Like every other parent, I’m always looking for fun, educational groups for my six-year-old son. A couple of months ago, I enrolled him in Hot Chocolate Club — a group of kids who meet after school to plan their first business, a hot chocolate stand. They think through everything from advertising to pricing and they end the course by actually setting up shop for a day.

While my son was busy working on a marketing plan (those prime-time TV spots were really going to kill the budget!), I started thinking about the role of education in commercial real estate. As in any industry, the property managers who excel are the ones who enter ready to hit the ground running — and ready to continue to build their skills.

In particular, I see five things that students of any age can do to get ready for a career in property management.

1. GET A HEAD START

It’s no secret that — whether dealing with property management or investment sales — the goal of our business is to help our clients make financially prudent decisions with their assets. Many students don’t study finance and economics until college, if at all.

But extracurricular activities for grade school children, like Hot Chocolate Club, are a lot more comprehensive than they used to be. By setting up a lemonade stand on steroids, a rite of passage is turned into a learning moment. Helping kids develop an intrinsic understanding of money and economics is exciting. Best of all, camps advance to more complex concepts as students get older to hold their interest.

2. DON THAT CAP AND GOWN

The same logic that parents have been drilling into their kids’ heads for generations still holds: Nothing compares to the value of a college degree. A growing number of universities have been offering real estate — and property management — degrees since the ‘80s. IREM even maintains a list on their website.

3. SEEK OUT PRACTICAL TRAINING

Along with more than 30 of my peers, I work with the Virginia Tech Real Estate Industry Advisory Board to help the next generation of commercial real estate professionals get a head start. Students learn practical skills they’ll need on the job, like budgeting, capital planning, project management, Argus modeling and individual mentoring.

There may not be an equivalent at all schools, but most industry organizations take sincere interest in helping students and can provide information on their specific programs.

4. ACCELERATE YOUR EARLY CAREER

I always advise young professionals to take any internships or development opportunities available. As any employer will admit, nothing matches real world experience. Structured programs offer ways to get this without the pressure of delivering results immediately, and usually in a sequence that makes sense. In several markets, we have a great program that helps new real estate professionals accelerate their careers.

5. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK

Location might be what most people think of when discussing real estate, but more important than that is maintaining a healthy circle of friends and colleagues. Opportunities — from job billets to contracts — come from people.

By building your network, you have a better chance of getting a heads-up on an opportunity or even an invitation to an interview or important meeting. You never know who you might meet, so attend as many events as you can and strive for good impressions.

EDUCATION: EARLY AND OFTEN

Massive growth in the computer science sector birthed an array of integrated science and technology, information technology, cyber-security and networking degrees and educational programs at all levels. Given the strong foundation the commercial real estate industry is built on and the stable growth we anticipate, focused education will only become more and more important.

If nothing else, your kids might be able to teach you a little about the economy or make you a hot chocolate!

A mentor, a real estate executive and a mom, Karen spends time all over the map. If she isn’t traveling, Karen is busy with everything from IREM to Virginia Tech’s Real Estate program. When she has a few minutes to spare, she considers it a personal mission to find new homes for all of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue’s four-legged companions.