How the Commercial Real Estate Industry Can Recruit Gen Z Talent

The reigning theory about the Generation Z labor force is that company culture and reputation matter the most. More and more, we hear that younger candidates for office jobs care so deeply about what company culture is like and what actions they are taking in arenas like environmental sustainability that it could ultimately sway their decision of whether or not to work at a company. It’s not just hearsay; countless studies and surveys have shown that culture and DEI efforts matter more to Gen Z than any other generation before them. Most major companies have gotten the memo and laid out transparent ESG and diversity goals. Faced with this landscape, and an ongoing labor shortage that is heating up the competition, some of the largest commercial real estate brokerage firms in the industry are expanding their recruiting efforts and trying new approaches and programs that cast a wide net to lure those from the soon-to-be largest generation ever.

Commercial real estate has not been immune to the labor shortage. Since 2021, the widespread problem has led to staffing headaches across countless industries. The latest job report released last month was overwhelmingly positive, with unemployment averages hitting a 53-year low. Despite this, labor market struggles are still being felt. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a news conference at the time that the labor market was not only “extremely tight” but also “out of balance.” This past December, there were around 11 million job openings, nearly two for every available worker.  

This disparity has made those who are looking for jobs even more selective. With more opportunities than ever, job seekers are taking more time to look at all their options and are scrutinizing potential employers more closely. A recent study from the CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network found that flexibility is hugely important to the youngest jobseekers–18 to 24-year-olds–and those over 55. The same report also found that 68 percent of workers would change jobs if their new employer was more transparent about pay transparency, even if the new job and salary were essentially the same as their current position. Another study from Deloitte revealed similar findings. “To win the hearts of Generation Z, companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens,” researchers wrote in a recent Deloitte study on Gen Z and the workplace. More than just pledging support for sustainability or societal issues on social media, companies will need to show they are truly committed through actions, not just words. 

The younger generations are a hugely important part of the country’s workforce. Gen Z and Millennials make up close to half of the full-time workforce in the US, at 46 percent, according to the latest Gallup polls. Members of these generations expect certain things from their workplace, the most important being an employer that cares about their wellbeing. Next to that, a company’s ethics, transparency, and commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace. “The thing about Gen Z’ers is they check their receipts, and they’re asking what type of resources they have in their office space,” said John H. Jones, a longtime real estate veteran and PropTech thought leader. He ticked off important aspects of an office environment like air filtration systems, energy efficiency, and recycling as common questions from younger job candidates about their potential workspace. 

At CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate brokerage firm, recruiters are looking at candidates outside the usual places. Chelsea Cutler, a Senior Managing Director in recruiting, onboarding, and training/development in the firm’s Capital Markets division, connected with one of the largest school districts in Colorado to teach high schoolers about commercial real estate. Another effort by the brokerage firm involved something of a second act. Recruiters asked a dozen professional soccer players to participate in a 5-day, 40-hour workshop to learn the ins and outs of commercial real estate. “They’re still active in their careers, but know their careers are ending sooner or later and wanted to learn more about commercial real estate,” said Cutler, who described the athletes as “wonderful recruits” who are methodical, hardworking, and great at collaboration. “If you find people with the right drive for CRE, they are perfect candidates,” she said. A soccer union where the players are members looked at the partnership as an externship to help players explore post-career paths. Afterward, many of the players wrote emails to Cutler thanking the firm for the opportunity and respecting that they had more to offer than physical ability.

Not only is Gen Z expected to be the most populous generation in history, they are also the most diverse. Pew Research has found that 48 percent of the generation identifies as non-white, and that’s something commercial real estate firms are taking to heart. Giselle Battley is the Global Head of Early Career and External Campus Partnerships with JLL. One of the things her firm has honed in on while researching younger generations is how big of a role tech plays in their daily lives. Now, the firm is using tech to help speed up its recruiting and hiring process. Candidates are sent a link to a video-on-demand interview, recruiters then watch and rate the potential candidates, and those who are a good match are then put in front of managers quickly. Notably, the company removed assessments that were traditionally part of the application process. “Gen Z isn’t big on standardized testing,” Battley said. “Even Harvard has removed things like standardized testing.” She added that data has shown that they have first movers advantage by keeping the process shorter, simpler, and capped at no more than three interviews. 

The efforts that have been made to understand Gen Z, whether through surveys, research, or otherwise, will certainly come in handy for recruiters and companies looking at candidates. But the bigger question is, especially when it comes to an industry that needs to be faster to adapt to new technology and diversify, does Gen Z want to work in commercial real estate? 

Jones says yes. “Commercial real estate is an exciting industry. It’s reflective of the American Dream,” he said. “You start with one investment, and that grows.” Jones admitted there are also mainstream perspectives of the real estate industry via splashy reality shows like Selling Sunset and Million Dollar Listing that give the impression that the real estate industry is only about the buying and selling of multi-million dollar residential properties. But while social media can give skewed views of real estate, it can also help educate millions of young people about the realities of the industry and the jobs within it. Some of the largest commercial real estate firms are using social media for research, and there are a growing number of commercial real estate influencers on Instagram and TikTok educating their audiences on industry concepts and giving a peek at what their job is like on a daily basis.

Today’s job market numbers are up, but an imbalance between openings and the number of workers available to fill them persists in many industries, including commercial real estate. As the competition heats up for talent among commercial real estate brokerages, recruiters and development executives are coming up with new ways to find talent. Sometimes that means looking outside the industry altogether or even recruiting at a high school level. While it may still be a while until the job market begins to stabilize, the new avenues that have opened up and new efforts made for recruiting due to the labor market turmoil may become new standards for how firms find talent. And with diversity and inclusion at the heart of a lot of these efforts, it could be just what commercial real estate needs.

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