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Real Estate Training Needs Analysis

Chapter 1 - In-Depth Interviews Among Federal Agencies Involved with the

Analysis Table of Contents | Acknowledgments | Letter from the Directors | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Appendix

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A. Overview of Study Participants
The second phase of the study consisted of gathering information on training needs of key Federal agencies that are required to comply with the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended (Uniform Act). The Uniform Act, as amended, was established to ensure that owners of real property to be acquired for Federal and Federally-assisted projects are treated fairly and consistently, to encourage and expedite acquisition by agreements between owners and these agencies and promote public confidence in their land acquisition programs and ensure Agencies implement these regulations in a manner that is efficient and cost-effective.

In 1987, Congress designated the Department of Transportation as the Lead Agency for the Uniform Act for the entire Federal Government. In keeping with this responsibility, the Secretary of Transportation delegated this important role to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). In this role, the FHWA coordinates with Federal agency partners to establish procedures and make interpretations to implement provisions of the Uniform Act.

Federal agencies, operating under the Uniform Act, provided valuable input in identifying their current and future training needs and requirements. This was accomplished through a series of 22 in-depth telephone interviews with key agency representatives.

Training protocols among these agencies ranged from highly formal centralized training programs to employee-directed programs. Larger agencies tend to offer more in-house real estate training, with some operating centralized training academies. Smaller agencies tend to procure training from "outside" sources.

Training perspectives similarly vary. Some agencies clearly place a high degree of institutional priority on training. Others have a completely opposite approach, perhaps due to budget limitations and managerial indifference. Whatever their exact viewpoint, almost all indicated a need to work toward the "cheaper, faster, better" mandate of the National Performance Review.

In most agencies included in these interviews, persons interviewed said that, while important, real estate is a low-priority, low-excitement, and low-pay discipline. Many respondents expressed concern about their agencies' ability to identify and recruit motivated, talented personnel.

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B. Discussion of the Findings

1. Summary of Key Issues

Table 1, provides an overview of each agency's approach to real estate training, its areas of interest, current training resources, perceptions of FHWA/NHI training, and its interest in the development of an interagency training academy.

With respect to this series of interviews, there are two points to keep in mind:

Following the interviews, conducted in March 2000, key findings were presented to the Federal agencies at the May 18, 2000, All Federal Agency Uniform Act Implementation Meeting. Subsequently, agency representatives provided suggestions on sharing resources, course descriptions, and holding task force meetings and offered suggestions on the development of real estate courses relating to Uniform Act activity and basic real estate issues.

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2. Current Environment
As in the highway world, the majority of persons taking part in this series of interviews described a working environment that is undergoing profound changes:

The institutional priority placed on real estate training varies significantly from agency to agency. In some of the agencies in this study, real estate training is a highly organized activity. In the military, for example, performance and advancement are in no small part tied to continuing education. In a large housing agency, the financial oversight responsibilities of many real estate management positions require ongoing professional education.

Some agencies have highly evolved central training academies where everything from general human resources training to operations training to real estate training is offered. In such cases, employees rarely need to look "outside" for any kind of training. In agencies having such resources, there is a high degree of institutional pride.

But for every agency that has a formal training program or centralized training academy, there are two or three agencies that have a decidedly less formal approach to training. Some simply do not have the resources or central training management, even though they strive to maintain a real estate training program to meet their staff's needs. However, others acknowledge the need for training, but are not in a position to formalize a program.

Most Federal agencies feel their real estate responsibilities are too specific to what they believe are the unique responsibilities of their agency to be easily fulfilled by outside trainers. Many persons interviewed for this study commented that they do not believe their real estate training needs can be fulfilled with "generic" or "off-the-shelf" programs. Others suggested that an assessment be conducted to identify courses that are more general and could be beneficial to other Federal agencies. Although nearly all agencies may be mandated to work within the Uniform Act, respondents were quick to describe how their agencies' day-to-day situations are very specialized. Most expressed this feeling based on some actual experience. Some, for example, described attending FHWA/NHI courses that were simply too general or different from the situations they face in their work. Among the agencies represented, the ones most likely to share real estate training were agencies that deal with natural resource issues. There were a few respondents who had taken FHWA courses and found the content and instructors excellent.

