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FHWA Office of Real Estate Services Research Results: Public Sector Real Estate Certification Needs Analysis

Appendix E: Focus Group Note

May 18, 2005 - Crown Plaza Hotel, Austin, Texas

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1. Who delivers current public sector or other real estate training (NHI, IRWA, other organizations, etc.) that your staff attends or is considering attending?

The Appraisal Societies, IRWA, NHI are the primary industry resources. For more general courses, state colleges are available if they provide real estate related courses or other people skills courses. Some States rely on internal training to convey “The State Way” of doing business.

2. How would you rate the return on investment to your organization of the training currently available?

Some state agencies have budgeting constraints and organizational bias related to funding training for real estate staff. That needs to be addressed and existing courses need to be made more cost effective. There is a need to focus on elevating the real estate professional.

3. Do the current public sector real estate training courses that are available adequately address your organization's needs?

For the most part the courses cover the technical details practitioners need to know. Both states and consultants report they supplement external offerings with in-house training to provide the proper integration with job expectations.

A representative of one consulting firm indicated their firm has embarked on an internal training effort. They use both classroom and a CD based relocation training program (available for sale) to provide the technical materials.

A comment was made that there needs to be a stick to require training. One participant asked if FHWA would push for more emphasis on training real estate personnel.

4. What other training courses (topics) would you like to see offered?

While discussing training needs a transition occurred to broaden the scope of needed training from the technical specialties involved to address management related items such as:

5. What mediums (distance learning, classroom, etc.) are most preferable for new training courses and why?

The consensus was that classroom presentation was preferred, however, there was also a recognition that this was the most difficult to work into employees work schedules and was the most costly.
Current online presentations have not been well received. The Uniform Act presentation offered by NHI for $150 has not been well received. The O.R. Colan and Associates, Inc. experience has been similar with the online offerings they have developed.

A representative of O.R. Colan and Associates, Inc. made the point however those to date these offerings have not been prepared using adult education experts and are more like self-paced tutorials. There is no interaction with a trainer and hence they do not have the same give/take that occurs in the classroom setting.

Current offerings through universities and colleges address these shortcomings but are not available at the low cost sought by most public agencies.

For all offerings, a concern was shared by many of the participants that to make a certification course relevant there must be an exam that is rigorous enough to be a creditable measure that the student has, at least at that moment, a grasp of the key points of the course.

6. Do you think a potential public sector real estate professional certification should be education based only, experienced based or a combination of both?

A certification needs to reflect both classroom accomplishments and experience. No particular discussion of the mix was achieved during this short session.

The exam(s) related to course work was agreed to have to be made more rigorous. These comments were made in reference to IRWA courses in particular. It was expressed that these courses which are a part of local chapter fund raising do not meet standards that would be required in a professional certification process. (Note: Based on comments from IRWA during the Training Session at AASHTO later in the day IRWA recognizes this issue and are working on upgrading the exams)

7. What type of courses/skills or other qualifications would you recommend be part of a professional Uniform Act certification?

The mix of courses was not discussed in too much depth in this session. See above for the range of technical subjects and other focus areas needed for a Public Real Property Acquisition Professional.

NOTE: Although not covered by the focus group, comments at the AASHTO Training Session indicated that greater emphasis on people skills, namely communication, negotiation, and team work are more important that technical proficiency. A Right-of-Way Manager from the Oregon Department of Transportation made the point that a recent revision of entry requirements, which was heavily skewed toward technical credentials in the past have broadened the mix of people to select from and has resulted in being able to hire more personable individuals who work better with others and achieve better results.

8. Whom do you think would be best positioned to administer a Uniform Act Certification?

The consensus was that there is a need to have an independent entity as the standard setter instead of FHWA since the goal would be to create a designation/certification for a professional that would not be directly linked to transportation projects. The linkage to linear right-of-way was pointed out to be the problem with the IRWA and their narrow focus on right-of-way type acquisitions, plus as was pointed out the linkage the organization has with the oil/gas pipeline industry.

The FHWA position as lead agency for the Uniform Act is one supportive reason they should lead in elevating public perception of the public real property profession.

The Appraisal Foundation and the Appraisal Standards and Certification programs it created were introduced by participants as a possible model for a public sector real estate certification.

9. What is your perception of the potential value of a public sector real estate or Uniform Act related professional certification?

It was the group's consensus that a certification program would yield a benefit, but no specifics were offered. In general, a certification that would be broadly defined to provide managerial level proficiency in the various acquisition disciplines would be a valuable integrator during the project development process.

The lack of recognition in an engineering based organization is linked to the lower hiring standards for ROW related professional. Believe a recognized designation/certification would enhance acceptance.

