Wind back 50 years and real estate offices in Australia discovered a useful extra income stream: helping owners of small blocks of units or flats to create and manage a separate legal entity though which issues relating to common property such as driveways, shared lawns, elevators swimming pools or shared utility services were managed.

Nowadays, the owners corporation management industry looks after more than 270,000 different strata schemes covering more than two million properties housing around seven million people with an asset base worth around $1.3 trillion.

By 2030, industry representative body Strata Community Association (SCA) says that will increase to around $2 trillion. As well as small blocks, strata management now covers inner urban apartment complexes with hundreds of dwellings and owners.

With that growth, the industry is raising its profile and establishing itself as a profession. In January, SCA announced a new partnership with RMIT and Strata Community Insurance to offer nationally recognised strata qualifications. As well as a Certificate IV introduced in February, a Certificate III and Diploma are expected later this year. Such moves, SCA (formerly Strata Community Australia) CEO Kim Henshaw said, would see cowboy operators ‘weeded out of the sector.’

Bottom line: strata is now a serious profession and career opportunity.

SCA national president Erik Adriaanse said Australia’s strata sector has in the past suffered from knowledge gaps as well as a lack of formal governance and education. With the sector having grown out of real estate, Adriaanse says the distinction between the two has not always been clearly understood, and the fact that strata managers deal with a multitude of state laws regarding common property and complex trust fund arrangements has not been fully appreciated. Partly because of this, along with a lack of effective governance structures for the industry, he says there have been past cases of mistakes made by strata managers because of a lack of knowledge.

Adriaanse says the new qualifications will provide both residents of units and apartments with a mechanism by which to select suitably qualified managers and strata companies and managers with an avenue through which to compete on knowledge and expertise rather than price. In turn, this will help further raise standards.

He says there will be flow on effects as larger players absorb smaller rivals who are less well placed to absorb costs associated with training and accreditation.

As this takes place, the industry is scrambling to find people to manage the growing number and complexity of schemes.

“The challenge for us and for all of our colleagues in our industry is where are we going to find adequately skilled people to come and work in our business to manage these clients and other things that strata managers need to do,” said Michael Vumbaca, CEO of Sydney based Jamesons Strata Management.

“That’s not an issue which is just facing us. When I speak to other business owners out there (in strata), they are all talking about the same challenge.”

According to Vumbaca, the skill set required has evolved and firms like his now look for university qualified candidates with expertise in areas such as management, finance or law. Since a complex involving 100 apartments would involve dealing with 40 or 50 real estate agents, possibly 50 tenants as well as owners and a building manager, stakeholder engagement skills are critical as are organisational abilities.

Vumbaca says the role of the strata manager is becoming more complex as owners seek to derive increasing value from their asset and compliance requirements which did not exist 15 years ago are now in place in areas such as window locks, swimming pool fences, fire safety and lift certification.

Karen Stiles, executive officer of the Owners Corporation Network which represents owners corporations, said the strata sector through SCA’s leadership is undergoing transformation under which it aspired to become a profession.

“It has grown out of small real-estate agency offices doing that (strata) on the side where it was a straightforward three storey walk-up and the laws were pretty simple,” Styles said.

“That’s now no longer the case. You now have community schemes which are worth three billion dollars – that’s billion with a ‘B’. They are extremely complex entities to be managing and it now requires much more of an industry professional to manage those much larger and more complex schemes that are sprouting up particularly in major cities.”

Styles agrees about the challenges in finding suitable managers. Thus far, she says the growth in apartments and strata schemes has not been matched by increases in numbers of suitably qualified personnel. Accordingly, she says there have been cases where first-time managers were managing properties which were beyond their skill and experience level.

Styles says OCN would like to see strata management being promoted as a career path. For instance, she said the sector could be promoted to law graduates – many of whom experienced challenges in finding work in law upon graduation but whose legal and analytical skills would be well suited for them to upskill in strata management.

As for raising professional standards, Styles says the new qualifications are a welcome step. Going forward, however, she would like to see greater focus upon continuing professional development and a more targeted focus upon CPD with a focus on activities which deliver a direct benefit to managers in their roles.

Adriaanse says SCA is working on promoting strata education through relationships with tertiary institutions, sharing knowledge through measures such as benchmarking reports and engaging in advocacy to raise awareness about policy issues impacting the sector. Four states which do not yet have chapter status for SCA (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia), are at various stages of amending their constitutions to become chapters – a process Adriaanse says will raise the profile of SCA as a national organisation and with it the reputation of the industry as a sector with a leading body.

SCA is also expanding internationally and has added a New Zealand chapter – a process Adriaanse says should facilitate international knowledge sharing as well as opportunities for Australian strata managers in overseas markets.

Vumbaca said raising awareness about the opportunities and earning potential available through strata is critical.

“You are solving problems and helping to grow the assets of your client,” he says. “I thoroughly enjoy the work I do.

“But it’s going to be an ongoing challenge for us to find good people.”