Most agencies represented in this study worry about the future of the real estate program in their agencies. Like their highway peers, other Federal agency real estate departments expect to be losing the bulk of their experienced, senior workers in the next few years. In some agencies, nothing scares current managers more than the retirement of their most productive workers. It worries them that they will be losing not only productive workers, but also a substantial base of institutional knowledge and memory.

In some cases, respondents told the interviewer that there is no "next generation" waiting to fill these jobs. Some probably won't be replaced if current downsizing mandates are to be respected. But even those jobs which will be filled with new hires in the next few years are expected to be filled with people who have little or no practical knowledge or experience in the work of the hiring agency's real estate department. A few agencies hope to be able to hire talented personnel away from other agencies. But most feel they will have to, as one person put it, "start from scratch with a bunch of people who don't care about real estate and just want a regular job. "Several respondents indicated that they are currently replacing retiring real estate managers with new personnel who also have no relevant work experience and, in some cases, little desire to learn the work that has to be done.

In the future, most expect to be doing the same, or more, work with fewer people. Whatever their talents, almost all of the persons taking part in this study said they expect there will be fewer people involved in real estate in the future.

More than a few agencies complain about a shortage of effective instructors. Noting that who they consider to be the better instructors are nearing retirement, a number taking part in this study said they fear there will be a shortage in the coming years of instructors with a solid grasp of the content and more importantly, a solid base of experience.

One of the ways they will do "more with less" is to use outside contractors more. Some said their agencies are not fast to embrace the idea of outsourcing. Some believe outside contractors simply do not understand their needs, but more say that more and more of their day-to-day real estate work will be done by outside contractors.

Training needs are as varied as the number of agencies represented in this study. Although all are involved in day-to-day real estate issues, their actual scope of work varies widely. Some agencies are heavily involved in acquisition, while others focus on disposal or issues related to real estate remediation. Some do not actually touch real estate themselves, but rather oversee State, local, and other public and private organizations that receive grants or contracts to handle local or regional real estate projects.

Very few agencies believe they are involved in as wide a variety of day-to-day real estate operations as highway departments. And even those that are involved in what appear to be the same kinds of real estate operations point out that their work and their institutional perspectives are different from the highway perspective.

One natural resource management officer commented:

"We're in the business of accumulating land, lots of land in very large tracts. Not like the highway department that just needs a narrow band of property down which to lay a highway. And while there is some urgency to this, we don't have to do it this year if conditions don't favor immediate acquisition."

Another added:

"There's also a very big difference in the way we do things and the way the highway people do things. They are under much more pressing time limitations. That requires them to do things more quickly in whatever way is necessary to get the property they need. We, on the other hand, live in our communities and our work requires a great deal of public trust and support. So we place a higher priority on equitable negotiation. While the highway people may have to dominate, we have to negotiate."

Certifying FHWA real estate training courses for continuing education or re-certification purposes would be nice, but would not appear to unleash significant new demand. Many respondents felt that it might give FHWA an edge over IRWA to be able to take FHWA for credit. But all noted that this opportunity would not override their continuing concerns that FHWA real estate course content may in some cases be too highway-focused to meet their needs.

There is probably no single "best time" for training. But there are general guidelines. For example, most Federal agencies avoid training programs that would take place at the end of the fiscal year because this is the time of the year when programs are most apt to be withdrawn for budgetary reasons. Agencies that are involved in natural resources like to do most of their training in the spring and fall between heavy summer visitor periods and harsh winter downtime periods. Some agencies merely avoid training in the summer because of the conflict with family vacations. Still others avoid winter training because of the uncertainties of travel.

Most, but not all, Federal agencies believe their training needs change over time. Asked whether their training needs ever change, some agencies responded that training needs do indeed change in response to changing regulatory conditions. Some change because the scope of the agency's work changes. Some also noted that real estate training has changed as more technology enters their day-to-day work.

But there were also agencies where training needs have not changed in a decade and where they may not change in the decade to come.

Most Federal agencies in this study have been able to develop or procure the real estate training they feel they need. As noted earlier, the agencies said they have needs that may sound generic, but which are in fact very specific to their agency's operations. Only a few content areas were identified where agencies feel they could use help:

Most Federal agencies use traditional training paradigms. Most agencies represented continue to deliver training via traditional classroom format. Because restrictions regarding overnight travel are rare, most agencies are able to assemble their personnel at either a national gathering or a series of regional gatherings where group training can take place. As noted before, some have national training academies.

