An interview with Hannah Franke and Mariele Lübker
Hannah Franke (17) is one of the new trainees who have been with the company for a couple of weeks now. She has started her vocational training as an estate agent. Mariele Lübker (22) has been able to call herself an estate agent since August and now works at Gewobag VB/rental property management. Four years ago, Mariele Lübker moved from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to Berlin after her A-levels because she found the range of vocational training opportunities and universities here incredibly varied. Hannah comes from Berlin-Kaulsdorf and still lives with her parents. Directly after her getting her school leaving examinations, she decided to do her vocational training at Gewobag.
How did you end up at Gewobag for your vocational training?
Hannah: I had a look around to see which companies offered vocational training as an estate agent and came across Gewobag online. I found the website very appealing, clear, with lots of information and very colourful. Then there was also the birthday song for Gewobag’s 100th birthday on it. I thought that song was really cool. And then I applied. The job interview in a big assessment centre was great.
Mariele: Like Hannah, I also researched online, initially on the IHK (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) website. They have a very good overview of companies that offer specific vocational training.
Vocational training or a degree course?
Why did you decide to become an estate agent?
Hannah: I had no idea for a long time. I knew I wanted something commercial. At first, I wanted to work at the airport, but decided against it because of the shift system. Then because a friend of mine was also learning to be an estate agent, I got some really good information – and it got me so enthusiastic about it that I had a look into it. The decisive factor for me was the variety and versatility of the profession. I can see that already. I haven’t been here for very long and we’ve already been allowed to do so much. In the office, we process meter readings and are already placing orders. Outside on site, we’ve already been involved in building inspections. The most fascinating thing so far have been the “dead apartments”. These are apartment where, unfortunately, someone has died and they are vacant. Or to be involved when rental agreements are signed. I think dealing with the tenants is really nice.
Mariele: Originally, I started studying straight after my A-levels. I didn’t really have time to think about it and thought: “Okay, you’ve done your A-levels, now you have to study. Then I started studying to be a teacher. But studying wasn’t for me. I felt a bit lost. And then I decided to do something else. I’ve always been interested in architecture and property. My grandad was a civil engineer so I picked up a few things there. He also had a few properties that he managed himself. I was able to look over his shoulder a bit during the holidays and helped out every now and then. And then I thought: yes, why not become an estate agent?
What does the job of an estate agent actually involve?
Hannah: I think it’s about catering for all the tenants’ needs. It starts with the viewing and finishes with the termination. You manage the flat, look after the tenants, and then of course there’s the background work at the office, which the tenants don’t really see much of.
Mariele: Basically, I would say that the job concerns everything to do with property; the management of everything. Looking after tenants obviously is a big part of it and also one of the most important parts of the vocational training. But we also have a lot to do with property financing, construction and planning and, of course, commercial properties. We learn a lot about the legal foundations. In principle, the vocational training includes everything relating to property, such as renting, selling and so on. Everything has been covered by the time you finish your vocational training.
Estate agent and Berlin’s housing industry
What do you find interesting about Berlin’s housing industry?
Mariele: Berlin housing industry’s housing shortage has, of course, been very present for several years now. Especially as an urban enterprise, as Gewobag, we are trying to create living space. And we always tackle it with a social concept. In Germany and in the big cities, housing is generally becoming increasingly scarce. But especially in Berlin it’s probably even more extreme. Being a part of it in some way and being able to help people personally, even just a little, is an exciting task.
Which part of the training did you enjoy most?
Mariele: I actually really enjoyed working with tenants, it’s where we spend most of our time during our vocational training. Because it’s a great combination of office work and external appointments. You have contact with the tenants, with service providers, with customers, with so many groups of people. I found that cool. On the other hand, I also found the construction department very exciting. Just to see how a new building, new living space is created. It was exciting to see how employees there get everything off the ground. Those were my favourite departments.
Vocational training: theory and practice
Hannah, what expectations do you have from the vocational training and the job?
Hannah: Honestly, I don’t have too many expectations; I want to be surprised. I want to become familiar with lots of different aspects. I would also really like to develop myself personally in terms of independence and teamwork. And I want to have fun at work, of course!
What have you found the most interesting so far?
Hannah: Generally, the external appointments. The work with the tenants. I really enjoy working with strangers. At the beginning, it sometimes made me anxious when some of the tenants couldn’t speak German, and I asked myself how I would deal with that. But it ultimately always works out.
And how have the first four weeks of your vocational training been?
Hannah: I have to say it’s been relatively relaxed. We’ve already had lots of training courses, which I think is great. On Monday, I had telephone training. We got lots of tips, we simulated phone calls and got personal feedback. Now I feel much more confident on the phone, both externally and internally.
Were you nervous on your first day? How were you received?
Hannah: Not at all, I have to say. I was totally relaxed. We became familiar with everything, discussed organisational aspects. But I probably wasn’t that nervous because I already felt at ease at the interview.
