The Real Estate Training Needs Analysis is a collaboration between the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Real Estate Services (ORES) and the National Highway Institute (NHI). Organizationally, the Office of Real Estate Services is within FHWA's Planning and Environment Core Business Unit and serves as FHWA's advocate and national leader for fair and prudent acquisition and management of real property. The NHI is the technical training arm of the FHWA. Created in 1970 through Federal legislation, NHI develops and delivers courses on a variety of transportation-related topics to States, local governments, and the private sector on subjects not available through other resources.
This document presents the findings of a series of discussions among State real estate managers from State Transportation Departments, independent real estate consultants, and key representatives from Federal agencies that are also involved in real estate issues. Through FHWA's partnership agreements and close association with the International Right of Way Association (IRWA), the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Federal Agency Task Force for Training, representatives from their respective staff facilitated this effort.
The goal of this project was to gain a better understanding of training needs for either the continuation of existing NHI courses or the development of future course offerings. Insight and guidance were gathered to meet the following project objectives:
Chapter II reflects available training courses that are considered directly related to Uniform Act acquisitions. Chapter III reflects a comprehensive listing of other real estate-related courses of interest to real estate professionals.
Insights were gathered via two distinct methodologies, based on the needs and flexibility of participants. The first research phase was designed to garner insights from real estate professionals, both those employed by the State, as well as independent consultants. This phase used focus groups conducted in conjunction with professional meetings to provide a rich dialogue and discussion of key issues. In the second phase, logistics prohibited focus groups with over 20 representatives from various locations.
Therefore, input from Federal agencies was gathered through telephone interviews with key representatives. This technique was selected to maximize participation, conserve travel funds, and complete the study in a timely manner. Both methodologies are described in more detail below.
Three group discussions, outlined below, were conducted with people involved in highway real estate issues. Each group consisted of approximately 10-12 participants.
Each group discussion lasted approximately two hours and was conducted by a professional qualitative moderator from Bonney and Company. All discussion participants were assured that their comments would remain confidential. Accordingly, no attribution of remarks is included in this report and some verbatim remarks have been edited to remove identifying characteristics.
In addition, 22 telephone interviews were conducted with representatives of other Federal agencies during March and April, 2000. Conversations, lasting about one hour in length, were based on a standardized discussion outline. The outline was developed from the input of representatives of the ORES, NHI and Equals Three Communications®, and by the interviewer from Bonney and Company. A copy of the discussion outline is included as an appendix to this document.
Unless noted, we are not aware of any conditions in the marketplace at the time of this project that we believe may have in any way biased the study's outcome.
Focus groups and in-depth interviews seek to develop insight and direction rather than provide quantitatively precise measures. The value of focus groups and in-depth interviews is their ability to provide observers with comments from a segment of the target population and for decision makers to gain insights into the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of their customer base. Because of the limited number of respondents and the restrictions of recruiting, the qualitative research presented here cannot be projected to a universe of similar respondents.
1. Focus Groups with State and Consultant Real Estate Professionals
The results of this series of three discussions among State real estate managers and independent real estate consultants provide interesting, and actionable, insight into the NHI's current course offerings and the future training needs of stakeholders.
Highlights from this Training Needs Assessment include positive feedback from study participants on current NHI courses, with requests for continuation of the Appraisal, Relocation, and Eminent Domain NHI courses. Several participants commented that they thought these courses were excellent and are frequently accessed by state real estate staff.
There were requests for NHI to consider adding courses to cover additional technical areas, including Negotiation Skills, Property Management, and a Basic Engineering Overview, so that professionals can read plans and explain them to property owners. Overall, all focus group participants consistently stressed the importance of adding a Project Management course to provide critical information on contract management and collaboration in a team setting. Participants also provided valuable insights into opportunities to improve training, tailor training to better meet their needs, and use training as a tool to support real estate professionals.
a. Above all, this study reveals a profession experiencing profound changes.
- Many State highway real estate departments are declining in size and perceived importance as current professionals retire. In fact one respondent termed the current environment "succession training," noting that he is witnessing a 60% turnover in staff.
- In this environment, those who remain are making a sometimes rocky transition from specialists to generalists.
- Still others, somewhat ahead of the trend, recognize a further transition from being practitioners to being project managers because of the tendency to outsource work.
- At the larger level, many states are beginning to outsource highway real estate professional services. In some states, this is a way of "doing more with less." In others, it reflects State mandates to downsize workforces.
b. These various forms of organizational evolution are causing not only radical changes in the work people do, but are having a profound impact on the way that training occurs today and will occur in the future.
- Even as they recognize that changing conditions call for new training approaches, most State real estate operations continue to think in terms of centralized classroom-style training.