There are just a few exceptions to this movement. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has developed an extensive manual that can be used as both a training resource and an ongoing guide to day-to-day policy and situation interpretation. Another agency delivers some self-administered training programs via the Internet; a few agencies use video-conferencing. However, only a minority of agencies use tools that go beyond the traditional classroom.

Most agencies use little new technology in their training. Training "technology," for most of the people taking part in this study, tends to revolve around the decision whether to use PowerPoint or not. For the most part, there is said to be very little technology being used in real estate training programs. Some agencies mentioned developing CD-ROMs or participating in distance learning courses. Those agencies having access to national training centers tend to be the most technically advanced.

"Technology" is only slowly being introduced into many agencies' real estate departments. Study respondents indicated that computers are being integrated into more and more day-to-day real estate work. But just as there was resistance to this technology in some State highway operations, so there is some reluctance on the part of more seasoned workers to embrace this new technology. Young workers, on the other hand, are generally credited with being more open to the use of computers and other technologies. Several agencies, for example, are or will soon be using GIS and other high-tech systems in their real estate departments.

Barriers to training, when they exist, tend to involve training costs and time demands. Few respondents said there are institutional barriers to training. Yet their comments indicate that training may be delayed or avoided due to many conditions:

Management of real estate training varies from agency to agency. Just as their needs vary, the way different Federal agencies manage real estate training varies. A few have highly formalized real estate training managers, but such persons are clearly in the minority. More common are the practices of having an informally designated headquarters representative who keeps track of training rather than managing it, or follows local or regional budgets to determine whether employees can take training programs.

Outside of appraisers, there are few real estate managers in Federal service who require continuing education for professional or occupational certification. Among the many varieties of real estate work being done, only appraisers have certification that requires continuing education. Appraisers typically require licensing at the State level. The only other real estate personnel considered in this study who require continuing education are military personnel and senior managers at HUD. The former do not have additional expectations. They merely work in a highly formalized and hierarchal environment. The HUD officials require continuing education because they have a fiduciary responsibility involving the grants they oversee.

Agencies that look for outside training look to a relatively small set of resources. The leading resources for real estate training are professional associations such as the International Right-of-Way Association (IRWA), the Appraisal Institute, and a variety of related resources. For appraisers, the Appraisal Institute is clearly the leading source of professional training. Use of IRWA and other providers was more sporadic and almost nonexistent among representatives of agencies that have their own training academies.

Two agencies included in this study have, or are studying, consultation arrangements with outside consultants to review and provide strategic guidance on their real estate training programs. From descriptions provided, these consultants analyze current training programs, identify voids and either find or develop programs to fill these voids.

Most agencies are open to participating in training with other agencies. However, many were concerned that this may not work on a practical basis. None of the agencies represented has institutional prohibitions against inviting other Federal agencies into their training programs or having their own personnel attend training provided by other Federal agencies. In practice, however, it does not appear that there is much mixing. Only among agencies involved in natural resource acquisition and management does there appear to be any regular and formal shared training. A few agencies routinely invite State and local officials and officials of other Federal agencies or non-profits with whom they work to take part in training together. But this level of interaction appears to be minimal and confined to those with well-defined shared interests.

For larger Federal agencies, there are clearly issues related to pride in the training programs. Many agencies simply don't think that there are other real estate personnel who will get much out of their programs (because of the special needs of the sponsoring agency's work). It is also clear that even though agencies have little prohibition against interacting with other agency training programs, most do not consider it.

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3. Impressions of Existing NHI Real Estate Training Courses
The majority of persons taking part in these interviews are aware that FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI) provides a variety of real estate training programs. But few have had any direct experience with them and even fewer have any current working familiarity with NHI's offerings.

Awareness of NHI real estate training programs is strong, but not universal. No more than one or two of those interviewed recall receiving an annual catalog of training courses. Only a few are familiar with FHWA's NHI training web site. One study participant was not even aware that FHWA is the Lead Agency or that it offers real estate training courses that can be used by other Federal agencies.

