Developing Professionalism Within Social Housing

In the second part of our series on Developing Future Leaders, we are looking at one of the major discussion points across sector conferences and events in recent months; defining and developing professionalism across the housing sector.

There is an immediate challenge to the sector to address the tangible effects being faced due to policy changes, funding cuts, and, not least, the housing climate post Grenfell. There is also an ongoing debate about how we shape and define ourselves professionally in the areas of values, presence, conduct and professional development for those of us already part of and those contemplating entering the social housing professional arena. In relation to developing the future leaders we wish to see it is imperative that we are providing clear pathways which are not only supportive in developing talent, but also providing a definitive framework and code of practice, with clearly defined choices and a nationwide structure for training and development opportunities within the sector (as discussed in part one).

Dan Short and I recently attended the Owning Your Future event with CIH London, which gave some really inspiring food for thought. Among the success stories of those taking the platform to share their housing leadership journeys, one thing stood out above all else: every person on that platform had used their own initiative to overcome the numerous obstacles they faced and had taken each opportunity they came across to gain the experience and skills they needed to succeed. If more professionals made use of existing support and development frameworks such as the CIH, enabling them to reach further and share the most valuable (and crucial at this time) opportunities, helping to nurture the most sought-after skill sets currently needed within the sector (with professionally recognised qualifications and clearly defined career pathway choices), imagine how many more innovative future leaders could be developed and diversified from within the sector?

Defining And Developing Skills Whilst Retaining Core Values

It is clear the sector needs a reboot in providing its professionals with a wider remit of diverse skills sets. As a specialist social housing recruitment consultancy, we are seeing a growing urgency for our candidates to possess a clear technical knowledge base that also aligns with the managerial, soft skills and core values the sector must hold on to in order to retain its professional and social ethos. At present, the sector is having to become more commercial to not only compete with the private sector, but in some cases, to actually survive under some of the most challenging resource conditions in our time. This has led to a trend to seek out commercial skills from outside the sector, which are then predictably able to command higher salary scales. This can present, as considered in the first article, a cultural conflict within a not for profit organisation where organisations are having to ‘pick and choose’ between commercial skills and those whose outlook and ethos are aligned to the sector’s core values.

Emma Lindley (FCIH), Housing Strategy Lead at Ashfield District Council and CIH Board member, draws attention to early definitions of the term Professionalism, including “those who were qualified to pursue a vocation or calling. Law, medicine, and engineering became professions because they required professed knowledge, shared values and wisdom, and a fiduciary relationship with others.” Emma compares this with the more modern and comprehensive definition “A calling requiring specialized [sic] knowledge…including instruction in skills and methods as well as…maintaining high standards of achievement and conduct and committing its members to continued study and to a kind of work that provides public service.” Emma came across some interesting findings whilst conducting research on the subject.

Defining the Value And Role Of Professional Bodies

Surprisingly, whilst most of those surveyed acknowledged the importance of a body such as the Chartered Institute of Housing to promote best practice, raise standards, offer guidance and advice, only around half felt a housing professional ‘needed’ to be part of a professional body. As discussed In Retaining Top Performers, the changing face of modern leadership and technology, as well as the millennial workforce offering and demanding a less hierarchical approach to leadership and a more personal, individually tailored career development pathway, we can start to see clearly how the role of professional bodies such as the CIH are also being redefined and reshaped in supporting the up and coming future leaders in today’s housing arena.

We asked Gavin Smart, Deputy Chief Executive at CIH to give us further insight on the part professional bodies such as the Chartered institute of Housing have traditionally played in reshaping and developing professionalism within the sector, and how the current set of circumstances are affecting their role: “Defining and developing professionalism couldn’t be more important right now – in fact the social housing green paper which has just been published includes a commitment from the government to further encourage the professionalisation of housing management to ensure all staff deliver a good quality of service. At CIH, we’re exploring what professionalism means for people working in housing today and in the future and we’re also working on a new competency framework to map out the essential skills, knowledge and behaviours that housing professionals need.

“In terms of developing new talent, we were part of the group of government ‘trailblazers’ which developed new standards and assessments for housing and property management apprenticeships. We believe this represents a fantastic opportunity to bring new talent into the sector ‑ allowing employers to build a bespoke programme of training around a young person to give them the skills they need to excel in a specific role.

“Of course, professionalism is about behaviours and values, not just knowledge. It’s being able to operate in a context that takes into account the broader issues around you, making ethical decisions based on sound judgement. Being a member of CIH not only demonstrates your commitment to professionalism, it also means you can tap into a wealth of knowledge, expertise, creativity and experience from your fellow members.”

It could be argued that as well as the need to re-brand social housing to allow greater understanding of its vital role in our communities and society, professionalism within the sector is also going a through a re-branding of sorts, and it is up to us as housing professionals to take advantage of, and tap into, the collective knowledge base and wealth of experience which can turbo boost the opportunities of young housing professionals, and whose involvement has proven to be instrumental in assisting many of the sector’s current leaders and innovators to attain their goals and contribute so wholly to the industry.

 Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and researches/writes articles with the team on Leadership, Human Resources, Change Management and the challenges and transitions currently facing the UK housing sector.