Mind the Generation Gap – Developing Future Leaders

Man in suit dangling over gap

This month Greenacre kick starts a new series on Developing Future Leaders within the social housing sector and affiliated industries. Along the way we will be looking at some of the major topics affecting leadership and attracting the younger workforce into housing roles, focusing on the current challenges being faced by organisations, what is being done to address the issues, and some examples of what is and isn’t working to attract, retain and develop our future leaders.

Older Values And Younger Work Styles Need Not be At Loggerheads

One of the main issues across the sector as a whole in attempting to address developing leadership roles has to be the growing skills shortage and the passing down of the experience batons from the older to the younger generation, whilst also embracing the newer leadership and work styles the rising millennial workforce demand. With many of the older generation leaving the sector and heading off into retirement without having a pass-down structure before leaving the organisation, it can be of little surprise that many of the essential skills and qualities needed to brace organisations against any external or internal weathering are being diminished.

In addition, with mid management roles often being among the first to go when essential cuts need to be made and we have a sink hole just waiting to collapse under the pressure. There is evidence that it is harder for younger professionals to progress into executive roles and work their way up through a professionally recognised pathway, with adequate support from the organisations in which they have committed themselves to.

Emma Lindley (FCIH), Housing Strategy Lead at Ashfield District Council and CIH Board member, highlights a major issue in retaining talented young professionals once they have their foot in the door, and one that she has experienced first-hand on several occasions, which is the lack of provision and support of a clear career pathway: “I’ve known graduates to be offered a 12-month contract, but then been told they will just have to see what is available at the end, and some of course don’t secure anything at all. I think succession planning and talent management is something that can be greatly improved, particularly within smaller organisations; I’d like to see organisations working in partnership with one another to offer secondments between them. We want to be able to say to our graduates ‘come and have this great career in housing, but we can’t say what path you are likely to follow, you’ll just have to see what becomes available’…who is going to go for that?!”

Innovate, Adapt, React

At Greenacre we are seeing a rising trend in the organisations we work with acknowledging this issue and taking heed of the ‘grow your own talent’ movement currently sweeping across the sector. As a specialist housing recruiter, we are witnessing a changing dynamic in the type of candidates we place, and it is really positive to see so many local authorities and housing associations recognising the all-round benefit in developing young people’s skills and experience from within, rather than simply looking outside the internal talent pool and outsourcing for technical roles that impact revenue, and whom may be lacking in the soft skills and even the ethical values that are essential for best fit within the organisation.

This has also created a more innovative and adaptive approach from Greenacre, as we have grown from being a successful recruitment consultancy that places outstanding candidates to a comprehensive service provider and people consultancy, which supports each candidate throughout their career pathway, as well as a continued supportive consultancy service to the organisation we place them with, whether permanent or temporary. The whole sector and associated industries must become more collaborative adaptive, and open to change if we are to collectively weather the current and upcoming challenges we are facing.

We’ve recently welcomed aboard our Associate Director Alan Lewin, who brings with him a wealth of experience of the sector both as an experienced housing professional and also as a non-executive in a number of organisations. Alan joins us at a very exciting time as we develop our role in supporting the social housing sector to meet the current challenges of attracting, developing and retaining the best upcoming talent in Social Housing, and has in the short time he has been with us already provided us with a clearer insight of the challenges and perspective of our clients.

Greenacre is working closely with some of our most experienced and influential housing leaders, the CIH, executive board members of many of the most successful housing associations across the UK and understanding the skills and professional qualifications the market currently demands. We are also working with the educational and training providers who will equip our future leaders (more to come on this further on in the series) to ensure clearly defined pathways are set out for the next generation to follow.

In summary, it is clear there needs to be visible pathway options and not just a ‘wait and see’ approach, which may include further training/mentoring in a diverse range of up to date skills, which in turn can help individuals to develop their potential and equip them to take on more responsible and senior roles. Emphasis should be on choice but with defined and clear pathway structures.

There appears to be growing support for organisations working together locally who can pool their talent and skills so that everyone can benefit. “Making good use of the apprenticeship levy can help with this for those of us with limited budgets. Also, we should look more at redeploying people, particularly manual trades closer to retirement. I heard a good example of reskilling a number of older tradespeople to customer services to improve advice or correctly diagnose”. (Emma Lindley, July 2018).

There are many other benefits to bridging the gap between old and new. By encouraging younger people onto executive boards, we can not only inject fresh life, ideas and perspective into the direction of the organisation, but also create the opportunity to harness the invaluable skills that only senior level experience can pass on.

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.