How the Workman Graduate Scheme elevated my Property Management career

In conversation with… Gareth Soar, Partner, & Cara Hardman, Senior Surveyor

With 24% of our Partners having begun their careers through our Graduate Scheme, we are a progressive employer, providing continual professional development from day one. The company’s Graduate Scheme is embedded in its culture, with the company renowned for producing professionals of an extremely high calibre.

Gareth Soar, Partner, Workman Retail & Leisure, who qualified from the Graduate Scheme in 2007 and Cara Hardman, Senior Surveyor, who passed the APC in 2020, discuss their experiences and how our Graduate Scheme prepared them for professional life within the property management sector.

Cara: Looking back on your experience in the Workman Graduate Scheme, how did it prepare you in terms of technical skills?

Gareth: I joined as a non-cognate graduate back in 2007, having studied politics at university, then enrolled on the postgraduate diploma in surveying at the College of Estate Management in Reading. The course covered a number of competencies including building construction, property law, valuation investment and property management so it gave a good overview. And at Workman we had in-house training sessions and regular sessions with supervisors to ensure we were getting enough experience across all of the required competencies. This ensured that we had the relevant technical experience to do the job. But the programme has come on leaps and bounds since I went through it more than 10 years ago, and we have continued our reputation in the marketplace for offering excellent training. We’re really proud of our success rate for candidates passing their APC.

Cara: What do you feel it taught you in terms of the softer skills, such as teamwork, communication, people management?

Gareth: Our training programme offers graduates a genuine opportunity to learn on the job. We don’t just rotate grads between departments every six months so that they can tick the box on their competencies. People are given real responsibility to manage properties from an early stage. Having this responsibility for their own portfolio of properties allows our grads to build relationships with occupiers, clients and their advisors, and to make a meaningful contribution to the management service we provide to our clients. It gives them experience in managing people, while working with contractors and site staff, dealing with such a broad range of individuals in the job as a property manager undoubtedly helps to develop communication skills.

Cara: What’s the one thing you learned during the course of the Workman graduate scheme that’s been most valuable in your career so far?

Gareth: One lesson I was taught early on in my career was to not just present a problem. Review the issue, come up with possible solutions then present a reasoned recommendation to the client. Our clients are busy people, so typically they should be responding to most of our emails by saying they are happy to proceed with our suggested solution. Another lesson I was taught early on was the importance of picking up the phone and talking to people. It seems to be a bit of a lost art, nowadays, and there are times when people seem happy to hide behind email, so it’s one thing I always encourage the graduates and other people in my team to do; pick up the phone and talk.

Cara: With almost a quarter of the current Partners having begun their careers on the company’s Graduate Scheme, in what way did it prepare you for your career in property and your role as a Partner?

Gareth: As property managers, we have to be versatile, working with our clients in their role as asset managers, their solicitors, letting agents, valuers, building surveyors, accountants and contractors, so the Workman Graduate Scheme is a great all-round introduction to commercial property. I’ve always enjoyed the people management aspect, particularly working in the working retail and leisure team. The opportunity to work with centre management teams has helped me learn skills which have helped me in my role as a partner today.

Cara: And now as a Partner, when mentoring those on the Workman Graduate Scheme, what do you think are the most important aspects of coaching and developing the new graduates?

Gareth: Giving them as broad an exposure to all aspects of property in their day-to-day job. Knowing when to support, and when to push them out of their comfort zone, making sure we have regular catch ups with people, particularly now. And with most people working from home, it’s more important than ever, because you’re not having those opportunities in the office to simply walk past someone’s desk and have a quick chat, so it’s making the point of putting time in the diary to communicate with people in the team. Another key point is getting them to think commercially, to always look out for our clients’ interests, to think about it from their perspective and what solution would work best for them. In my opinion, Workman does property management better than anyone else, and often it’s because of our ability to see thing’s from the client’s point of view.

