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12 Things You Missed at CampusConnex on Day 1


Employee development and customer service took center stage last week at CampusConnex.

NAA’s revamped CampusConnex was presented last month in Orlando. For those who didn’t attend, here’s what you missed:

1. Terminator is Coming

Alex O'Brien, Chief Operating Officer for Cardinal Group Cos., says the idea of the “company man” who works decades for one company has been dead for awhile. “People blame Millennials, but really, three to five years has been the normal job tenure since the 1980s,” O’Brien says. In response, companies began building systems to compensate for employee migration, which led to investment in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). “We don’t yet understand the impact that those technologies will have on our careers,” O’Brien says.

2. Ways to Fight Terminator

While the future may seem scary to some workers, there are things they can do to prepare themselves. “The best defense against AI is to focus on yourself,” O’Brien says. “There are so many things you can do to build on your skillset. Machines don’t have that.” Finding the right company and mentor can also help an employee to continue to grow. “If you don't think talent matters, look at my shirt and how one person can completely change an organization,” O’Brien says. 

3. Talent Still Matters

O’Brien walked out for his presentation wearing a blazer. Underneath he wore a t-shirt with LeBron James wearing a King’s crown. He wore the shirt to make a point: talent still matters, whether it is the student or professional sports. LeBron’s talent catapulted his teams multiple NBA championships during his career. “If you don’t think adding talent can’t change things, look at my shirt,” O’Brien said.

4. Life Happens Here

If you are a student housing operator, Daniel Oltersdorf, Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President for Campus Advantage, thinks the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Why are you in this business?” For him, the answer is the opportunity to positively impact the lives of college students as they mature into adults. “It is about lives, not beds,” he says. “It is also critical to understand these students’ priorities and pain points. What is the why of your students and their parents? This is what sets the foundation for true differentiating customer service.”

5. Amenities Beyond Pool Parties

Oltersdorf’s pursuit of the “why” led him to offer services that would give his residents a boost as they entered the real world. Campus Advantage opened a career success portal that allows residents to research companies and jobs and even participate in mock interviews. It also launched a credit reporting service that helps his residents build the financial footing needed to qualify for their first car loans without a cosigner. “This provides a difference in someone’s life,” he says.

6. It’s Hard to Let Go (of Amenities) 

As Campus Advantage added the career success portal and credit reporting, it kept its traditional amenities and activities. “People want pool parties, cooking classes and fitness centers,” Oltersdorf says. “They want Taco Tuesday.” And, they still want the types of amenities that Oltersdorf would rather not offer. “We still haven’t gotten rid of all of the tanning beds,” he says. “Fundamentally, we’d like to get rid of them and convert them to package locker rooms.”

7. Employment Opportunities Abound 

When Heather R. Sizemore, CAPS, Vice President, University Relations for The Michaels Organization, Student Living, entered the student housing industry, there were only a handful of large firms in the space. Now, as student housing has become an institutional asset class, there are no shortage of large employers. “The opportunities are tenfold compared to when I entered the business,” she says. “That means employees have more choices.”

8. Fierce Competition 

With a tight labor market and more large employers, student housing operators have to be at the top of their game to attract talent. One way for employers to set themselves apart is through training. “We need to acknowledge what they want,” Sizemore says. “We need to pay for education and training to help them be successful.”

9. Work-Life has Changed

With the advent of smart devices, everyone is plugged in all the time. Companies need to realize that sometimes employees need the space to dial it back from their work duties. “You still have to have work-life balance,” Sizemore says. “Having a company that appreciates its employees’ personal time is important.”

10. Tech Does Not Replace Customer Service

While conventional wisdom is that this current crop of college students does not want to talk to people, they still need to express themselves through human interface. “Technology is a means not an ends,” says Alexandra Jackiw, CAPS, COO for Hayes Gibson Property Services. “You have to have nice people.”

11. There is Such a Thing as Survey Fatigue 

Student housing operators survey residents at many times throughout their time at a community, including after move-in, after maintenance requests are completed and many others. “All of the surveys are important,” Jackiw says. “But we can also get survey fatigue. We need to pay attention to that as we think about where high tech stops and high touch begins.”

12. Reviews aren’t the only thing

Jackiw says that 47 percent of students looked at reviews before making a decision about where to live. “What are the other 53 percent thinking about [when they made their decision about where to live],” she asked. “More than likely, they were thinking about the interactions that they had. That is the high-touch piece we need to be thinking about.”

If you missed a session or two at CampusConnexNAAEI's REWIND program offers 13 PowerPoint-synced audio sessions, plus all four of the TED-style talks by industry experts during the CampusConnex Lab!