Harald Steiner

CEO / European Real Estate Brand Institute


shortage of skilled workers

Employer Branding promotes visibility

Imagine you want to build or renovate a house, but you can’t find a builder, an architect or a handyman. Well, you’d be in precisely the same situation as the real estate industry is. Two out of three real estate companies in Germany urgently want to implement innovations and changes, but can’t find the qualified personnel they need to do so. And the current shortage of skilled workers is widespread. A series of new studies, including research from InWIS (commissioned by the European Training Center, ECB), have hard figures to back this up.

Where is the talent?

In the housing and real estate industry, 62 per cent of companies complain that the labour market does not currently offer a big enough pool of competent staff. This is particularly clear among property and project developers, almost 90 per cent of whom are finding it difficult to recruit the staff they need. In property and housing management, the figure is 78 per cent overall and 71 per cent among larger housing companies. Yet the companies lack neither the will to expand their workforces nor are they short of underlying challenges: climate change, the need for new buildings and the development of new business fields are three exemplary “construction sites” that require the deployment of personnel asap.  Keyword new business fields: In order to deliver on the opportunities presented by digital transformation – and I don’t just mean smart buildings – and to implement new Internet of Things systems, artificial intelligence and blockchain applications, companies need qualified IT experts with real estate expertise.  And here, too, as with the house builder in the opening paragraph, the real estate industry cannot find the people it needs.

Last but not least, pressure to act is mounting in boardrooms throughout the industry. According to the InWIS education study, more than 20 per cent of managers are due to retire over the next five to seven years. It will not be any easier to replace the strategic decision-makers than the operational specialists.

Where is the problem?

One could now try to pass the buck to others for the glaring shortage of skilled workers – to the supposedly tight labour market or to politicians and education authorities, for example, who may have failed to adequately adapt the provision of education to modern requirements. It would, of course, make far more sense to look at one’s own situation and self-critically enquire: Why is it so difficult for the real estate industry, with all of its financial muscle, to attract qualified personnel?

The fact is (according to reports from recruiters who specialise in real estate) that applications used to pile up in real estate companies’ personnel departments whenever positions were advertised, whereas today companies are frequently forced to commission professional recruitment agencies. Apparently, speculative applications and personally responding to job advertisements are a thing of the past. And there is a good reason for this. The real estate industry has lost a lot of its attractiveness in recent years, becoming almost invisible, especially to people from outside the sector. The latter, i.e. the lack of visibility, can be seen clearly in the survey results of our own new special study, Employer Branding in the Real Estate Industry (REB.Institute and HWR Berlin). According to our study, the real estate industry is not particularly attractive to potential applicants with a background in technical or natural sciences, IT or media or communication sciences – in other words, to the very professionals who could give real estate companies a decisive technical and communication boost in order to tackle and master the urgent challenges that lie ahead.

What needs to happen?

Anyone complaining about a shortage of skilled workers should first check whether their company is doing everything it can to position itself as an attractive employer. There is seldom a lack of talent, but much more often – in the oft-cited war for talent – an inability to persuade the most competent applicants. The motto should be less about demanding something from the outside and more about promoting from within. Retaining the best employees, as with attracting new members of staff, depends first and foremost on one’s own appeal. Employer branding is the magic phrase. And there has never been a better time to take the employer brand to the next decisive level than now in the time of crisis. It is at such moments of factual and perceived instability that doors open and create an opportunity to captivate people with a brand built on values such as security, trust and career prospects. Employee and even customer confidence that a company is doing everything it can to emerge stronger and more together from difficult situations becomes the deciding factor. So when, if not now, does work need to be done on shaping a value-centric employer brand and corporate culture? Nota bene: It’s not a matter of pretending to have values in line with marketing, but of authentically living and communicating values. If this is not the case, a nationwide study by the Haufe Group on the topic of onboarding last year revealed what can happen: More than a third of new employees left during their probationary periods, and around 50 per cent of the surveyed companies said they had problems integrating new employees. A cause for concern.

Self-awareness as a first step

Back to our own special study, which also reveals encouraging findings. It shows that employer branding is a highly relevant topic for real estate companies and is set to gain in importance in the future. The industry is quite self-critical and the real estate companies we surveyed only rate the success of their branding as an attractive employer as satisfactory. They also see a lack of consideration of external perspectives in particular as a deficit. According to the companies themselves, assessing the effectiveness of their employer branding measures was the least professionally implemented facet of a holistic approach, with only a satisfactory to sufficient level.

Self-awareness is the first step on the road to improvement. I am convinced that, in view of the ever more intense competition for the best employees, real estate companies need to rise to the challenge of positioning themselves even better as employer brands. This is an issue of strategic importance and will determine companies’ future success in the competitive marketplace. At the REB.Institute, we are of course staying on top of this topic and have included measurements of Employer Branding as a KPI in our Real Estate Brand Value Study 2021.


With this in mind – continue to nurture your most important asset – your brand

With branded regards
Your Harald Steiner 

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