Winning Essay by Ali Qamar – CHU Strata Council Australia (WA) Awards
This essay is the Winning Entry in the Strata Communities Association (WA) Essay Competition for 2022. Written and won by Ali Qamar, Cygnet West Partner | Strata and Community Management | Company Secretary
The Strata Industry has traditionally struggled to attract new talent to its fold. It is widely accepted that strata management can often be a thankless job with long hours, unrealistic expectations from clients and stake holders, and little praise or positive feedback after some really hard work by the strata industry professionals. This has been exacerbated by an all-time low unemployment rate of under 3%, which means we are competing for a limited pool of employees who are being offered lucrative positions by other industries and employers.
A tightening of strata management fees, lower charges, and increased competition in the industry have resulted in owners having limited funds to spend on employee acquisition and ongoing support of the employees’ financial expectations.
Hence, I believe the biggest challenge to strata management industry is to attract and retain staff who are a good fit for the industry, and who can sustain the pressure and stresses inherent in the position to make this into a long-lasting and fulfilling career.
In my experience, there are three areas which need to be targeted by the entire industry, and strata management companies individually, to counter a highly turbulent employment market: Technology, Employment Flexibility, and Diversity and Inclusion.
I cannot over-emphasise the role of technology and its adoption in ensuring the future survival of our industry. We have seen cloud-based software applications being the norm in the IT realm, and the Strata Industry has similarly seen many specific software being cloud based, thus significantly reducing the cost of ownership. Accounting software – such as PropertyIQ – ensure that state-of-the-art accounting practices are implemented in strata management, with low cost of IT input for management companies, and automatic updates to keep them current. Covid-19 has resulted in the rapid uptake of software like StrataVote giving access to owners to attend meetings via multiple platforms, depending on their individual circumstances. Mobile enabled Work Requests/Bookings/DMS ensure owners can touch base with their managers on the fly and can receive updates in real time. The rapid integration of these systems will ensure our dependence on old labour-intensive processes can be replaced with electronic workflows, low cost of ownership and fewer administrative tasks.
That being said, it is obvious that technology can never replace a knowledgeable and dedicated workforce to smoothly deal with strata owners and residents. We may have the best technology, systems and processes, but they mean nothing without competent individuals managing the technology and processes. A robust personal relationship with clients is vital to the success of any strata management team.
My next point is a crucial one. An industry with access to technology available on cloud from anywhere should have an employment flexibility plan to match. Technology and recent events have enabled us to work remotely, without the need for the daily office commute. Consequently, employers are looking for smaller office spaces, thereby saving money in rent, utilities and parking. As we have seen, our workforce can be just as productive, and perhaps even more so, when working from home. A Strata Management Team is uniquely placed to work from home, given that most meetings with clients are over the phone or Zoom and other platforms. This option is an important consideration for prospective employees looking for greater flexibility, thus enhancing the industry’s appeal. It will also be an important factor in employee retention over the years.
My final point stresses the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the Strata Industry. The greatest advantage of the flexible working arrangements discussed above is that our industry will appeal to the largest group of career-seekers in Australia: women. The need to attract more women to the Strata Industry goes beyond mere employee numbers: employing more women is essential to our growth. Given that our society is still largely traditional in that mothers are generally tasked with looking after their children and homes, it is understandable that they will be hesitant to work full-time in an office environment. However, if they are given the option to work from home, with only occasional days at the office, then the desire to be part of our industry will increase, driving up its appeal and prestige. We will become the career of choice in a highly competitive market, allowing us to make informed and targeted choices about those we employ. It goes without saying that the same options will be available to all employees, regardless of gender identification.
Additionally, as all parents know, those who juggle their responsibilities to their children – such as meal-times, school pick-ups and drop-offs and a host of extra-curricular activities – are necessarily patient, highly organised, have the ability to multi-task and pay scrupulous attention to details. Women (and men) who do this have developed patience, tact and – importantly – ability to work under pressure. This resilience is an indispensable part of the daily stresses of communicating with demanding clients, making parents’ skills highly sought after by our industry. In fact, I will even posit that we cannot afford not to have parents working from home in our companies.
The same flexibility will appeal to differently-abled people, who are hard-working and driven yet, for various reasons, are unable to regularly attend the office. Such employees can be valuable assets to a company who, by virtue of their personal challenges, have highly developed strength and mental toughness.
In the same realm, it is becoming increasingly clear that immigration will drive our country’s economy in the foreseeable future, especially in a post-lockdown world. Immigrants arrive in Australia, ready to work hard to create new lives. They are competent, conscientious and committed. This is an under-utilised demographic, yet one which is ideal for our industry. Furthermore, having a diverse employee base allows for more culturally-aware and fluent communication with clients, who themselves may be culturally diverse.
The Strata Industry has a robust future ahead of it. We may not be the industry which can offer the highest financial remuneration in the market; however, we can offer a highly productive, safe, fulfilling and flexible environment. We already have everything we need to do this. All we need to do is celebrate it more, be on the cutting-edge of technology, be flexible in our innovations, and broaden our horizons in the professional workforce we consider for employment. Moving forward with these 21st century skills will ensure we are known as the Employee Industry of Choice. We, every one of us, are responsible for making this happen.