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The Warsaw Voice » Real Estate » May 14, 2008
The Real Estate Voice
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Battling Staff Shortages
May 14, 2008   
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Beata Radomska, president of headhunters and human resources specialists Cigno Consulting in Warsaw, talks with Agnieszka Domańska.

Poland's current good economic situation has resulted in an abundance of vacancies in the labor market. You even hear of employers in various sectors having difficulty finding people that are keen to work. Is the situation as bad in the real-estate sector?
I think that unfortunately it is difficult. For many months we have observed firms in the sector having increasing problems in finding suitable employees. The situation in the sector-and here I include developers, construction firms, designers, property managers and various project contractors-is one that definitely benefits the job seeker. The problem is that there is a lack of highly qualified people to do technical and engineering work, to project manage and to do specialized jobs such as project valuation.

What in your opinion is the main reason for this situation?
There are several reasons that are widely talked about such as labor migration from Poland to other European Union countries and the inadequate number of students taking courses at technical universities. However, to accurately answer the question, it is necessary to take a quick look at what has been happening in the Polish real-estate sector over the past several years. In the 1990s, a person with basic knowledge of a foreign language and a technical education could expect an excellent job in real estate. The situation changed at the end of the decade when demand for real estate slumped for the first time and other European Union markets were not yet open to Poles. The result of the drop in the number of building projects and what I would term a slowdown on construction sites was a decidedly greater number of qualified candidates than jobs on offer in the real-estate sector. For example, in 2000, a contract manager with 10 years of experience and knowledge of a foreign language was earning 7,000 zlotys (some 2,000 euros) a month and the odds of getting a job were one in five. Because of the slump in the market at the time, dramatically fewer people decided to train to work in the sector. First of all there were fewer building technicians, who in a natural progression had gone on to take construction courses at technical universities. Very soon after Poland joined the European Union in 2004, the market situation reversed again. The real-estate market became one of the propellers of the Polish economy in the new economic reality. Rapid economic growth and new investment in infrastructure opened up unexpected career opportunities for construction engineers. Firms, including many foreign ones, had to fight to get people. On the other hand, people quickly discovered that with the same qualifications, they could earn much more abroad. Language was not an insurmountable barrier since technical language is pretty much universal. Thus a large number of Polish specialists left for Britain, Ireland, Spain and Germany, leaving a labor shortage in Poland. Those people who were determined to follow a career abroad have remained abroad, but some have returned after being sought by headhunters and because Polish earnings are now comparable with those abroad. To summarize: in general Poland is currently experiencing dynamic economic growth and in particular the construction sector is acting like litmus paper and sparking the growth. To this we must also add preparations for the Euro 2012 soccer championships co-hosted by Poland. This means a huge wave of projects for the whole building sector. Incidentally, as a headhunting firm we have an ever-growing demand from clients for experts in sports infrastructure. But there is still an exodus of qualified people and firms cannot fill vacancies.

All this results in substantially higher wage demands by the sought-after specialists, which in turn increases building firms' operating costs, a Gordian knot. It seems that soon we are likely to have a serious crisis in the real-estate sector because of a lack of hands, or rather brains, to work.
Maybe calling the situation a Gordian knot is an exaggeration but paradoxical instances exist whereby foreign firms employ foreigners in Poland because they are cheaper than local workers. There are, however, definitive signs that the situation will improve. First of all it is not wholly the case that firms have no one to choose from and are doomed to employing just anyone. There are a lot of people looking for work but who do not necessarily have the necessary qualifications for a given job. We are talking about education above all: an engineering degree for example; experience, best confirmed by building-skill certification, and reasonable knowledge of foreign languages. Such employees are indeed difficult to find but firms can meet their recruitment needs to some degree by employing people who have at least some of the required skills. Secondly, there are currently signs that the market is slowing and stabilizing. Official data attests to this, as do our observations of economic policy. Every day our employees are in direct contact with supply and demand on the labor market in the real-estate sector. We talk to the CEOs of leading real-estate firms. The information and experience that we have collated point to a slowdown in wage demands, partly because firms often are not in a financial position to meet these demands.

We already know which kinds of specialists real-estate firms are looking for. With regard to job supply, is it possible to identify any one particular group among potential job candidates?
Today the situation on the labor market in the construction sector looks like this. We have a leading group of potential employees who can speak foreign languages, and have work experience gained by working for big firms and on big projects. They are mobile and are seeking new challenges, and are aged under 40 years. They are very flexible when it comes to new jobs and thus are eagerly sought after by potential employers. Because of the wealth of job offers, members of this group are very selective and not keen to change employers often, to not be regarded as flighty employees. These factors result in this group being not easily accessible and relatively costly to employ. A second group consists of people with experience and qualifications, but with references from smaller or specialist firms. This does not necessarily mean that they are inferior workers, but that they may need training. This takes up both their time and that of the employer. The last and interesting group consists of people with good qualifications but without sufficient knowledge of foreign languages. These people can only count on lower-rung jobs, mainly on domestic projects. They will not be employed on a project abroad where reports and documentation need to be written in a foreign language.

Cigno Consulting has much experience with regard to recruitment of people for the real-estate sector. I understand that in these difficult conditions you are able to ideally match a candidate to a specific job and that you have ways in which to help firms that are urgently searching for people.

It is true that we have been rather successful for many years in helping firms solve their problems with regard to finding suitable employees for various positions. On the other hand, we also help those who are looking for work. Suffice it to say that our consultants currently fill several tens of vacancies monthly. I think that one of Cigno Consulting's secrets to success is its wide-reaching branch network with offices in many countries. At the same time we have job vacancies, information and data from all over the world, which makes us more effective and flexible.
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