, and benefits that they are sure to find if they pursue a more traditional career path.
PropTech is doing a good job of attracting talent from within property – industry tides are turning and many professionals are looking to step into tech, but we aren’t yet doing enough to promote careers to students and newly qualified graduates.
The work, however, has begun. Organisations like UKPA, BEIS and CREation, among others, are increasing awareness and and public interest is only set to increase. Property is vital to the UK’s economic security, as such, the government is keen to find ways of facilitating its growth. As it becomes increasingly clear that technology is the only way to truly future-proof the industry, government interest and investment in PropTech is set to rise.
With that in mind, much of the burden for recruitment lays with the PropTech companies themselves. Are they doing enough to create a culture that people want to be part of and will benefit from?
UKPA would love to know how their members feel about this issue and will be making it a keen area of focus moving forward. What have your recruitment experiences been like thus far? Have you found success down any particular avenue? Have you struggled to recruit for any specific positions? Most importantly, how can UKPA do more to support industry recruitment and attract the best talent our way?