According to Skills Gap Statistics UK 2023, an estimated 20% of the workforce in the UK will be significantly under-skilled for their jobs by 2030. This could amount to around 6.5 million people. The UK social housing sector is not immune from these figures, and faces a number of challenges in bridging the gap between what employers need now (and in the near future) and the skills the workforce currently has.
Understanding the connection between our own skills shortages, the transforming workplace, tenant engagement and the wider socio-economic employment issues will be fundamental in tackling the most urgent challenges our sector is facing.
Professional qualifications and implementation
Recent legislation designed to improve industry standards means social housing managers now need professional qualifications. However, around two thirds of senior council housing staff are not currently qualified. With costs to councils likely to be almost £18 million just for the first two years, there are calls for the new requirements to be fully government funded, and the guidelines to be implemented conscientiously, with consideration given to already strained attraction and retainment challenges.
Building quality and safety
As well as a requirement for more affordable housing stock to be built to address the housing crisis, the sector must also invest in existing homes to meet elevated standards of quality, building safety, and decarbonisation. This will require robust data on stock condition, a clear understanding of policy changes, and proper engagement with tenants. In order to ensure the sector has the skills and capacity to deliver these improvements, there will need to be a bigger emphasis on training, recruitment and collaboration with other organisations.
Development and innovation
The sector must embrace innovation and digital transformation if it is to successfully tackle many of its current and future challenges. Trialling and adopting new technologies, methods, or models will improve efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction, as well as reducing costs. This will require careful assessment and management of risks, however, innovation will, and must, play a growing part in helping to tackle the skills gap and refocus limited resources to where they are needed most.
Digital and technological skills
With digitalisation growing at an exponential rate, and 60% of employers say they are facing an increase in their reliance on advanced digital skills, there is an urgency for organisations to update existing workforce skills, and hire new people with greater technological skills. With the digital sector facing its own shortages, there should be a nationwide drive for digital skills optimisation. The social housing sector has traditionally taken longer to adopt digital transformation compared with other sectors, and now has an opportunity to change the narrative and incorporate this into their future transformation strategy.
Employability and social inclusion
The sector can also play a key role in supporting its residents and others in its local communities to prepare for, secure and progress in decent work. This can not only help to boost the supply and diversity of talent, but can also address some of the labour and skills shortages, as well as improve incomes and wellbeing, and tackle inequalities.
There are a number of areas the sector can contribute to increased employability for local residents, by offering advice, mentoring, training, work experience, apprenticeships, and job brokerage. As we head towards 2024, there must be a steely determination from the sector to embrace innovation and new technology, pool limited resources through collaborative ventures, and build better connections with tenants through joint key employment opportunities.
By adopting a more modern approach to housing employment issues, the sector can effectively manage and negate the skills challenges being faced now, and in the future, whilst also building better relationships and collaboration between the wider sector and the communities it serves.
Alma Sheren, Editor