Few study participants have any recent experience with NHI training courses. Some have attended or at least are familiar with NHI training courses. At least one interviewed used to work for FHWA. Another has substantial State highway experience. Only a few of the 22 persons interviewed have attended or booked an NHI course within the past two to three years. Of those who recall taking part in an NHI training course, most indicated the topic was relocation.

Some NHI real estate training is good. Most of it is not perceived to be specific enough for the needs of non-highway agencies. While they applaud FHWA's attempts to serve a wide audience, the majority of study participants said they were concerned that training from the perspective and experience of highways is simply not focused enough for their needs. It was not uncommon for respondents to say they had felt it necessary to "re-train" personnel who attended FHWA training programs. Some respondents who had taken FHWA courses were very complimentary of the breadth of course content and the quality of instructors. However, one described his group's experience with an FHWA training program last year as "time wasted" due to the highway focus. Most who had unfavorable feelings say their experiences probably would have been much better if the FHWA trainer had been given the opportunity to customize the course for the Federal agency to which it was being given. Short of customization, many participants were reluctant to consider FHWA real estate training seriously.

Unfavorable comments focused on content rather than presentation. In fact, most who had participated in or sponsored NHI training said the instructors were generally strong in knowledge and experience. Some suggested that making FHWA's courses more relevant might only be a matter of presenting case studies that the audience could identify with.

Few study participants are inclined to consider using FHWA real estate training courses until they determine that these courses are customized for their agencies' needs. As noted earlier, some agencies observe the same regulatory guidelines, but have clearly different institutional perspectives than what they anticipate among people whose primary business is highways. Others note that the case studies reviewed in highway-based real estate training programs simply aren't relevant to them.

So few study participants know anything about FHWA real estate training programs that cost simply hasn't become an issue. One person who attended an FHWA relocation course a year or so ago felt the course was okay, but also admitted that his expectations had not been elevated because his agency was not paying for the course. Most other study respondents simply had no idea of the costs of FHWA programs.

NHI is acknowledged as being the expert in highway-related real estate training issues. Some believe FHWA is possibly the undisputed leader in acquisition and relocation oversight. But few respondents feel the highway people, despite their best intentions, fully understand the nature of the work and culture of non-highway agencies. Two respondents noted that their agencies had submitted suggestions to FHWA about how it could better serve their real estate training needs and hoped there would be a continued dialogue here.

There is a demand for FHWA resources, although not in the traditional training sense. A number of study participants noted that even though they do not believe that FHWA's training courses fit their needs, there is still considerable interest in having FHWA as an information resource. Respondents believe that FHWA may have experience in dealing with unusual circumstances that might be of value to other agencies.

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4. Envisioning the Future
Asked to think ahead five years, study participants foretold many changes:

The people will be different. As noted before, a number of respondents expressed concern that retirements taking place in the next few years will leave their organizations younger and less experienced. Like their highway peers, many of the people interviewed for this study alluded to what they describe as a "new breed" of State workers. They believe these young workers are less motivated than they were and less motivated to take it upon themselves to advance their professional education. Some of these observations may be due to generational differences in work style and work/life balance.

Today's real estate practitioners will likely become the project managers of the future. As more and more day-to-day work migrates to the private consulting sector, respondents suggested that the real estate personnel in many Federal agencies will be contract managers rather than practitioners. Almost all feel project management is an area of real estate training that is not being addressed sufficiently.

Most expect that the delivery of training will also change.Although some respondents believe strongly that their particular work will always require the kind of give-and-take that they believe can only be achieved in a classroom or seminar setting, other respondents believe that the classroom format of instruction will be more and more complemented by technology, particularly videoconferencing, distance learning, and the Internet.

Some also believe that as agencies are forced to focus on their core responsibilities, there will be a movement toward outsourcing of training. Most of those sharing this forecast believe that non-profits and professional associations will be the outside sources agencies look to first for help.

There was interest in collaborating to meet growing training demands. While they were generally in favor of working together, study participants were hesitant about developing a formalized training academy:

Overall, Federal agencies were interested in opportunities to continue exploring a wide range of collaborative activities including:

Participating agencies felt that as the project moves forward, these ideas should be discussed and examined by an interagency work group. The general consensus was that meeting the real estate training needs of the future will require innovation, collaboration, and skill-focused resources.

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Analysis Table of Contents | Acknowledgments | Letter from the Directors | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Appendix

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