10 Jun 2022

The importance of long-term skills investment

The ‘great resignation’ has turned many leaders’ minds to the struggle for talent, emerging skills needs and how we can attract and retain good people for our businesses. This is not a new problem; social housing has struggled for a long time to compete with other professions when it comes to being a sector of choice for people considering their careers. Which is a shame given its purpose and value to society.  

The current environment provides an opportunity for social housing employers. There has been a shake-up in the labour market. We have seen more and more people re-evaluate what is important to them over the last two years, demanding a different relationship with their employer.  Younger generations are aligning their careers with values around environmental sustainability, social justice and making a difference. The profile of building safety, technology and climate change has heightened, increasing the general awareness around career opportunities for people in these areas.  This gives us a good chance to show the opportunities our sector can provide and meet our skills needs which are becoming more crucial.

Over time we have seen housing associations become larger, more complex and facing greater demands from a wide range of stakeholders. In this context it is crucial that organisations clearly understand their existing skills and what they need for the future - not just over the next year but along the timeframes of their business plans dealing with decarbonisation, broader environmental pressures, advances in technology and their growth objectives. Aligning long term skills needs and developing talent pipelines builds resilience within our organisations. It goes some way to mitigate against labour market shocks and protect us from the cyclical rise and fall of demand and therefore salary inflation in certain professions.

Unfortunately, this strategic skills-planning is all too often crowded out by immediate pressures needing the attention of leaders. People directors are commonly bogged down in urgent reactive matters. In the past this hasn’t caused too much trouble as alternative mechanisms of obtaining skills have been available. However, most of the traditional mechanisms for filling these skills gaps are now not available in a Covid and post-Brexit landscape, so thought needs to be given to how these gaps will be filled and how to develop the potential that is already present within organisations. 

We urge housing associations to ensure you have a good picture of your current skills. Building safety, green space management, biodiversity and data analysis are just a few of the skills that are we all seeking and inevitably fighting over. We believe more debate is needed on skills - we need a longer term, broader view of the skills we need, recognising that we are unlikely to be able to recruit our way out of this problem. Given it is also unlikely that the Government are going to solve national skills shortages and as skills don’t develop overnight, developing skills is a long-term pipeline that we need to focus on.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) worked with the sector to develop the CIH professional standards. These are designed to complement this knowledge and skill development and enable the assessment and benchmarking of behaviours – focusing not only on what to do and how to do it, but also to understand why things should be done in a particular way, the impact of actions on others and building confidence to tackle poor or inappropriate behaviour head on. Together with Bailes Partners Consulting (BPC), who bring their strategic people and housing sector insight, we want to support the sector to gain a fuller understanding of current skills and how you are planning to bridge your skills gaps and resource shortages that lay ahead.  

We will be putting on a suite of dedicated webinars to explore the problem of long-term skills needs, how you can identify the gaps and practical ways of developing longer term solutions. Look out for the first in the series, Tomorrow's Skills Matter Today, which will take place on 15 July 2022. If you're a CIH member, you can book your free place now. Not a member yet? Join us here.

Written by Ria Bailes and Gavin Smart

Ria Bailes is the founding director of Bailes Partners Consulting and Gavin Smart is the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing.