Young people wanted

In this week’s Inside Housing, there is an article on the HR challenges currently facing the sector, it highlights that there are skills shortages in certain specialisms, as well as difficulties recruiting to senior roles. In certain areas, recruitment is made difficult due a small population and poor transport links.

This echoes several conversations that I have had at East Midlands Chamber of Commerce meetings as businesses of all shapes and sizes are also facing this problem during this time of near full employment.

It also highlights familiar solutions: attract younger people to the sector, grow your own, recruit for attitude from outside the sector, improve remote working options, etc.

Attracting younger people to the sector has been a hot topic for a while now, but for all the discussion of the problem, there seems to be little in the way of solutions discussed.

And the problem always seems to be discussed in terms of ‘how do we make social housing a career of choice?; we seem to regret the fact that so many housing professionals ‘fall’ into the sector. But maybe we are thinking about the problem in the wrong way? Does it matter if someone’s passion is to work for any ethical employer, rather than specifically to work in social housing?

Rather than obsess over promoting the brand and image of social housing in the jobs market, why not focus on selling ourselves using language that is already well understood? Language like charity, not for profit, property management, lettings, sales, rather than intensive housing manager, sheltered housing coordinator, welfare reform officer, etc; we criticise the sector for talking to itself and then use terms that only those in the sector can understand!

There’s plenty of research around the career aspirations and motivations of younger people, so let’s focus on these in our job adverts: work for a charity, make a difference, an employer that values and rewards you, attractive packages, a supportive environment, etc. As I mentioned in my last blog, we always focus on what we need as businesses, rather than what our customers/potential employees need.

But attracting people to the sector is only half the battle; retaining them is the other. My personal experience of housing is that whilst there’s lots of personal development opportunities, opportunities to climb the ladder are few and far between, particularly if you work in an area where few housing providers are headquartered (despite Sheffield being England’s 4th largest city, there’s only really two providers based here so I’ve spent the last 7 years commuting between 2 – 3 hours a day to the East Midlands).

To retain younger employees, it’s crucial they can see when and where there next step or two on the ladder will be, maybe there is an opportunity for providers to work together to facilitate this through secondments, ringfenced roles, project based roles, job swaps, better remote working options, etc. Charity Works and the GEM graduate programmes are good examples bringing and supporting young people into the sector that could be expanded upon.

There’s only so much longer we can continue to debate this problem without making some serious progress towards a solution if we are to continue delivering excellent service to improve our communities.