10. How likely do you think your organization's staff would be to pursue a public sector real estate certification if offered?

Acceptance would depend on the 'carrots' provided to those who pursue the certification. Based on some of the available certifications (IRWA's SRWA, or the Appraisal Institute's MAI, for example) and the relative lack of agency support at present the availability of a voluntary program may not be well accepted. Once a Nationally recognized 'brand' for a land acquisition specialist exists the States and local agencies will probably afford the same benefits they do now for those individuals that pursue the PE designation, or the CPA. Both of these recognized designations have been afforded more relevance in the private sector than in the public marketplace.

11. Would a public sector real estate certification if offered influence your hiring process (i.e. would having the certification provide an advantage for a candidate over a candidate without the certification)?

Some participants indicated that efforts to link advancement to continuing education efforts within their organization indicated that accomplished individuals (having a certificate or designation) might be favored in advancement. In addition, if a curriculum were developed that would have academic relevance to the field those individuals may be afforded a preference in initial hiring.

May 26, 2005- NASSIF Building, Washington, DC

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1. Who delivers current public sector or other real estate training (NHI, IRWA, other organizations, etc.) that your staff attends or is considering attending?

In addition to the Appraisal Societies, IRWA, NHI the Federal Agencies represented indicated they each had their own internal or consultant provided training resources. The DOE, F&WL, FAA have 2 to 3 week academies that are offered once a year (sometimes skipped) dealing with the Real Estate needs of the agency.

HUD is investigating a certification program on the URA Relocation Program. HUD uses a consultant to provide needed training to its staff and grantees. If grantees intend to use a consultant they can have the consultant trained but such participation is limited.

DOE has a Project Management Certification Program that addresses 4 levels - Need to follow up on this.

USDA rep indicated they are seeking ways to provide training to staff. The DOI has a university that offers some courses but not too specific on real estate content. The COE has an array of real estate related courses. They make an effort to get their staff Certified in Project Management.

2. How would you rate the return on investment to your organization of the training currently available?

Consensus is that training is needed but this item was not discussed in detail.

3. Do the current public sector real estate training courses which are available adequately address your organization's needs?

As indicated above most of the technical training for Agency practitioners is addressed through internal training programs. The number of times some of these courses are given is limited as to both audience and presentation. Some are just done on an annual basis.

There is interest in learning what options exist to provide needed training. There was mentioned the need for a disposal course since the only one know to exist is presented by GSA with it being difficult to get into class presented one time a year by one individual.

4. What other training courses (topics) would you like to see offered?

The scope of training for the Federal Agencies did not get as expansive as the State representatives thought would be necessary. There was more focus on the technical aspects of the law and in particular the background & interpretations related to the Uniform Act.

The suggestion on what is needed did include some of the specialties within the right of way function (ie. Appraisal, appraisal review, relocation, negotiation, property management). The overall management of those specialists was also considered a necessary training objective. Rather than use a list of courses that would be need to support a certification the development of a list of core competencies for various types of positions was discussed as a way to recognize the seasoned veteran's in the field.

The soft people skills were recognized as a needed part of the training package.

5. What mediums (distance learning, classroom, etc.) are most preferable for new training courses and why?

The consensus was that classroom presentation was preferred, especially since the thought was that this provided a block of time where individuals could focus on their training objective as opposed to being diversion that exists in using computer based training in the normal work place.

Current online presentations have not been well received. The Uniform Act presentation offered by NHI for $150 has not been well received. It is now available for free but is based on the prior rule. (This presentation is more like a tutorial and is not presented at the level of college level course offerings.)

6. Do you think a potential public sector real estate professional certification should be education based only, experienced based or a combination of both?

A certification needs to reflect both classroom accomplishments and experience. There was some discussion of using a capstone exam but no indicated buy-in to the concept.

7. What type of courses/skills or other qualifications would you recommend be part of a professional Uniform Act certification?

The mix of courses was not discussed in too much depth. See the above for the range of technical subjects and other focus areas needed for a Public Real Property Acquisition Professional. It was suggested that the courses being offered via E-gov for the soft skills be explored as a resource.

Whom do you think would be best positioned to administer a Uniform Act Certification?

The FHWA position as lead agency for the Uniform Act is one supportive reason they should lead in elevating public perception of the public real property profession. However, it was noted that a governmental entity providing a certification has some legal hurdles to overcome.

8. What is your perception of the potential value of a public sector real estate or Uniform Act related professional certification?

It was the group's consensus that a certification program would yield a benefit, but no specifics were offered. Due to limited time this area was not covered.

9. How likely do you think your organization's staff would be to pursue a public sector real estate certification if offered?

