HR Connection: Train or Hire?

The skills it takes to run a successful REALTOR® association are deep and constantly evolving. Today’s associations need social media expertise, consumer marketing know-how, and political skills they didn’t need just a few years ago. And who knows what new talent you’ll need in the next few years?

So how do you keep up: train existing employees, train yourself, outsource, hire freelancers, share resources with other associations?

Whether you look inside or outside of your association for the solution that fits best, plan now to stay ahead of the skills curve.

Train existing employees

Human resource experts often advise to hire for the person, not the skill. This means, ideally, that you’ll hire someone with the smarts and motivation to learn whatever new skill is necessary.

Training existing employees builds loyalty because when the association invests in their continuing education, they feel valued.

The downside of training is that you foot the bill for developing skills your employee may take elsewhere. Hire from outside, and you benefit from someone else’s training expense.

Share with another association

Borrowing staff on an as-needed or regular basis from another REALTOR® association is a cost-effective solution for everything from government affairs to professional standards to technology. Associations can share the bill for freelance or contract help as well, since the products they need are often very similar.

Train yourself 

For single-staff associations, AEs have to take on new responsibilities that often require training. Typically, AEs teach themselves the ins and outs of new technology, for example, or attend state or national association-sponsored training in leadership or professional standards. But occasionally leadership may not fund a required course or seminar. To ensure tomorrow’s training in whatever new skill is required, establish AE professional development as an item in your budget.

Hire freelancers

Outside independent contractors can be an effective solution for both short-term projects and long-term programs. Finding the right contractor at the right price isn’t easy, but online job boards like Craigslist and freelance-worker sites such as are a good place to start.

Although recommendations from friends and colleagues are typically the most reliable way to find quality freelancers, use caution to avoid any perceived favoritism or conflicts of interest.

Outsource to expert companies

When you need more work done than just a few freelancers can take on, consider outsourcing to a specialized company. Associations take this route for newsletter production, for example, which includes writing, designing, and selling advertising.

Seek out talented volunteers

Members abound with skills that associations need. From training members on using social media to organizing fund-raising events, volunteers are the most cost-effective solution, although not always the most reliable. Plan on supervising volunteers more closely than hired help.

Which option is the best?

To help you decide between training and hiring, weigh the pros and cons by asking yourself these questions:

Q. Is the required skill for a one-off project or a regular association function? Contract out or share staff for a one-off or occasional project if the cost is less than training internally. But if the new skill will be needed for your association’s day-to-day operations, competitiveness, or value, then consider training staff as an investment.

Q. Even if you’re willing to learn a new skill (or a staff member is), do you have time to perform the new task, or is it replacing an old one? If you have neither the skills nor the time, outsourcing may be the viable answer, but note, managing outside staff is a time-consuming task in itself.

Q. Will training alone result in the required skill, or are talent and experience also essential? Often you can hire someone with years of accumulated expertise for a fraction of the cost of training yourself. Remember, some skills require aptitude that not everyone can learn.

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