- However, declining ranks, travel restrictions, and the need to take time off from the job make it increasingly difficult for states to assemble the number of people needed to constitute "classes."
- Changes in occupational responsibilities mean a need for new areas of training content, including project management, team dynamics, contract preparation and management, computer skills, and an array of softer "people" skills needed in environments where one is more likely to be directing the work of others rather than doing the work oneself.
- State real estate professionals and independent consultants both note with disappointment and frustration the problems they have in finding new, enthusiastic, and above all, qualified employees.
c. While training is recognized as an important function in this changing environment, it does not always translate into action:
- Only a few of the organizations represented in this study have either formally designated training directors or formal real estate training programs.
- The current Federal-aid authorizing legislation, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), continues State Departments of Transportation access to Surface Transportation Program funds (STP), as specified within Section 504(a), for the express purpose of NHI education and training programs. However, respondents indicate that they compete with other agency priorities, as well as political mandates, for these dollars.
- Some State policies such as restrictions on out-of-state travel make it difficult, if not nearly impossible, for bordering States to jointly sponsor needed training.
- Both State agencies and independent consultants complain that the presence of so many state-specific highway real estate regulations only compounds the difficulty of providing relevant, focused training at anything above the State level.
- Independent consultants, whose livelihood is dependent on maximizing billable hours, are frequently forced to make compromises between contract-mandated productivity and what they know to be compelling training needs when they consider whether, and how, to train their employees.
d. Training is currently procured from a variety of related and unrelated resources:
- State agencies look to State human resource department training for generic "people skills," computer training, and supervisory training programs. However, few independent consulting firms appear to have the luxury of providing or procuring this type of training for themselves and their staff.
- Specialized training is procured from professional societies (e.g., International Right of Way Association, The Appraisal Institute, The American Society of Appraisers, etc.), independent training firms, and government resources such as NHI.
- Independent consultants use many of the same training resources as State agencies. However, they do not appear to have nearly the same perceived access to NHI programs as State agencies.
e. Although it is often difficult, States and independent consulting firms in this study say they are able to use current financial and training resources to meet at least their basic needs. However, none are truly happy with current arrangements and most are concerned that changes in their industry will outpace their ability to receive the training they need.
- Both State agency and independent consulting firm representatives bemoan what many described as a less motivated work ethic among new, young workers.
- Managers working with older workers express frustration because they avoid or lack interest in continuing education or training that introduces new technologies and new methods.
- Both State agencies and independent consultants express concern that the kinds of training (e.g., project management, team skills, time management, etc.) workers of the future may need may not be available.
f. Study participants strongly believe that in addition to changes in course offerings, there need to be profound changes in the way training is delivered:
- They perceive that training needs to be delivered to students more directly and that it should be decentralized, whether through use of technology or self-study courses.
- Training must become more tailored to meet individual needs.
- Training must be formatted so that it can be offered when needed, not when convenient for the trainer or training organization.
- Participants suggest that the influence of the MTV generation on the workplace has led to the need to abandon the instructional techniques of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., classrooms, overhead projectors, slide shows, lecturing instructors) and adopt more innovative approaches that integrate movement, electronic technology, and computer technology.
g. Within this complex, evolving environment, participants were generally respectful of NHI. At the same time, they noted factors that limit their use of NHI materials.
- Many study participants were unaware that NHI was a unit within the Federal Highway Administration. While most realize that NHI is a Federal entity, the direct link to FHWA was not clear.
- In the world of highway real estate training, study participants believe that NHI is uniquely qualified to be the definitive industry source on matters related to Right-of-Way and other highway real estate issues. More than one study participant asked, "Who knows more about this stuff than NHI?"
- NHI is credited with offering well thought-out training programs, even if they are sometimes perceived as taking too long to come to market.
- Many of NHI's instructors are considered excellent. But some, it was also noted, are to be avoided.
- NHI's training programs are perceived to be no better or worse than others in terms of their coverage of state-specific regulations.
- NHI's pricing, while perhaps considered reasonable for the quality of content and instruction provided, is nevertheless perceived to be so expensive by some that they are limited in the number and scope of NHI training programs they are able to use.
- NHI's insistence on minimum class sizes likewise makes it difficult for states that have only small numbers of workers to train.
- Many independent consultants have little actual awareness of NHI's full course offerings and, furthermore, feel they only have access to NHI programs when invited to participate in training conducted by their State clients. If they have no State clients sponsoring NHI training or have no extra space in these programs, independent consultants complain that they are simply "out of luck."
h. But just as they describe these conditions, study participants also believe that NHI has the unique ability to set a standard for changes in highway real estate training. Two perceptions fuel this point of view:
- They believe NHI, as a Federal entity, has the financial resources and theoretical mandate to "do things right," whether this means delivering relevant products today or creating state-of-the-art training products for the future.
