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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Mind the gap: addressing the skills gap in the housing sector


Daniel Short, director at Greenacre Recruitment talks about the market research Greenacre has been undertaking to look at the skills shortage in the housing sector and what the key challenges are.

It’s not easy to envisage what the housing landscape will look like in five years’ time. There are so many factors that will affect the general outcome; Brexit, National and Local Government policies, regulation, public and private investment, economic performance, digitalisation, and, perhaps most importantly of all, how we decide to act right now.

A number of housing professionals we spoke to perceived housing to be on a cliff edge, where many senior housing professionals are nearing retirement and a lack of younger talent entering the market to fill the void. With the increase in mergers of executive structures, it is harder for future leaders to make the transition into an executive role.

Greenacre has been undertaking market research to hear a wide range of views from sector leaders on what the key challenges are, what future services may look like, what skills are in demand and in short supply and what skills will be required in future.

What key priorities are influencing the skills in demand?

With increased focus on partnership working there is a demand for strong negotiation skills to ensure value for money, good contract management skills to build relationships, drive performance and achieve compliance.

Larger housing associations have ambitious house building targets and smaller providers and Local Authorities are now building teams to deliver new homes. This activity means there is considerable demand for project and programme management skills and this is exacerbated by competition from the private sector.

The tragic events at Grenfell have led to an upsurge in special projects and fast-tracked fire safety programmes. This has created a demand for compliance professionals at all levels to improve risk management and governance. Highly competent people are required to undertake reviews, make the right decisions and, put the controls in place in order to provide the board and executive with assurance on regulatory and governance matters. In addition, the right blend of skills are required at board level to challenge and scrutinise an organisation’s approach to managing risk and compliance.

Bringing in commercial skills was identified as a key priority and there was a lot of debate around the focus on bringing in skills from out of sector, especially at executive level. Many CEO’s perceive that they are running a ‘commercial business with a social heart’.

In relation to attracting commercial talent, it is vital that preparatory work is undertaken to define the word “commercial”. This involves creating a comprehensive brief so that these skills can be identified, attracted, measured and tested as part of the recruitment process, to ensure the right type of commercial skills are being brought in which are appropriate to your organisation and it’s culture.

Future services and skills

Digitalisation is happening at pace. HR leaders are having to upskill their teams in order to engage with the workforce on changing working environments, work with business unit leaders on embedding more agile ways of working, adopting different styles of management focusing on outputs, rewarding staff in different ways and driving cultural change in order to be able to attract and retain the right skills in future.

The sector is undergoing huge transformational change and this is happening at pace. This requires inclusive leadership, strategic direction and people who are able to work through significant change. New delivery models, new technologies and new working environments all require new skills and investment in training and development of existing skills.

Skills and talent development

Finding the right skills in the short term is challenging. This can be especially true for smaller landlords and local authorities who find it harder to compete financially. It is even more important for these organisations to identify the right entry points for junior staff, invest in training, develop a robust strategy for growing their own talent.

Encouraging talent to come through by hiring for attitude and values and building programmes that, provide them with a breadth of knowledge and skills, will help to build resilience and protect the organisation.

The sector needs to create an environment for young people to flourish. It will be important to provide them with opportunities to self-develop, network with their peers in other organisations to gain wider exposure to develop their skills

The sector needs to do better in attracting and retaining talent if it is to modernise and succeed in the future. Through progressive leadership, new ideas, better use of technology, investing in new talent and collaborative networks we have an opportunity for growth and success.

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