I was recently asked to take part in a speaking spot at London Metropolitan University’s Annual Housing Employment Conference. It’s a privilege to be asked back each year, and it’s always an engaging crowd. London Met has a vibrant and passionate studentship, who genuinely care about the communities they live in and go on to serve.
I’m probably preaching to the converted when I say that Social Housing is an excellent career choice. Perhaps we’re slightly biased in our industry bubble, but there is no denying that there are many aspects of working in the sector which tick the boxes of what today’s self-aware career seekers are looking for in a meaningful vocation.
Rather than the traditional ‘I fell into housing’ catch-them-as-they-come approach, attracting people into housing at the start of their career journey is an important and potentially highly effective strategy when it comes to tempting fresh talent into the sector.
There is also a continuing need to address and counteract the unfair stigma still attached to social housing. This has been due to, in part, the unrelenting widespread media coverage which feeds into an unbalanced negative public perception, in addition to a variety of wider challenges currently being faced by public sector industries in the UK.
Redressing this balance will take a consistent, collective effort, and a strategic approach which channels the most positive aspects and benefits of working in our unique industry, and harnesses the power of the collective voice, using a nationwide media strategy.
Workplace transformation and the emerging labour force requirements
The workplace has been transforming at an unstoppable rate, and our emerging workforce’s priorities have changed. Whereas before, as recruiters, the most frequent question we used to hear from candidates was “how much will I be paid?” people are now also prioritising careers with:
- a better work-life balance
- more flexibility
- mental health support and wellbeing, and
- roles which align with personal values/making a difference
The cost-of-living-crisis has rejigged the leader board of workplace priorities, and financial remuneration is back in the top spot. Interestingly though, it’s currently now sitting comfortably alongside flexibility, employer branding (read values and culture) and a healthy work-life balance.
People also want more opportunities to grow and develop themselves professionally, and alongside all of these things is a strong desire to make a positive difference through our work more than ever before.
The social housing industry ticks all of these boxes, so why is a career in housing not up there with all the other public sector greats? When it comes to positively promoting the sector as a top career choice, through our schools, colleges, universities and our wider national media channels, is this a missed opportunity?
Creating the right environment for our people to thrive
Social housing has proven to be a buoyant and solid industry, not least throughout the pandemic. We have also been taking great strides in the areas of positive workplace transformation and culture, as large sections of the housing industry have leaned in to embrace workplace wellbeing, working from home and the hybrid work environment.
Many people now prefer to work partly from home or even fully if their role allows. As the workplace has evolved, an individualised approach has become key in ensuring we cater for a diversity of employee requirements. Although many have now opted back into a semi-structured workplace environment post-lockdown, where they see and connect with people more regularly, it’s been an important exercise for the housing industry in learning that we are all individuals, with a variety of needs and preferences. Our productivity and retainment levels depend heavily on how we are able to best work and connect as individuals as well as in teams.
We’ve had a big Equity, Diversity and Inclusion drive in recent years. Among others, the National Housing Federation has been collecting and analysing data from housing employers across the UK, to gain valuable insights on our progress. Evolving work conditions have created a more diverse, wider-reaching talent pool for the sector.
Talented candidates from across the country who could not previously apply for certain roles due to factors such as distance, access and rigid working conditions, have recently found more doors being open for them through more flexible operating environments. Housing organisations should take note – those providers still dragging their feet on the flexible work model are finding it increasingly difficult to fill their roles and diversify their talent pool.
We’ve also been seeing some strong initiatives across the housing sector where organisations are prioritising employee wellbeing. Recent figures show that record numbers of people are off work due to poor physical and mental health. It makes both ethical and business sense to support mental health in the workplace, and the housing sector is taking great strides in creating mental health and wellbeing strategies that support the lives and needs of its workforce.
Working together to find tomorrow’s top talent
As an industry, we have an excellent opportunity to form a sector-wide alliance and work together to showcase the collective strengths, benefits and opportunities of working in such a buoyant and thriving industry. Creating national media campaigns, and career awareness drives across our education and training environments will help us to attract a thriving, diverse workforce that is aligned to our sector’s values and vision.
National housing bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Housing, National Housing Federation, Housing Diversity Network and Women in Social Housing have already proven that by working together as a collective force we can create a stronger and louder shared voice. Just imagine what we could do to attract fresh talent to the sector by joining up for a national media campaign!
I was first asked to speak at the housing employment conference back in 2019 with the lovely Tara Devine from CIH. We had a 20-minute speaking slot each, in which we spoke about all the great aspects of working in social housing, from our unique perspectives. I now also regularly give an overview on the current housing employment conditions and wider workplace trends, to help arm our entry level graduates with the knowledge and information they need to empower their career and employment choices. Every year at these events, some of the most passionate housing professionals, from a variety of sector disciplines and levels, share their stories, their challenges and their career highlights with an eager audience.
These talks have created such an impact that London Met has become the first university to become CIH accredited, and the first university to become members of the Women in Social Housing network. With an army of enthusiastic housing professionals visiting schools, colleges and universities across the country, through a collaborative national campaign, we have the potential to reach many more engaged students who have the prospect of becoming the sector’s future housing leaders and trailblazers. Who’s with me?!