The public sector real estate work force consists of those staff working for Federal, State, and Local Public Agencies or private consultants who work with or under The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended (Uniform Act). The Uniform Act provides the framework, rules and procedures under which private property is acquired for public benefit on projects funded all or in part by Federal funds.
This public sector real estate work force is currently facing a number of challenges. These challenges include an increasing emphasis on outsourcing by public agencies, leading to the need for private sector firms to develop stronger capabilities; an aging work force; a desire to elevate the standards of the public sector real estate profession and a general lack of understanding and respect for the roles, responsibilities, and significance of real estate service activities within many Federal, State, and Local Public Agencies.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in its role as the lead agency for the Uniform Act, believes one of the ways to address these challenges is through expanded education and training programs that are linked to Uniform Act-based learning requirements. One component of such an education program is a professional certification program for public sector real estate. To assess the feasibility of defining and implementing such a professional certification program for individuals working with or under The Uniform Act, FHWA commissioned a study in the fall of 2003 to evaluate the market value of this type of professional certification.
This report summarizes the results of that research study. The study consisted of a number of steps. These steps included an inventory of current real estate licensing requirements nationally; a survey of available public sector real estate courses; detailed interviews with a number of Federal agency staff to assist in designing a web-based survey for a broader audience within the public sector real estate community; the conduct of this web-based survey and a series of three (3) focus groups to collect follow-up information to supplement the results of the web-based survey.
Through these research steps, a number of key findings were identified, including:
The public sector real estate work force strongly supports the concept of a professional certification.
The public sector real estate workforce overwhelmingly recognizes the potential value of a professional certification. 67% of survey respondents indicated that a public sector real estate certification would be either very valuable or valuable.
66% of the survey respondents indicated they would be either very likely or likely to pursue such a certification themselves.
Respondents believe the certification should be based on a mix of courses and work experience, which require demonstrating basic competencies in a broad set of multidisciplinary skills.
Survey respondents and focus group participants suggested a potential public sector real estate certification should consist of course work, a work experience component of at least 12 months in duration and an independent capstone examination.
Individuals pursuing the potential certification should demonstrate at least a basic understanding of the main technical competencies within the public sector real estate field including appraisal, business relocation, residential relocation, etc.
Individuals pursuing the potential certifications should also demonstrate competency in a number of softer skill areas viewed as critical to success in today's complex environment. These include project management and a general overview of the project delivery process and environmental processes and requirements.
Implementation of a certification program will require a substantial commitment from service providers in terms of course standardization and the development of new course offerings.
A number of courses are currently available to meet most of the technical competencies areas proposed for the certification such as appraisal and relocation. These courses are offered by various providers including national organizations such as the Appraisal Institute and the International Right-of-Way Association (IRWA) as well as various Federal Agencies. However, there will need to be an effort among the course providers to standardize the curriculums for these courses and to establish common standards for end of course testing.
Some of the technical skills courses currently available have a distinct focus on one or more market segments (for example utilities or transportation); thus, there is also a need for courses which have a broader or more general scope and better address the needs of the larger public sector real estate community versus the specific skills needed by one or two segments of the community.
There are very few courses readily available to address the softer skill areas with a public sector real estate focus. To support these topic areas, new courses will need to be developed and made readily available to the public sector real estate community in areas such as project management.
A number of administrative and transitional issues will need to be addressed to successfully implement a potential certification program.
A majority of respondents to the web-based survey suggested that FHWA as the lead agency for the Uniform Act take responsibility for administering a potential certification program. However, a number of the focus group attendees also suggested the establishment of an independent organization following the model of the Appraisal Foundation as an alternative approach for managing the certification program. In addition, there are also some potential legal and policy issues that would need to be resolved before FHWA could commit to assuming ownership of the certification program.
Focus group participants stressed the need for developing a phase-in or transition period, with work experience credit given to current public sector real estate professionals for most competency areas.
A number of focus group participants indicated that FHWA or other agencies would need to provide incentives to jump-start the certification program in order to ensure it gains wide acceptance. This could include setting goals for work being performed by certified staff or encouraging any outsourcing initiatives to utilize consultants providing certified staff.
Based on the strong acceptance within the public sector real estate community for the concept of a public sector real estate professional certification, the study recommended a number of follow-on actions to complete the process of defining the certification program and establish a detailed implementation plan for launching the certification program. These recommended next steps include:
Developing a detailed curriculum for the certification program.
Defining a multi-year implementation strategy and supporting detailed work plan.
Establishing a marketing program to present the concept of the certification program and the results of this study to various groups critical to the success of the program including members of the public sector real estate community, national professional organizations and educational institutions.
It is also recommended that a multidisciplinary stakeholder group be established, under the guidance of FHWA for at least the interim period, to oversee these recommendations. This stakeholder group should include a mix of individuals who perform various functions within the public sector real estate community such as appraisal, acquisition and relocation, It should also be representative of the various constituencies and stakeholders of a potential certification program including Federal Agencies, State Agencies, Local Public Agencies, private sector consultants, national associations, educational institutions and other training providers.