More people qualified than any nearby agent
Commitment to Qualifications
An excerpt from the April/May edition of Agreement, the magazine of ARLA (our trade body)
Celebration: 40 newly qualified staff members are given a resounding ‘well done’ at the annual staff meeting
“On a blustering April day a photographer is standing on a chair in a beautiful Oxford University college trying to fit 40 people into the frame for a group photo. Each person is holding a bottle of champagne, reflecting on a personal victory in the past year and trying to perfect their pose for the camera.
The occasion? The photographer is capturing all the members of the letting agency Finders Keepers who have passed the National Federation of Property Professionals (ARLA Propertymark) Technical Award in Residential Letting and Property Management in the past 14 months. At the Annual Staff Meeting in April each newly-qualified person received a bottle of bubbly to say well done, presented by Ruth Lilley, the Head of Business Development for ARLA Propertymark.
Suffice to say that the Oxfordshire-based, family-run company has dived headfirst into ARLA’s new industry qualifications, and 40 people from a total staffing of 100 represents a major commitment and by far and away the most of all the letting agents in Oxford. The initiative was the brainchild of Director Frank Webster: “We were the first letting agent in the UK to gain Investor in People status and we saw the ARLA Propertymark qualifications as a further chapter in our drive for excellence. We are up to 45 passes now with another 17 people attacking Modules 1 and 2. By the end of 2011 97% of our customer-facing staff will be qualified.”
HR Director Maryse Davies explains that the qualifications go right to the heart of the company’s DNA: “Two of our values are ‘Expert’ and ‘High Standards’ and the thorough legal grounding of the Technical Award helps our people across all departments to ‘live’ our values for the benefit of our clients. We strive to deliver a premium service and having fully-qualified staff are part of this plan.”
Carly Jarvis, a Property Department Manager in the North Oxford office, continues on this theme: “It is great that all the office is doing the award as we can talk about issues and share our views on different matters. The biggest benefit for me has been that you can talk to a tenant or a landlord about a tricky situation and know with real confidence that you are 100% correct in your advice.”
In terms of logistics, Finders Keepers put people through the examinations in ‘waves’ of 14-16 people. For each of the four modules there was one day of intensive training by an external expert using the Technical Award manual. Each person then received half a day of study leave per module and half a day off to take the examinations for two modules.
Ben Procter, a Letting Manager, was impressed that the company was putting so many people through the qualification: “Some colleagues have worked for other agents in the past and I’ve heard that some other agents will have one person take the course in each office and they’re then used as a fountain of knowledge. I think it’s very good that everyone’s doing it because it sets us aside from the other agents that are out there.”
Certificates proudly displayed in our office
As you can imagine, taking people out of the offices is not without repercussions. Maryse Davies continues: “The financial cost is easy to understand and we made a decision not to invoke any form of clawback if someone leaves. Yet the hidden cost of investing so greatly in qualifications has been the disruption to the offices with people on training and study leave.”
For the people involved it has been a somewhat nerve-wracking experience, as Senior Letting Manager Deborah Blanchard describes: “Some of us haven’t taken an exam for a while and nobody wants to fail an exam in front of their peers. However, as the training progressed – and we started to understand the style of the questions – our confidence grew and the idea of an exam became less daunting.” In fact,
Chairman Mary Channer put herself forward to be the first person in the company to take the Technical Award (and Deborah got 100% in Module 2 which her teammates have not let her live down).
Finders Keepers has a track record of investing heavily in training. In 2010 they became the first letting or estate agent in the UK in five years to win a National Training Award. Maryse Davies explains why their ongoing training programme was recognised: “We know that clients hate the disruption of their contacts leaving and several years ago our Property Manager turnover was too high. We decided to design a bespoke training programme for each person with a 1:1 training needs analysis each autumn. We used internal and external trainers across a carefully selected range of topics.
“We have concentrated on building the confidence of our younger Property Managers. Our turnover has dropped and we have saved tens of thousands of pounds in both recruitment fees and the hidden costs of on-boarding new staff. We continue to have a detailed, progressive training schedule teaching staff everything from ‘The Art of Letter Writing’ to ‘Accounts for Non-Accounts People’. The National Training Award judges seemed impressed by the huge amount of information we had detailing each step of our training process for the past three years.”
All this training might explain the company’s long service statistics. At the Annual Staff Meeting awards were given out for a total of 110 years for 10 people, with Director Frank Webster celebrating 25 years working as a letting agent in Oxford by watching a video, set to Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’, of his workmates, friends and family congratulating him on his achievement before receiving a standing ovation from the whole company. It was hard to tell if he had tears in his eyes. Each member of staff is given £500 (net, not gross) for each five years they serve. 18% of the company have been with Finders Keepers for over 10 years and the average tenure is over six years.”