- They believe NHI has the talent and knowledge to create effective training tools for the future.
2. Interviews among Federal Agencies Involved with the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended.
Representatives of more than 20 other non-highway Federal agencies also participated in this study. Their relationship with Federal Highway Administration real estate training is summarized below:
- Whether from actual experience or observation, nearly all other agencies and branches represented in this study have concluded that there is an opportunity to collaborate to meet increasing training needs. As a result, many suggested sharing course descriptions or developing an Interagency Task Force.
- A great many interviewed do not know much about FHWA real estate training. A few were not aware that FHWA provides real estate training for other Federal agencies through NHI. There was some concern that FHWA training may be too highway-specific in some cases.
Like their highway peers, however, real estate operations of other Federal agencies are undergoing changes ranging from downsizing to re-assessment of agency purpose to retirement of key personnel. In nearly all cases, real estate personnel are making the change from specialists to generalists, and from practitioners to managers of outside contractors. Accordingly, the most compelling real estate training need identified is real estate project management.
The years ahead will be challenging for everyone involved in highway real estate issues. People will be changing, and the work they do will be changing. The findings of this study suggest there is a growing demand for new approaches to real estate training that are collaborative and maximize existing resources. They also indicate that everyone can benefit from the special skills, knowledge, and experience that exist across the real estate community.
Consistent with FHWA's strategic plan to align the Agency's resources within a national framework, FHWA has immediately reacted to several key issues raised in this analysis. Both ORES and NHI are seeking ways to improve customer awareness of training opportunities, exploring ways to deliver just-in-time training in response to customer needs and advocate the use of technology to assist in this process. The following responses address key issues and comments raised in this analysis:
Response: FHWA's Federal agency task force developed a "Partnering Agreement" to advance training opportunities. The Department of Interior and the Federal Aviation Administration have executed this agreement and it continues to be circulated for concurrence. The task force is meeting on a regular basis to develop implementation strategy to be presented to the All Federal Agency Group.
Response: ORES/NHI will replace the Appraisal/Appraisal Review course with two separate training courses, NHI#141043 Appraisal for Federal-aid Highway Projects and NHI#141044 Appraisal Review for Federal-aid Highway Programs. These courses will be piloted in Fall 2001. Other courses will be revised as needed.
Response: ORES/NHI are developing a "web-based" distance-learning course for the Uniform Act with an anticipated delivery date of Fall 2001. In addition, ORES has placed workshop materials on their website and will explore other web-based initiatives.
Response: ORES is developing a standard Uniform Act Overview Workshop (NHI #140139) that will permit delivery by headquarters and field personnel. Anticipated completion is for Fall 2001.
- ORES is developing an "Executive Level Briefing for the Uniform Act" for Fall 2001 delivery.
- Reference "web-based" Uniform Act course above.
- ORES is initiating development of a Uniform Act video for use in public meetings.
Response: ORES is initiating development of a course for "Project Development: An Integrated Planning, Environment and Real Estate Approach." Additionally, IRWA is developing a course in Project Management for States and others who manage projects and employ consultants for project activities.
Response: IRWA has approved a list of NHI and ORES courses and workshops for educational/re-certification credit. Other ORES workshops will be added in the near future.
Response: ORES and Morgan State University, a historic black institution located in Baltimore, Maryland, have developed a partnership to develop a curriculum for courses in real estate acquisition for public work projects.
Response: FHWA issued a memorandum dated November 12, 1998 on State Right-of-Way (R/W) Training Federal Funding Sources. ORES will update this information and reissue memorandum. Also, it will be posted on ORES website.
Response: In October of 2000, NHI sponsored their first "Instructors' Conference" in Colorado Springs, CO. General and breakout sessions focused on the principles of adult learning, the importance of an interactive teaching style, and effective course delivery techniques. Additionally, NHI has developed an Instructor Development course and strongly encourages all NHI instructors to attend. This course is an integral part of the NHI's Instructor Certification program, through which instructors are formally observed and critiqued by master trainers.
- The ORES staff attended a special session of the Instructor Development course and to date, three have been formally certified as NHI instructors.
- An Instructor Development session was held for several NHI contract instructors in February, 2001.
Response: Beginning January, 2001, NHI has gone to a fee-per-person structure and encourages states to "sell" empty slots to others. In addition, NHI is exploring an array of course delivery options, including non-state sponsorship. Anyone can schedule an NHI course as long as a 20-person minimum is guaranteed. In addition, NHI will present "public offerings" of popular courses on a regional basis.
Response: NHI has provided both hard copies and CD copies of the 2001 NHI Catalogue to IRWA. In addition, IRWA courses are also listed in the NHI catalogue.
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