Preparing the next generation of commercial real estate leaders

Jill Winchell, a principal of Jill Winchell Design, LLC, based in San Diego, an adjunct professor in the Interior Design Department at San Diego State University and an active member of CREW San Diego, recently talked with the editor of CREW Corner about preparing students for careers in design and real estate.

Q: What is UCREW and how does it bridge the gap between students and professionals?

A: UCREW is a nationwide community outreach program for local colleges and universities to bring exposure to the world of professionalism in the field of commercial real estate, sponsored by CREW Network. Providing exposure to new ideas and potential possibilities in the workplace are eye opening for students.

Our first San Diego UCREW event – Urban Dash, held in March 2014 -- was an excellent introduction to professionalism in the field from several arenas of commercial real estate and private industry. On our tour of many of the SD downtown icons – Petco Park, the new library, Ballpark Village and others -- our student participants were met at each location by seasoned professionals with introductions to networking and amazing information about the structures themselves.

Q: As an educator, what do you view as the biggest challenge(s) when preparing students for a career in contract design?

A: Both teaching and practicing in the design profession today are rapidly changing. Being astute to the evolvement of the needs and provisions of cultures is critical. Assessment for clientele to provide best solutions and outcomes involves research to meet challenges of daily living environments, code requirements and cultures.

The industry is constantly changing in terms of spaces needs for today’s cultural requirements, such as upsizing, downsizing, relocating, repurposing and so on. This entails the need to stay current and it is our job to stay fluid with the changes.

Staying current with the student population means understanding the foundation of what their identity brings today. Flexibility and staying fluid accompany today’s teaching approach with current student culture. Once that is established, integrating design to current issues in the real estate industry is more accessible.

Q: What skills do you instill in your students?

A: Participation is key. So are respect, follow-up and networking. Learning the process for design standards along with terminology is a focus to help with industry dialogue. This has proved beneficial for students when interviewing for internships and jobs. Staying current with concepts by reading periodicals about today’s changing cultures is also key.

A communications consultant also gives a lecture in class each semester to help with marketing oneself to the industry with a professional edge.

Q: What do students of today bring to the industry that previous generations did not?

A: The technical capabilities of today’s students are incredible. Fortunately, this gives them the 'one up' to get into today’s job market. These skills give students leverage to get into the door. Students bring the technological tools that are so vital for companies today to have to be competitive and provide a higher level of visual access to their clients. And as every generation does, we need to keep in mind the students bring fresh ideas to the table and we need to listen to and honor that as well.

Q: How do your students view the volatility in the commercial real estate industry, especially given the events of the past several years? How do you prepare them for the inevitable ups and downs?

A: Options! Being exposed to the various types of positions in the commercial field is often new to the students and expands their understanding of the different possibilities within the industry.

Getting a good education for the foundation of their field is extremely important. That given, the student can explore what areas of expertise they are good at. For example, some might be great at the design and or technical portions of the jobs, and some might be best suited for sales, business and finance or project management.

Building strengths and experience, the students can hone in on types of positions they are strongly suited for and sell that with an educated background.

Q: How can commercial real estate professionals best help students?

A: My class involves bridging the classroom to the working field. Visiting professionals are a large part of my course by lecturing in the classroom. We also take part in field lectures at community showrooms and businesses. These exchanges with industry professionals are put into place to help the students understand the process of building contacts and methods of professional growth. All the professionals who generously volunteer to lecture also bring their story of how they got started in the industry and share how they got where they are today which is very impactful.

Being exposed to different disciplines in the field brings knowledge of various professional directions. Learning the terminology of industry standards is major. Networking and presenting yourself with professionals are learned traits. Putting the students in positions for field experience gives opportunities for future internships and potential jobs. From day one, there is a strong push in the classroom promoting involvement in professional organizations either by joining, volunteering or participating.

The goal is for students to start accumulating contacts that can lead to internships, jobs, etc. Through these activities, the students are making their own connections that can assist them for future job endeavors.

Professionals can help by going to events and networking with students. They can also create job shadowing opportunities and open up their businesses for tours and events. Everything is about exposure that will teach students to build their networking capabilities – that’s the goal!

Q: What’s Next for UCREW?

A: We will soon be planning the 2015 UCREW event. The 2014 Urban Dash was a great success and we look forward to doing it again. In the meantime, we will be inviting students to our regular CREW events and helping them expand their networks.

Winchell can be reached at Teresa Warren is the editor of CREW Corner. She is president of TW2 Marketing Inc.

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