Cara: How has the Workman Graduate Scheme evolved since you were a participant?

Gareth: Our training programme has become more structured. We understand that our graduates need to invest a significant amount of time and effort to successfully complete the scheme, so we make sure they have enough support and time in their day to be able to do so. We have also introduced much more rigorous supervisor training, with modules that need to be completed so that supervisors understand where they need to be most supportive.

Cara: And one of the real positives of having the number of graduates that we have going through this process is that there are people around you who are in the same position and many others who have been there. Getting the right help and support is important on the scheme and is something that Workman offers to its graduates. I know people working at smaller firms or local authorities are often the only one working towards the APC within their organisation, which I imagine must be isolating.

Gareth: What were the most helpful ways in which the workman graduate scheme equipped you to begin your career in the property industry?

Cara: One of the key benefits for me was working with the same mentor for the full two years. During this time, I was dealing one-on-one with my manager, developing my skills and knowledge from their experience, which was extremely valuable. Some firms offer a six-month rotational scheme, but the format of the Workman Graduate Scheme means you gain an in-depth understanding and develop valued client relationships. Another aspect is the quality of clients that you’re dealing with. I liaise with asset managers across the UK, and I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with some interesting and important projects, which is great for my professional development.

Gareth: Thinking about your present day-to-day role, in what ways does the on-the-job, practical experience that you received as part of the Workman Graduate Scheme continue to add value?

Cara: On-the-job experience was vital for my training and I was fully involved in everything from the start. The Masters degree, which I completed to convert my undergraduate Geography degree, helped me build a basis of knowledge but there’s a need to put that into practice to fully understand the role. It’s important to adapt and understand how you’d approach challenges once you’re managing properties on your own. When I was doing the practical on-the-job training, I had the full support and guidance of my line manager and mentor, which definitely helped me grow. Getting out and about, meeting clients face-to-face and dealing with tenants has set me up well for taking on my own portfolio. The training and on-the-job experience also helps with the APC, particularly when it comes to providing evidence of your competence. There’s no better way to learn than actually doing it; and the Workman Graduate Scheme gives you plenty of opportunities for that.

Gareth: And to what extent did you feel you were able to make a difference to clients on real projects straightaway?

Cara: My line manager involved me in everything from the get-go. The first time I felt like I was making a difference was around six months into the role, when I was involved in project works at a retail park, which was being led by our building surveyors. It was a fairly large project, and it was rewarding to see this through to completion, knowing that my involvement had been worthwhile. It was definitely beneficial to get involved so early, as I then felt more confident to deal with my own portfolio of properties.

Gareth: During the work in graduate scheme, you were assigned a Partner, Senior Associate or Associate mentor to coach and develop you; what single thing did they teach you that’s been most valuable?

Cara: The best advice I was given is that property management, by its nature, is always moving, so knowing how to prioritise is a really important skill to allow you to do the job well. It also may seem obvious but to echo Gareth’s comments about picking up the phone, it is important to communicate both with clients and colleagues to maintain a good relationship. And Gareth, what advice would you give to our graduates just starting now, under these unique circumstances?

Gareth: It’s a strange time for anyone to start a new job, so our line managers are very aware that they need to be in touch with their graduates as much as they can. I would actively encourage them to get in touch with people in the team or other graduates in the firm, and make sure that they’re getting the support they need from their line manager and their buddy. Although we’re not having face-to-face contact with our clients, we are in touch with them now more than ever and it is a great time for our graduates to see the importance of what we do for our clients and how they value our role as property managers.

Cara: My advice for the graduates starting now would be if you need additional support or help, check in with the other graduates to make use of their experiences. A benefit of the role is that even though you’re all in the same position, you’ll all be dealing with different things so you can share and learn from each other, as well as your team. It will be a new experience for them starting a new role having never met most of the people in their office, but they should be encouraged to build those relationships, as it’s important to enable you to get the most of out of the scheme.