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. Continual professional development is provided from day one. The company’s Graduate Scheme is ingrained in its culture, renowned for producing high-caliber professionals.
Gareth Soar, Partner, Workman Retail & Leisure, qualified from the Graduate Scheme in 2007. Cara Hardman, Senior Surveyor, successfully passed the APC in 2020. In their discussion, they share their experiences and reflect on how our Graduate Scheme prepared them for professional life in 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. My university studies focused on politics. However, I later enrolled in the postgraduate diploma in surveying at the College of Estate Management in Reading. The course provided comprehensive coverage of various competencies, including building construction, property law, valuation investment, and property management. It offered a good overview of the field. Additionally, Workman provided in-house training sessions and regular sessions with supervisors. These measures were implemented to ensure that we acquired the necessary experience in all the required competencies. This ensured that we had the relevant technical experience to do the job. However, the program has significantly improved since I went through it over 10 years ago. We have made significant advancements and maintained our reputation in the marketplace for providing exceptional 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 provided with real responsibility to manage properties from early on. Having the responsibility for their own portfolio of properties enables our graduates to build relationships with occupiers, clients, and advisors. They can make a meaningful contribution to the management service we provide. Their communication skills were undoubtedly enhanced. This was due to their experience in managing people, working with contractors and site staff. Their ability to deal with a diverse range of individuals, as property managers, played a significant role.
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: Early on in my career, I learned the importance of not just presenting a problem. Review the issue, come up with possible solutions then present a reasoned recommendation to the client. Our clients are busy people. Typically they should be responding to most of our emails. They should say they’re happy to proceed with our suggested solution. Early on, I learned the importance of picking up the phone and talking to people. It seems to be a bit of a lost art, nowadays. There are times when people seem happy to hide behind email. As such, it’s one thing I always encourage the graduates and other people in my team to do. That is to 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. We collaborate with our clients in various capacities. These include their role as asset managers, solicitors, letting agents, valuers, building surveyors, accountants, and contractors. Consequently, 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. These 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: Providing them with broad exposure to all aspects of property in their day-to-day job is essential. Knowing when to support and challenge them, pushing them out of their comfort zone, is crucial. Regular catch-ups are essential, especially with most people working from home. Without the office interactions, scheduling time to communicate is important. Encouraging a commercial mindset and prioritising clients’ interests are key. Workman excels in property management by understanding clients’ perspectives and delivering tailored solutions.”
Cara: How has the Workman Graduate Scheme evolved since you were a participant?
Gareth: Our training programme has become more structured. We acknowledge the substantial time and effort our graduates invest in successfully completing the scheme. To ensure their success, we provide them with ample support and dedicated time in their daily schedule. We have implemented more rigorous supervisor training, including mandatory modules that enhance supervisors’ understanding of their areas of support.
Cara: One of the real positives of having a significant number of graduates going through this process is the presence of peers who are in the same position as you. Additionally, there are also many others who have previously been in your shoes, providing valuable support and guidance. 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 actively collaborate with asset managers across the UK. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in fascinating and significant projects. This greatly contributes to 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 crucial for my training, and I was fully involved in every aspect right from the beginning. While completing my Master’s degree to convert my undergraduate Geography degree, I built a foundation of knowledge. However, putting that knowledge into practice is essential to fully grasp the role. It’s vital to adapt and understand how to approach challenges when managing properties independently. During my practical on-the-job training, I received complete support and guidance from my line manager and mentor, which greatly facilitated my growth. Engaging with clients face-to-face, interacting with tenants, and managing my own portfolio have prepared me well. The training and on-the-job experience also prove valuable for the APC, especially when providing evidence of competence. There’s no better way to learn than by doing, and the Workman Graduate Scheme offers abundant opportunities for hands-on learning.
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. I was involved in project works at a retail park, which was being led by our building surveyors. It was a fairly large project. Seeing this through to completion was rewarding, knowing that my involvement had been worthwhile. It was definitely beneficial to get involved so early. 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.