New SCSI President Johanna Gill talks about her plans for the year and the big issues that will be occupying the SCSI during her presidency.
Johanna Gill is preparing for a busy year as SCSI President: “I’m finding my feet and getting a sense of what’s required, but I’m really looking forward to it”.
She’s particularly excited to meet the members, as this is one of her goals for the year: “I’m very conscious that a significant number of our members are in the regions, and they have different issues to deal with. I’m keen to meet as many people as I can, in Dublin and in the regions, and also acrossthe groups”.
She wants to focus on the challenges and traits surveyors have in common: “We tend to work in silos – you’re a quantity surveyor, or a valuer, or an agent. But the problems that we’re dealing with – around Brexit, lack of supply of staff, the housing crisis – affect all areas. We need to try and break down those silos and think about how we can work together”.
A Director at Cushman & Wakefield in Dublin, Johanna heads up the fund valuation team. She became involved in the SCSI when Sean McCormack (later a President of the Society) encouraged her to join the Red Book Working Group. This led to membership of the Valuation Professional Group, the APC
Subcommittee, the Education Standing Committee and, more recently, the Sustainability Working Group. She is a firm believer in getting involved in one’s professional association: “In the SCSI, we have so many members from different professional groups and in different locations. If we don’t have lots of different people challenging the plan, we won’t be able to do the best thing for everybody”.
Johanna has identified three key priorities for the year. As mentioned earlier, she wants to encourage more member engagement: “A lot of the time people are not really sure how to get involved, so I’m really keen to try and break down some of those unknowns and make people realise that actually it’s fairly straightforward. You put your hand up and say ‘I’ll do something’, and you do it. Also I think people think that they have to commit to being on a committee or a group and you don’t. If we could get more people involved as APC assessors, or doing an hour’s CPD event, that’s not a big commitment but it makes such a difference”.
With staff shortages right across the sector, a second priority is continuing to raise the profile of the profession among young people in second level who are considering their career options. The Society is looking to see how it can partner with other groups to achieve this, including supporting member businesses: “We’re looking at potentially doing a Transition year programme or, in conjunction with members, a programme that member firms could use with guidance around, for example, what you might do with a Transition year student on work experience in your office”.
For Johanna, it’s about getting the message across that this is a great industry to work in: “If you get talking to a surveyor, most of them will very quickly become quite animated about how they love their job and the different things they do every day, how exciting it is. It really is a great career, and I think we need to sell that more. We need to be very proud of that”.
If you get talking to a surveyor, most of them will very quickly become quite animated about how they love their job and the different things they do every day, how exciting it is.
Building better buildings
Johanna’s third priority for the year is the topical, and vital, issue of sustainability: “It impacts across all groups in terms of how we use commercial, residential and civic spaces. For new buildings it’s easy. you’re starting from scratch and you need to look at the products that you’re putting into the building, striking a balance between cost and lifecycle cost, and how it’s going to impact on energy use in the future. In terms of existing properties, it’s much harder to retrofit, and can be very costly, but I think we need to start looking at it”.
The benefits reach across the sector: “It’s a benefit for the property owner in terms of better tenant engagement, potentially better value properties, and for businesses in terms of improved productivity, less absenteeism, winning talent. If you have a nice environment to work in, people are attracted to that”.
She feels that developers are thinking along those lines, and for a variety of motivations: “At the end of the day a lot of people are in business to make money and developers are not necessarily building an environmentally or person-friendly building because they think it’s the right thing to do, they’re building it because they think it’s potentially going to be worth more, or the tenant is going to pay more for it. But if we’re getting the right result in terms of better buildings, that’s fine”.
The SCSI’s working group on sustainability is providing CPD to members, and the autumn conference will also have a focus on sustainability: “The Government has now declared a climate emergency, and as surveyors we’re really well placed to advise and guide, and to facilitate change. We need to stand up and be counted, get involved and change our ways of delivering the end product. One of our remits as a Society is to benefit wider society. That is part of our DNA if you like, and it is very important”.
The elephant in the room
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about issues in property and construction without talking about the housing crisis: “We can’t have a situation where we’ve got governments coming in and out and people doing things because of a local election. We need to have a long-term, properly thought-out strategy that we can deliver”.
She feels that while the entry of commercial landlords into the sector has met with some criticism, they have had a positive impact: “They’ve done a lot to improve the quality of the rental market and our rental product, and I do think there’s a place for them”.
The same applies to the recently mooted ‘co-living’ concept: “Of course that’s not going to solve
the housing crisis, but it is providing a product for a certain cohort”.
She welcomes the fact that the SCSI continues to engage with the Government on these issues, and hopes that these interventions will bear fruit: “I think [the Government is] open to our views. There’s never been a closed door, but it’s more about what they are doing with that information”.
With the bad old days of recession behind us, there is evidence all around of economic growth and, to an extent at least, a return to the good times. But Ireland as ever is subject to external forces, such as our dependence on foreign direct investment, including significant investment in property, and the ever-present spectre of Brexit.
Indeed, the OECD recently expressed concerns about these very issues. Johanna shares the concerns, but feels that the Ireland of 2019 is very different to that of 2005: “If you look at the stats in terms of GDP, consumption, unemployment, all of those point to a solid economy and good growth, but Ireland is a very small, open economy, and we’re very much dependent on what happens elsewhere. The presence of international investors in Ireland from a property perspective has helped the market hugely. It’s put in an element of professionalism, and long-term thinking, that we didn’t have last time. Subject to the risks around what happens globally, they could pull out, but I don’t personally see that that’s any more of a risk compared to where we were before”.
Johanna remains “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for the sector, and the economy in general: “I’m a valuer so I’m always a bit cautious, even when everything seems to be absolutely fine! So much depends on things that we have no control over. The falling consumer sentiment in February/March did concern me, but I think that was an adjustment that needed to happen because
people hadn’t really thought about how Brexit, for example, was going to impact them. I think the
moderation on the residential side is also a good thing in terms of the longevity of the market. I think we needed a little bit of a sense check because strong levels of growth like we’ve had over the last number of years are not sustainable”.
Since taking on the role of President, Johanna says she has been overwhelmed by the kind messages and offers of support she’s received from across the industry, and reiterates her wish to be available to members throughout the year: “If somebody wants to get in touch, just drop me a note and we’ll meet up for coffee or a chat. I’m hoping to attend regional CPD events and committee meetings so I will be out and about around the country”.
She’s also keen to remind members of the fantastic resource that is available to them in the Society’s headquarters in Merrion Square: “We’re just finishing the refurbishment, and the building is available now. If people are in town and they need somewhere to sit for a couple of hours, or if they wish to use a meeting room, it’s a terrific resource and it would be great to see the building used more intensively”.
The accidental surveyor
From Ballinteer in Dublin, Johanna says that she became a surveyor by accident: “I had no family in property at all. I stumbled across the two-year certificate in Auctioneering, Valuations and Estate Agency in Bolton Street and thought it would be interesting – two years and then I could sell houses. I very quickly realised that it wasn’t actually about selling houses at all! It was about commercial property and all sorts of other things and I loved it from the word go”.
Johanna went on to complete her degree at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. She worked in the UK for ten years before returning to Dublin in 2005 to work with DTZ, which became Cushman & Wakefield. In her spare time she tries to find time to run and cycle, and at the time of our interview was preparing to take part in the Ring of Beara cycle. She also loves to read, although her book club is taking a backseat this year as she concentrates on her SCSI duties.
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