Not covered due to limited time of the session

10. Would a public sector real estate certification if offered influence your hiring process (i.e. would having the certification provide an advantage for a candidate over a candidate without the certification)?

Not covered due to limited time of the session.

May 27, 2005 - Maryland DOT District 4 Brooklandville, MD

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This focus group session involved staff from the Maryland State Highway Administration's District 4 office and other Maryland based right of way professionals. No local agency representatives attended.

1. Who delivers current public sector or other real estate training (NHI, IRWA, other organizations, etc.) that your staff attends or is considering attending?

As in earlier focus group sessions, the main providers are the Appraisal Societies, IRWA, and NHI, along with local community college courses and courses sponsored by the local Board of Realtors. The latter offerings provide insight into State and local laws and any changes that may be enacted. There is also an active in house training program provided by senior staff to cover local laws and organizational specifics.

Maryland SHA has core training recommendations linked to specific personnel classifications. The courses cover both the technical aspects of the positions and the soft skill courses needed to be successful in each position. A scanned copy of the brochure covering the training recommended for realty staff was provided to the research team.

2. How would you rate the return on investment to your organization of the training currently available?

Training from FHWA is perceived to be less available than in the past. Due to the decrease in staff and the greater demands on the job, the ability to pull staff away from the worksite for training is difficult to do. The group felt that distance learning was needed to assure staff stayed current and informed on needed technical and interpretive information since time away from the job was difficult to arrange.

Maryland SHA staff considered they got good results from IRWA courses since they have a good cadre of instructor familiar with both Maryland SHA needs and the course content.

3. Do the current public sector real estate training courses which are available adequately address your organization's needs?

The array of training opportunities is considered adequate, but one technical function that is not given sufficient attention is public property management.

As indicated previously the main problem with the available training is being able to afford, in both time and money, to commit staff to take offered courses.

4. What other training courses (topics) would you like to see offered?

Property and land management is the main technical subject that is not covered very well in available course offerings. FHWA course coverage is limited to relocation topics. It would be useful to cover other functions from the Federal-aid standpoint.

5. What mediums (distance learning, classroom, etc.) are most preferable for new training courses and why?

As in the other focus groups the consensus was that classroom presentation was preferred. However, due to budgetary factors to provide travel and a shortage of new personnel to schedule classroom sessions for in house presentation the need for effective distance learning opportunities was indicated to be a necessity. This was thought to be even more critical for the many local governments that are becoming more actively involved in the acquisition process.

6. Do you think a potential public sector real estate professional certification should be education based only, experienced based or a combination of both?

The group mirrored the position expressed in the earlier sessions that a certification needs to reflect both classroom accomplishments and experience. Mixing course work with on-the-job work activities to prepare for some form of capstone exam was thought to be the best way to handle qualifications needed for certification.

Some mentioned that for mediation at least 3 years of work experience is required.

Generally, there was consensus around the need for a capstone examination.

7. What type of courses/skills or other qualifications would you recommend be part of a professional Uniform Act certification?

The group identified a broad range of needs to address the work functions needed to be successful. This included a mix of both technical and soft skills courses. The course recommendations included as core courses for the Maryland SHA Real Property Specialists are considered a good guideline for the array of subjects that should be part of a skill set. Communication and problem solving capabilities are key to functioning in our adversarial society.

8. Who do you think would be best positioned to administer a Uniform Act Certification?

It was the opinion of the group that any certification has to come from the Federal sector. They did not consider it a good option to have each State provide a certification based on Federal standards.

9. What is your perception of the potential value of a public sector real estate or Uniform Act related professional certification?

It was the group's consensus that a certification program would yield a benefit, but no specifics were offered. It was also unclear if the certification would have much of an impact on pay scale or promotional decisions.

10. How likely do you think your organization's staff would be to pursue a public sector real estate certification if offered?

For those in attendance there was a general opinion that certification would be of interest, even if the public employer did not provide any support. This was considered a way to assure sufficient credentials exist for private sector employment once the public career is over.

11. W ould a public sector real estate certification if offered influence your hiring process (i.e. would having the certification provide an advantage for a candidate over a candidate without the certification)?

Not covered due to limited time of the session.

This particular focus group obtained input primarily from a SHA perspective. The key outcomes stem from the recognition that State based training programs such as the one developed by Maryland may already provide a good indicator of what needs to be covered to equip realty staff to perform well at various levels of responsibility. The budgetary constraints and the effect of personnel cutbacks at the State level were highlighted by the concerns regarding how best to provide training to new staff or upgrade opportunities for existing personnel. While classroom options may be preferred, it was obvious, that capabilities to send staff to training are much more limiting at the State and local levels.

Updated: 04/02/2013
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