The shortage of experienced estate agency staff has reached a crisis point. One of the recruitment agencies has reported that there are currently 7 available jobs for every suitably qualified candidate and many of my clients are telling me similar.  The inability to recruit the right staff is currently the number one challenge in this business.

The consequences of this staff shortage are serious.  Salaries are increasing rapidly and existing staff are being approached by companies and head hunters more frequently.  One of my clients has just lost the entire team at one of their top offices to a competitor.

Job vacancies remain unfilled and expansion plans are being put on hold.  For some firms the problems are proving insurmountable.  Two of my business sales this year have been caused at least in part by staff shortages.  One client lost two of his key people and couldn’t replace them.  Another was unable to recruit a suitable manager to run his business for him after his retirement.  So what has caused these staff shortages and what can you do to recruit and retain the right people in your business.

The reasons for the staff shortages are complex and longstanding.  The recent upturn in the housing market after a long recession has led to a sudden rise in job vacancies but the reasons are far more complex than that.  One important factor I believe is the poor image of Estate Agents in the media.  Just think about how other professions are portrayed.  Vets have the wonderful James Herriot programmes, Barristers have Kavanagh QC and Silk, Policeman have Morse, Doctors have ER, Boxers have Rocky and what do Estate Agents have?  A succession of fly on the wall documentaries that are designed to make Estate Agents look shifty and stupid.  No wonder young people don’t want to go into our profession.

A second issue is the absence of any organised outreach programmes.  The top law firms, banks and most blue chip companies send staff into top schools and universities to spot talent and sell the benefits of a career with them to impress young minds. Only a handful of estate agency firms do anything like this.

A third issue is the absence of any sort of formal graduate entry scheme or apprenticeships.  Just look at the success of the Teach First Scheme which has taken the previously unglamorous teaching profession and transformed it into the number one career choice for 2500 of the best and most brilliant graduates every year.

Estate agency is an interesting, well paid and rewarding career but we cannot expect young people to know this unless we tell them.  If high calibre new recruits are not enticed into the profession then the talent pool will continue to shrink and we will just become trapped in a vicious circle where a declining number of experienced staff move from one firm to another in return for every spiralling salaries.

A handful of my largest and most sophisticated clients have already realised this and taken steps to address the problem.  One firm that I particularly admire sends a senior manager to address the year 12 careers meetings at all their local schools every year.  They also offer a structured 12 month training programme, specifically aimed at bright 18 year olds who have decided not to go to university.  This training scheme is also open to second jobbers and their staff are encouraged to keep an eye open for bright personable people in other jobs who they think might make good estate agents.

This scheme has been running for several years and has been a huge success.  Many of the recruits have of course dropped out but many of those that remain have now been promoted to take senior positions and have grown to become very capable productive and loyal staff.

In addition to the 18+ scheme the same firm runs a graduate entry scheme with a two year structured training programme which includes time spent in each of the different departments.  This too has been a great success and several of their top managers were recruited via this scheme, others unfortunately did their two year training then went to work for a competitor, but my client is prepared to accept this.  His view is that he got value from them during the time that they worked for them both as a direct result of their efforts and because of the positive input that they had on the rest of the team.

I appreciate that recruiting and training people takes time and patience and that smaller firms may not be able to do this.  If this is the case I have two further suggestions.  One alternative source of high calibre staff might be people who are returning to work after having children.  An advert that offers working hours of Monday to Friday for term time only will almost certainly produce some superb candidates who will make your fulltime team more productive.

In addition you might consider older candidates.  Many retired people in their 50’s and 60’s or even 70’s have a lifetime of people skills to give which with minimal training can be transferred to estate agency roles.

In conclusion the next time you need to fill a vacancy, don’t just pick up the phone and offer your competitor’s star negotiator a 20% pay rise, if they will come to work for you.  Take a moment to think if the job could be filled by a graduate trainee, an apprentice, a mature person or a part-time person.  A bit of lateral thinking could save you a lot of money and ensure that you end up with a better and more loyal employee.

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