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How to attract the brightest minds to the social housing sector

The most common question I am asked when I meet leaders in social housing is, “How do we attract talented individuals with transferable skills and high calibre graduates to the sector?” Having ruminated on this over the three years that I have solely focused on recruitment into the social housing sector, I have come to the conclusion that this is the wrong question. The question we should ask ourselves is, why would or should they join? 

Housing associations
There are thousands of exceptionally talented and hardworking people already working within social housing. The challenge is that there are not enough of them to meet the demands and challenges facing our sector now, and over the coming years. 
Subsidised housing requires a paradigm shift in approaches to funding, development, asset management and customer service. Such paradigm shifts in approach come from creative ideas, which in turn, come from the brightest minds. So back to our question, why would the brightest graduates or experienced candidates join the sector?
To begin to answer this we should look back at why some of the philanthropic visionaries, Guinness, Sutton, Peabody and Hill for example, acted as innovators and created the early subsidised housing developments in the first place. They were some of the brightest minds of their day who recognised the social, health, and economic benefits of providing decent accommodation for working families and those in need (and with it a stable labour force for the industrial economic output of the era).This will sound familiar as it is still relevant 150 years later, so my first reason as to why the brightest minds should join our sector is that the work they do will benefit a huge part of society. One could argue that these early philanthropic housing pioneers invested in housing for the benefit of ‘big industry’ rather than for altruistic purposes, however, the housing legacy they created has long surpassed the industrial age it supported and one cannot deny that the organisations they created that survive today are fully focused on the value of what they do and the sense of social purpose. Being valued and having purpose are primary motivators in job satisfaction. This is why some of the brightest minds become doctors despite the long years of study, unsociable hours, and the fact that they could conceivably earn more in other sectors.
Now I appreciate that it was easy for the philanthropists to be altruistic as they came from or had amassed, huge wealth, and it’s much harder when you are starting out or have financial responsibilities, those bills don’t pay themselves! So let’s look into remuneration in the sector. I have drawn on the experience of the recruitment business I lead and our other disciplines recruiting roles within social housing.
We recruit qualified, managerial, and executive roles within construction, maintenance, asset management, customer service, finance, corporate services and the C-Suite. More than half of the roles we place have base salaries of between £50,000 and £120,000 per annum with published salaries for CEO’s of large organisations considerably higher. This compares very favourably to careers in law, finance, or science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM) sectors, and to put this into context, the average UK salary in 2015 was £27,600, (ONS Data). So the second reason why the brightest minds should build a career in social housing is remuneration. There is a large proportion of roles in the higher rate (40%) and quite a few in the addition rate (50%) tax brackets. 


The next reason we should consider is career longevity. Staying with one organisation for your whole career is rare nowadays but one at least wants to know that there will always be a need for you in the long-term, and jobs to move to. Longevity of career in any sector comes from two factors, demand and change. It would be hard to have missed the well-publicised housing shortage of 200,000 new homes needed per year, or the Government’s target of one million new homes by 2020, notwithstanding the need to maintain the five million existing social homes.
One can be confident that there is a strong demand for bright minds and with an increasing population and life expectancy, this demand will continue to grow.  As for the other factor of “change”, one just has to look at the last 50 years of history. From the post-war housing construction boom by local authorities, to large stock transfers of such housing to growing and newly created housing associations and the huge popularity of “right to buy”, the only constant has been constant change. Leading providers are moving more and more towards becoming commercial businesses with a social purpose and consumers have increased expectations of high quality, energy efficient homes, and as such, organisation have an increasing demand for commercially minded and technically skilled candidates.
An increasing variety of ownership tenures, the need for investment in digital technology to improve the way organisations interact with their customers and manage their homes, and energy use, will ensure their will be no let-up in the pace of change for the next 50 years. So the brightest minds can be sure of a long and rewarding career in the housing sector.  


My final reason, though the list is not exhaustive, of why the brightest minds should join the sector is status. Many people will choose a career in medicine, law or politics, for example, due to status. These are long-standing professions whose constituents are proud to be members. Industry bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation do a fine job in promoting the sector but there are many organisations where such activity by employers is fragmented.  

Total dwellings

This is improving of course but choosing to work in housing may not yet have the same kudos, simply because many candidates are unaware of the complexity of the sector and the impact that it has on a huge proportion of society. They are unaware that there are five million subsidised homes, 20% of the 25m total dwellings in mainland UK, housing 10% of the populous. That there are 1700 housing associations who manage between a few and 120,000 homes with combined budgetary spend in the region of £14bn, and that the larger of these housing associations are some of the biggest housing developers in the UK reinvesting their profits back into the provision of affordable homes. They do not know that if the larger housing associations of today were listed on the FTSE many of these organisations would be in the FTSE 250 if not the FTSE 100!
Collectively, housing associations build around 50,000 subsidised and market sale homes per year, a volume that dwarfs any of the individual large private developers. My view is that they are best placed to help solve the housing shortage as they have the ability to look beyond bottom line profit for the next fiscal year. However, solving the housing shortage will require the level of innovation, ambition and quite simply doing things differently that the bright minded philanthropists demonstrated in the 1800’s.  


So back to our original question, why should the brightest minds join the sector?  We have looked back to the founding pioneers who understood the huge social and economic impact decent homes have on society, a fact that is just as prevalent today. The sector has grown in size and complexity. It will continue to change, develop and embrace new technologies, and ways of working, securing future demand and careers. The sector is hugely complex providing the second most important of our human needs; the need to have shelter, to feel safe. Taking all this into account the question we should be asking the brightest minds is, why wouldn’t they join the sector?
Where else would they have the opportunity to earn upper quartile salaries, have long term employment prospects and help drive evolution that will benefit the whole of society, as well as those most in need, for the next 150 years?
Mark Beacom
T: +44 20 7269 2122