United States

Automation could ease commercial real estate talent crunch


The tightest labor market in the last 50 years may get even tighter.

The United States has added jobs for 100 straight months, and unemployment is sitting at an almost unheard of 3.9 percent, but RSM’s chief economist Joe Brusuelas thinks that number will drop.

“The U.S. has been creating 200,000 jobs a month on average for the past two years,” Brusuelas said. “Hiring should slow as we head into 2019, but we are projecting unemployment to drop even lower to 3.2 percent. Nationally, we have less than one person willing and able to work for every job opening.”

While companies can certainly refine their recruiting strategies, they can also consider automation as a way to weather this historically tight labor market. While not every job can be automated, automating parts of a company can free up others, and preparing for digital transformation today can set a company up for success in the future.

Commercial real estate (CRE) has started turning to robotic process automation (RPA) to lift the burden of repetitive tasks. RSM principal Chris Wetmore said these technologies can help CRE companies automate financial processes like invoicing and procurement, due diligence, and know-your-client compliance work as well as the often mundane job of renewing contracts with vendors and partners.

“Studies estimate that 25 percent of employees’ days are dedicated to repetitive, rule-based tasks that can be automated,” Wetmore said. “If we can hand employees technologies that free up a quarter of their day to focus on higher-value activities like data sourcing or client meetings, that’s potentially a huge [return on investment].”

Some jobs in real estate, like on-site construction, may never be automated, Wetmore said. But he said CRE companies need to increase the ratio of their properties to the number of people they employ: The fewer resources a company needs to allocate to work on the back end, the more resources it can place on tasks that can’t be automated.

Wetmore said automation is becoming ever more important for middle market companies. While large enterprises may already have automated many of their processes, smaller companies have been slower to catch on. But without these sorts of technological advances, middle market companies could be overtaken by the competitors that are taking advantage of automation.

“We’ve simply never seen this kind of talent crisis,” Brusuelas said. “We began warning our client base back in 2014 that a talent crunch was coming, and now here it is. It’s become the No. 1 issue for middle market companies.”

Equally as important as implementing automation is ensuring that automation is implemented in the right areas, Wetmore said. He said many of his clients know that they want automation in one area, but are surprised by just how many other processes they can take off their employees’ to-do lists.

“We’re not coming in with a predefined template; we’re taking a holistic view of every company’s automation issues, and building a custom set of solutions,” Wetmore said.

Wetmore expects RPA to reach maturity in the middle market within the next two years. While automation for CRE has been around for five or six years, the talent shortage has driven adoption and worked automation into the conversation more quickly.

This article was originally published in Bisnow.


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