23 Nov 2023

Navigating the future skills requirement in housing

The landscape of social housing is evolving, and with it, the demand is on the rise for skilled professionals in housing, development and asset management functions. While the number of staff employed by registered housing associations in Northern Ireland is tracked by housing regulation, details about their roles and expertise are not. To help address the gap and demonstrate the growing need for a skilled workforce, we conducted a survey, reaching out to all social housing providers in the region.

Growing trends in staffing

Data provided by the regulator demonstrates a positive trend in the total staff employed by housing associations each year, with an average annual increase of 57 staff members. To help us gain deeper insights into the future needs of the sector, six major landlords responded to our survey who collectively own a significant portion of social homes – approximately 40 per cent of housing association stock and around 14 per cent of overall social housing in Northern Ireland.

Current roles and structures

The responses from these associations provide a diverse snapshot of current roles within housing, development and asset management functions. The variations in organisational structures and job titles highlight the multifaceted nature of these operations. While some associations provided detailed breakdowns, others offered concise overviews, reflecting variations in size, industry focus and current circumstances.

Future staffing expectations

The overall analysis indicates that organisations are navigating a landscape of growth, sustainability and technological advancements. The housing sector is not only preparing for increased operational scale but also adapting to changing industry dynamics, especially in terms of sustainability and technology. Some key trends include:

  • Growth outlook. Several organisations express a growth outlook, attributing future staff increases to new build ambitions, expansions in scheme numbers and growth pipelines. This reflects a proactive approach in response to organisational development and increased housing units.
  • Scalability and flexibility. The consideration of additional resources tied to specific milestones, such as every 250 additional units, demonstrates a scalable and flexible approach to staffing. Associations are aligning their workforce plans with the scale of their operations.
  • Role-specific additions. Some responses provide detailed insights into the types of roles expected to be added, ranging from housing officers and welfare advisors to development managers and tenant engagement officers. This reflects a strategic approach to workforce planning based on specific needs.

Assumptions about future workforce composition

  • Embracing digitisation. Associations recognise the role of digitisation as an enabler of work rather than a replacement for roles. This forward-thinking approach suggests an awareness of the evolving landscape of digital technology in the sector.
  • Focus on sustainability. There is a common thread across responses highlighting the importance of sustainability. Organisations foresee the need to build specialist skills in sustainability, reflecting a commitment to environmentally conscious practices in the housing sector.
  • Adapting to emerging roles. Some responses identify emerging roles such as energy efficiency officers and roles related to smart meter readings. This reflects an anticipation of evolving demands in the industry, including increased focus on energy efficiency and technological advancements.
  • IT proficiency. A notable assumption is the emphasis on IT proficiency, particularly for compliance software and technical expertise. This reflects an awareness of the increasing role of technology in managing compliance and the need for technical skills to address retrofit challenges.
  • Consultancy for specialised skills. In certain cases, organisations anticipate procuring specialist skills related to zero carbon from consultants rather than making significant changes to their internal structures. This suggests a recognition of the value of external expertise in certain specialised areas.

In conclusion, the sector is poised for growth and transformation. The insights gathered from social housing providers offer a valuable glimpse into how organisations are strategically preparing for the future in this dynamic and evolving landscape. As we navigate the challenges ahead, understanding the current trends and assumptions about future workforce needs is essential for informed decision-making, effective resource allocation and the provision of education.

Justin Cartwright CIHCM
National director Northern Ireland
Chartered Institute of Housing