Facing real estate’s next big challenges head-on

Jessica Abt of the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies talks about how U of C students are being prepared for a disruptive future

Jessica Abt is director at Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies, and acting director of the graduate program recruitment and admissions at Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

Jessica Abt
Jessica Abt

Tell me a little bit about the Westman Centre – what it offers and its purpose?

Abt: Our purpose is simple – to create entrepreneurial and ethical leaders for the real estate industry. Our spark was lit in 2011 when leaders from the Calgary real estate community stepped forward with seed funding to launch the real estate studies initiative at the Haskayne School of Business. They were motivated by a shared desire to address a shortage of potential employees with relevant real estate industry knowledge and skills, and to find solutions to big challenges facing the industry in Calgary and beyond. In 2013, the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies was born when Calgary builder and developer Jay Westman donated $5 million.

In the fall of 2017, the real estate studies specialization was officially launched as an accredited degree program for bachelor of commerce and MBA students. The Westman Centre exposes students to a broad range of experiential learning opportunities that enriches and  supplements their classroom learning experience. This includes career symposiums, case competitions, attendance at conferences, building and site tours, lunch and learns and student experience trips. We also produce case studies and collaborate on relevant research initiatives. Industry engagement is a core component of everything we do.

What’s the enrolment at the centre and how does that compare to previous years?

Abt: In our second year as an accredited program, there were over 100 bachelor of commerce and MBA students taking one or more real estate studies courses, and the number is increasing each year. The number of students choosing real estate as their major is much smaller; however, this will change as awareness of the program increases and students gain more exposure to the types of careers available in the industry.

Typically what kinds of careers are students looking to pursue?

Abt: The real estate industry is the world’s most significant store of wealth. The global value of real estate rose to over US$280 trillion in 2017, more than 3.5 times the total global gross domestic product. In Canada, 76 per cent of the country’s national wealth is tied to real estate. The industry creates communities – the essence of human well-being. It supports livelihoods and drives regional economies.

An industry of this scope and size requires talent from almost every business discipline. Careers within the industry span across residential, commercial and agricultural sectors and include careers relating to land acquisition and property development, asset management, valuation, financing, brokerage, sales and property management.

Haskayne students are finding permanent jobs, co-op work terms and summer internships across a diverse spectrum of companies in the real estate industry. This list of companies that are hiring our students includes Avison Young, Altus, ATB Financial, Avenue Asset Living, Crombie REIT, Brookfield Residential, Brookfield Properties, CBRE, Colliers, CWB Financial Group, MATCO Developments, Omni Group, Oxford Properties, Stantec, Strategic Group, Urban Analytics and West Campus Development Trust, among others. Positions include credit assistants, consultants, development interns, financial analysts, portfolio analysts, property management interns and research analysts.

Why do you think students are attracted to a career in real estate?

Abt: For all of the reasons I mentioned above. In addition, the real estate sector landscape is evolving and as the industry leaders who were instrumental in building our communities are retiring, a noticeable leadership gap is left to be filled. The next generation of real estate leaders face new challenges as fast-paced technological, environmental and social changes transform how people live, work and play.

The industry faces rising pressure to respond with new ideas by being increasingly innovative and rethinking how it addresses affordability. Disruption is coming in the form of big data, technological transformation, increased regulation and stakeholder engagement. I think these opportunities and challenges are very appealing to students, so it’s an exciting time to enter the industry.

What is the vision for the centre?

Abt: We are launching a $15-million fund development initiative to drive our next phase of growth. With a sustainable funding model that allows us to attract an academic and research chair for our program, we will become a nationally recognized centre of excellence, well-positioned to deliver on our mission of creating entrepreneurial and ethical leaders for the real estate industry.

Our vision is to be a catalyst for the development of real estate industry professionals and a leading centre of excellence for real estate studies.

– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business

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