Mariele: I was actually really nervous at the time. I was fortunate that I knew a trainee from my job interview and that I had a contact person. And then I remember that we got a lot of input on the first day. A lot of organisational aspects. Then we had to learn how to find our way around here in the Spreebogen, right and left and A and B; I got lost so many times. It was a lot at the beginning; I remember all the things we had to note and sign, data protection training and so on.
Expectations and reality in vocational training
Was the vocational training how you imagined it would be?
Mariele: For the most part, yes. But I didn’t know beforehand that you go through all of Gewobag’s departments, which is really exciting. For one thing, you get to know a lot of employees, which is really cool. Today when I walk down the corridor, I know almost every face. I don’t know whether the employees know me too or remember me, but somehow, I’m always able to place them. You make so many contacts during your vocational training. Another thing is that you really get to know every area of work. Everything you learn at vocational school is then directly completed with practical background knowledge.
What skills do you think are needed for this job?
Hannah: I think you can’t be too shy and have to be open to new people and new situations. Independence is important, but so is be being able to work in a team. And put a lot of empathy into it. Especially in Berlin, people are very different, have different personality traits, different needs and everyone understands everything a little differently. Empathy is important to be able to react to this, and yes: fun too.
Mariele: Hannah has touched on everything really well. Empathy is important, especially when you work with tenants later on. I also think that patience is important, that you are able to deal with stress and, above all, that you are reliable. There’s a lot riding on decisions being made and work being done. In most cases, it’s not just one process on its own that is completed, but rather one process leads to the next one. Therefore, you should be responsible and work reliably so that mistakes are not made that then would become bigger and bigger. But as Hannah has already said, independence and teamwork are very important.
Mariele, you are also Hannah’s mentor; what is the mentoring programme about?
Mariele: The mentoring programme is there to provide new trainees with support, especially at the start of their vocational training. If the new trainees have any questions or feel lost somewhere or sometimes aren’t able to deal with one person or another, then they have a general contact person in their mentor who’s there for all questions and concerns. It’s simply basic assistance; the service is generally not limited to a certain amount of time.
Hannah, as someone who is new here, how does it feel to have someone like Mariele by your side?
Hannah: I think that’s a very nice idea because you have another contact other than the trainer. And Mariele only finished her vocational training a short while ago so she’s much closer to the subject, which is something very different. I can ask her a couple of different questions than I would ask the trainer.
Training complete! And now…an estate agent
Mariele, when did you know that you wanted stay at Gewobag?
Mariele: At the very beginning, when I did my vocational training at Gewobag VB, I found it quite interesting. And the more departments I went through, the more fixed I became on the idea of going back to rental property management. I also had a lot of fun in other departments but for me, rental property management was simply the perfect package. I thought the team was great, the work was fun and it was a perfect fit.
Did everything always go according to plan or did you have to reorient yourself?
Mariele: Yes, of course. You can’t always be in sync with everyone. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Nevertheless, you always have to keep at it somehow and do your work properly. But, of course, there are also moments in which you say today wasn’t a good day, I didn’t feel happy or I didn’t do the work as well as I could have done.
How do you deal with this?
These things happen to everyone. You have to dust yourself off somehow, get up the next day with a smile and try again. And I always had a good contact person in my first trainer from rental property management. She’s now a friend I can turn to if I have any questions or problems.
Hannah, what do you personally expect from the next three years of vocational training?
Hannah: I would say that I’d like to have lots of different experiences. I don’t think it just has to be all good like Mariele just said. Things might go wrong, but as a result you also learn something new about yourself personally. How do I deal with problems or unexpected situations? From my vocational training, I expect that I will be much more steadfast afterwards and that I will have a plan for how I want to continue. I’m already looking forward to it.
Hannah, do you already know what you would like to do after your vocational training?
Hannah: I have to say that I feel very comfortable in the department where I am right now, in stock management. I think this is where I’ll be doing the main tasks of an estate agent; this is where it’s about the tenants. I’m curious to see how things are in other departments.
Mariele, what’s the difference now suddenly coming to the company every morning as an estate agent? Is there something that when you go to work and think: something is different now?
Mariele: Definitely! The difference is that the responsibility now lies with me. Now I’m responsible for my work. I would say that you’re cut a bit of slack at the beginning shortly after the training, but having said that, now work is really getting started. Now I’m the one involved in the whole process. It’s simply a lot more responsibility and a much bigger task that I have now.
Mariele, do you have a tip for the newcomers who have just started?
Mariele: I think the best tip I was given back then was to take notes. It sounds silly, but especially at the beginning when you’re instructed in new programmes that you’ve never heard of before, if you don’t take notes, I promise you’ll definitely forget it. And apart from that, I would say that you shouldn’t take some things to heart too much. Things happen. Everyone makes mistakes, that’s what the vocational training is for. You learn from them. My dad always said: a mistake is only a mistake the second time you make it. That’s why once is totally okay.
Photos © Felix Seyfert