Commercial real estate’s lack of diversity is a reflection of its word-of-mouth recruiting networks and the industry’s low profile among college students as a career option.
NAIOP Massachusetts has in recent years sought to address both sides of the equation through a summer internship program for women and minority college students called Commercial Real Estate Success Training (CREST). The program pairs high-performing college juniors and seniors with local developers, brokerages and architects. In the past two years, 32 students from Boston-area colleges have participated in the program at 22 firms, including big-name developers such as Millennium Partners and National Development and construction giant Suffolk.
Reesa Fischer, executive director of NAIOP Massachusetts, said the program is starting to pay off with full-time job offers for participants. Three CREST graduates landed industry jobs in 2017 and five from the class of 2018 went on to full-time positions at companies including AEW Capital Management, JLL and WS Development.
“We’re starting to see a lot of traction with students going into the field,” Fischer said. “We didn’t see that the first couple of years.”
At the same time, NAIOP’s national organization recognizes the need for outreach to the high school age group as well. It’s partnering with the Real Estate Executive Council (REEC) and NEXUS Summer Programs, which sponsor career programs for college-bound high schoolers at campuses across the country.
Greater Boston joined the mix this summer with the REEC CRE Summer Intensive, hosted by the MIT Center for Real Estate. The 12-day residential program provided high-GPA students of color with the basics of commercial real estate and finance, culminating with student teams creating real estate business plans and delivering Shark Tank-style pitches.
The program, co-developed by R. Kelly Cameron, career development officer at the MIT Center for Real Estate and graduate student Felicity Fu, included presentations from alumni and lecturers in the center’s master’s in real estate development program along with the university’s MITIMCo investment arm about its Kendall Square developments. Participants included 24 students, including eight from the Boston area.
“A lot of them don’t have any idea what commercial real estate is as a career,” Fischer said. “They’re rising juniors and seniors who are looking at what they want to do with their lives, and it gets them excited about academic and career development. Most of them were talking about the potential for internships as undergraduates, and that’s what we’re looking for: building that pipeline early.”