As in any industry, in ours there are many many roles. From corporate HQ designations familiar to any multi national to the on the ground locally based relo pro, there’s a role for pretty much any experience.
But in order to inhabit the role of the on the ground relo pro (and there are many names and titles for this role, but here at EuRA we use the term Relocation Consultant or RC) you need a skill set that would rival most C-Suite execs.
It will come as no surprise that the most sought after experiential background for RC’s is an expat. Bringing real world knowledge of the issues that face the globally mobile workforce and family is so key to building the relationship that will help establish the assignee and family into the new location. My families experiences of relocating were not positive. In the 1970’s well before corporate relocation services were really recognised internationally, we were moved to first the US and then to central America. On arriving in DC we were met by the wife of a colleague of my fathers and that was pretty well all the assistance we had. On arriving in Belize, we were met by a representative of the British army medical corps and given mosquito medication. And that was it. How times have changed! But it was being on the receiving end of such basic assistance that prompted many founders of destination services providers (DSP) to start their businesses based on the sole premise that they could do it better.
Hiring RC’s within a DSP is the cornerstone of great service. We can all have the most up to date kit, the best tech, awesome app based tracking and phenomenal quality control (thank you EuRA Global Quality Seal) but without those incredible RC’s and their awe inspiring skill sets, it is worth as of nothing.
These are the skills DSP’s look for when hiring;
The Social Worker
In depth knowledge of how things work. How to access healthcare and social welfare is a huge challenge in Europe and being correctly registered is key. Knowing what expats are entitled to and how they access them takes the skills of a statutory social worker! If the family need access to socialised medicine, the RC’s social work skills are key. If the assignee has children, are there benefits available to support child-care? A growing family? How do they access maternity and post birth community care? Where there is a special educational or health need, in depth knowledge of social systems is vital. I studied for four year to nee a state registered social worker, focussing on housing and mental health and trust me, this skill set is critical for assignees!
Relocation is a human service, a people business. Counselling skills are built around three core conditions being fulfilled within the relocation relationship. Empathy is the ability to be able to see things from the point of view of another and working in such a multi cultural industry as ours, this is a huge thing! Congruence is how we walk beside someone, seeing the journey through their eyes and feeling it from their shoes. Unconditional positive regard is staying unfailingly supportive of the assignee and family, regardless of how we feel personally. These are really skills! When working with someone whose values are not necessarily aligned with ours, unconditional positive regard can be a difficult objective to fulfil. This is where the RC excels as psychologist.
The Real Estate Broker
Need to see through those online listings? Need to know whether a 3rd floor walkup in a vibrant location means fabulous brownstone in Brooklyn or decrepit ex local authority block in Hounslow? RC property knowledge is so so important. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether disruption on an Uber-like scale might come to the relocation industry. Certainly IT and AI will change things. But algorithms are not great at people skills and no amount of trawling Zillow for RightMove or any of the other portals will tell you what an RC can. Need to live close to the mosque? There will be large parts of suburban USA where this won’t be possible. If you want to find out certain public data in the US about residential areas, such as crime stats, real estate listing are often barred from revealing such data. The RC will know.
The Relationship Counsellor
The acronym RC also applies to relationship counsellor! The first person to know if the relationship of the newcomer is likely to survive the relocation is the RC! There are many skills in relationship counselling but the key in our world is pick up on any inner reluctance to the move. Members tell us frequently how partners will very often sabotage the househunt piece especially, by finding deal breaker faults with every property. Outright arguing between couples is thankfully rare, but where it does happen, how does the RC deal with it? Is there a duty to feed this back to someone or should confidentiality take precedence? This is always a tough call and often it will be the RC who has first hand understanding of how this assignment will fail due to the relationship being under strain. Sometimes just being able to spot the signs and work with the couple can be enough to bring the real issues out and help start the healing process.
The InterCultural Expert
This is a biggie! Knowledge of how other cultures operate differently from our own is essential in the relocation profession. An obvious example is how we use time. This will impact on the relocation process in so many ways. Geert Hofstede first identified and named this phenomenon as mono chronic versus poly chronic cultures. A mono chronic culture sees time as very linear, moving in a straight line and therefore behaviour is adapted. The day is planned with an agenda and is time defined. A poly chronic culture if just the opposite. Time is fluid and plans change according to need, mood or whim. Imagine that you are from a poly chronic culture and you’re having a two day homesearch in a highly mono culture such as Germany. The RC arrives with the agenda for the day with the first home viewing scheduled for 10:00 and a corresponding school tour scheduled for 11:30. The assignee wants to bond with the RC over coffee and a cake in a traditional German konditorei. Tripadvisor recommends one very close to the hotel. To the assignees, relationship building is much more important than being on time to each appointment. After all, the landlord and the school will understand. The RC has the very tough task of making it clear that in this culture, being on time for the landlord and the school may make the difference between getting the apartment and having the kids happily enrolled in school and settling for a second rate home and a school an hour away. Being sable to do this at the same time as bridging the cultural gap and still building that relationship takes knowledge, understanding and skill.
The Life Coach
One of the reasons EuRA developed the Relocation Coaching Programme in conjunction with Oxford Brookes University was because intercultural knowledge by itself is not a cure all. Take Italy for example. A highly poly chronic culture with a huge emphasis on relationship building, doesn’t mean that all Italians will be late for an appointment! Just because your RC is a born and bred Berliner, does not guarantee they’ll be punctual. Just because a culture as a whole acts a certain way, doesn’t mean every individual conforms the cultural imperative. This is where the RC also has to have all the skills of a life coach, being able to work both with the culture of the assignee but also with them as an individual. Key areas would be listening skills, conflict resolution and an understanding of transactional analysis. Learning styles does this person absorb information from experiencing things or by being told them? This could have a big impact in how the RC structures the settling in process and make it more successful.
So, the skill set of the RC can’t be underestimated and would be pretty difficult to replicate with IT solutions! Right now we are seeing the millennial dynamic affect how relocation services are delivered and it’s a topic of much conversation in the industry. But the millennials of today will become the C-Suite execs with families of tomorrow and then, the RC skill set will be in as much demand as it always was.
Dominic Tidey is the C.O.O. of EuRA, the European Relocation Association. EuRA is the professional industry body for relocation providers and affiliated services. As a non-profit organisation EuRA aims to promote the benefits of a professionally managed relocation to companies with globally mobile employees.