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"Without the co-op program, I probably would not be working here right now,” says Tony Kwan, Real Estate Advisor for Accommodation and Portfolio Management at Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC)


Kwan graduated from Sauder in 2010 with a BCom, Real Estate Major, and two work terms under his belt in the Sauder Real Estate Co-op Program. Today, he is completing his Accredited Appraiser Canadian Institute (AACI) designation through the Post Graduate Certificate in Valuation (PGCV) program and looking forward to a career in valuation.

“Being involved with the program has been a rich experience for me," says Kwan. "Mentoring young people in the workplace ensures vitality and continual improvement through learning. I look forward to continuing my office’s participation In this program.”

In 2009, for his eight-month co-op term, Kwan worked with Gary Nakagawa, Regional Manager, Valuation Program, Pacific Region at PWGSC. “Gary is a champion of the student work experience and getting people involved in the industry,” says the Candidate appraiser, adding that Nakagawa insisted that students network at Appraisal Institute of Canada (AIC) events.

“The staff at PWGSC is very good at career mentoring.”

It was Nakagawa who approached Sauder to suggest that the school add opportunities for students specializing in real estate to its co-op program, thus enabling them to participate in work experience - one eight-month and one four-month term - for university credit. Students can apply to the co-op program at the beginning of their third year of study, the same year in which Sauder offers two courses in valuation. They must have a minimum 72 per cent average and demonstrate aptitude and experience in such areas as teamwork, leadership and other qualities sought by employers. 

One of those qualities is an interest in real estate. “I do not have to preach to them about real estate,” says Nakagawa of the 27 students - 20 in the Vancouver office - who have worked at PWGSC as part of the program. “They have already committed the time.”

Students are selected by Sauder’s Business Co-op Program through an interview process and then undergo a second round of interviews with prospective employers, who make the final decision. 

Shawn Toreson is another of the co-op students who feels fortunate to have had Nakagawa as a mentor. Toreson joined Sauder’s Real Estate Club during his third year so that he could connect with professors and industry contacts.

“From there, it was a logical decision to enter the co-op program,” says the Candidate appraiser, who now works with the Altus Group. “You make your decision to go into real estate between second and third year, when you still have little understanding of what it is all about. By doing a work co-op at PWGSC, I hoped to learn more about the industry and whether this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” 

Toreson also appreciated the introduction to a professional environment, as did Scott Sutherland for whom the experience at PWGSC was also his first office job. “I thought it would be a great way to gain some practical experience while still going to school,” recalls Sutherland. “The first-hand experience gave me a good introduction to what jobs were available within real estate and within the private and public sectors. At that point, I was figuring things out and the experience made me consider even more strongly a career in valuation."

In fact, he enjoyed working at PWGSC so much that, after completing the eight month experience, which starts at the end of the third academic year, he returned for his final four-month stint in the middle of his fourth year. His first experience was in the valuation section, while the second was with a group in the real estate section that dealt with accommodations and portfolio management.

Today, he is pursuing his AACI designation and works with Burgess, Cawley Sullivan & Associates Ltd., a commercial real estate appraisal firm operating out of Vancouver.

Along with connecting classroom learning to its application, the students have access to a broad range of learning opportunities. “You get to touch a lot of different asset types,” notes Kwan. “If you are interested in pursuing a career in real estate, it can help you determine an area of specialization.” 

Co-op placements help students gain a better sense of what they want to do, along with some of the business contacts to pursue their dreams. “They graduate with 12 months of very relevant experiences,” says Lynne Murchie, manager of Sauder’s Business Co-op Programs. “What I love about Public Works is that students not only get great fundamental business and real estate knowledge, but also a wide exposure to a variety of areas they may not have considered in terms of pursuing a career – areas such as appraisal.” 

Phil Kempton, AACI, P.App, concurs. The Regional Manager of the Valuation Program for PWGSC’s Ontario Region aims to give students a taste of different types of work to round out their abilities. The work can involve everything from reviewing real estate market reports, appraisal reports and consulting documents, to writing internal valuation reports, which are then reviewed and discussed with senior employees.

Other tasks include conducting market research, supporting the team on expropriation projects, confirming market data by conducting market surveys, and assisting in valuation of federal real estate and leased properties. The experience allows the co-op students to gain valuable understanding of real estate values and trends. 

The Toronto office first became involved in the Sauder Real Estate Co-op Program in 2012 and is currently hosting its second student. “My colleague, Gary Nakagawa has been such a fervent champion of the program that we decided to participate,” says Kempton.

PWGSC’s Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program (PILT), Western Region also became involved in the program in 2011, with a total of five students so far. In the Edmonton office, students consider Canadian and global real estate behaviour, including real-world examples that relate directly to their UBC courses.

In contrast to the sample data of the academic environment, they conduct research to find and analyze market data related to a specific property or category. Over the past few years, students have filled such positions as leasing-PILT market analyst and real estate service-accommodation market analyst.

“When the students work with me, our most interesting projects include valuation modeling, discounted cash flow land development analyses, and researching/analyzing major commercial market data across Canada,” says Regional Manager Rod Malcolm, AACI, P.App. “It always makes my day when students find a challenging property issue and ask for a discussion on why the market behaved the way it did.” They also show interest in discussions on how Canadian valuation jurisprudence provides important guidance to valuation professionals. 

He adds that the students have positively influenced the work environment through youthful enthusiasm, great interest in real estate analysis, curiosity over market behaviour and willingness to consider experienced perspectives. “The students are also quite willing to travel across Canada to seek interesting and challenging opportunities,” says Malcolm. 

Nakagawa is pleased to see the program expanding across the country. “These students are eager to learn about real estate in other cities, if a firm is willing to take them on,” he says. “The AIC has a real opportunity to leverage its partnership with UBC and encourage member companies to take part in the program.” 

He adds that students in real estate are typically drawn to careers in development. “The more appraisal firms across Canada that hire co-op students, the more exposure there will be for valuation as a viable career option,” he says, noting that graduates regularly come back to boast about the program to the next co-op cohort. 

“I believe these students are the future of the industry,” echoes Malcolm. “We try to make them aware of the many opportunities that exist in both the public and private sectors.” 

Kwan points out that he would probably not have realized all the advantages of working in the public sector had he not had the opportunity to work as a co-op student at PWGSC. Today, he fulfills the role he shadowed as a student, managing the purchase and sale of Crown land and property, and offering consultation services to government departments on a variety of real estate needs. PWGSC is also subsidizing his pursuit of an AACI designation by paying for his PGCV courses. 

“It is in our self-interest at Public Works to be involved in the co-op program, even if only a small number of students become part of a badly needed future workforce,” notes Nakagawa. “We need a strong and mature private sector with a diversity of appraisers. We contract out. We cannot know every market.” 

Kempton agrees that the co-op program helps to build a strong and diverse valuation industry and adds that the mentors benefit as much as the mentees. “Often, teaching someone is a way to refresh one’s own knowledge of the subject being taught,” he reflects. “Being involved with the PWGSC-Sauder real estate co-op partnership program has been a rich experience for me. Mentoring young people in the workplace ensures vitality and continual improvement through learning. I look forward to continuing my office’s participation in this program.”

*Originally published in Canadian Property Valuation magazine (Vol 57, Book 3, 2013).