Despite no immediate consequences from the recent general election, budget cuts remain across the sector and as a result workers are continuing to feel unsatisfied and unmotivated.
In addition to long standing cuts, the UK’s exit from the European Union has raised concerns surrounding the removal of EU grants having a direct impact on the focus of social housing, and further funding cuts are likely to be on the horizon for supported housing services e.g. mental health, homelessness and domestic violence.
The sector has also undertaken a number of mergers between housing providers over the past few years, and although this activity has slowed, providers continue to focus on restructuring as they make changes to roles in middle management.
There has also been a notable shift in the last 12 months to more fixed term contracts which has affected the temporary and permanent market. This focus on fixed term contracts reflects the levels of uncertainty in the industry in regards to funding and allows housing organisations to control their spending and reduce the risk of redundancies should funding get cut.
Overall, demand remains high to fill business critical roles, and there are a number of challenges facing this function.
A shortage of skills
The industry has many skilled professionals, however, there are critical areas in short supply. Experienced mental health support workers, housing officers, homeless advice staff, income advice staff and benefits assessors are most in demand as skills shortages are prevalent in these areas.
Positively, research from our recent report revealed organisations are indicating that they are taking steps to improve skills gaps in the sector including recruiting apprentices, as a large proportion confirmed their biggest challenge in recruiting is a shortage of suitable applicants.
With constant technological advances and changes in legislation and regulation, many have expressed that operations and technical skills, and digital and IT skills are the top skills needed for their workforce as they look to build strong teams for the future. Soft skills such as commercial awareness and communication are also important for social housing workers who need to ensure they are staying on top of any changes within the industry and can communicate effectively with their teams.
Organisations should take steps to improve training in these areas within their current workforces and there is an immediate need for more grassroots initiatives to be put in place to improve the skills gap within the sector. Doing so will lead to further opportunities for those who can act and demonstrate the skills in demand, increasing the chances of quicker career progression for employees and improving retention and satisfaction.
Pay, benefits and satisfaction
Little can be said for salaries this year, with pay remaining fairly stable over the last 24 months, mostly due to budget cuts. It is no surprise then, that our latest report, What Workers Want 2017 revealed pay remains top priority for professionals in the industry, although it is not a stand-alone factor when making career related decisions.
The main areas of discontent are felt as a result of restructuring, with a number of roles in middle management being cut. Consequently, other roles are feeling the pressure of taking on more responsibility and an increase in housing assistant roles are being created as a cost-effective alternative to housing managers.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to risks of potential long term sickness in the sector, as a result of roles being condensed further and thus increasing the requirements for temporary recruitment. There’s no denying that employees are worryingly dissatisfied, with less than half feeling positive about their career prospects this year (43%) and similarly less than half said there was scope for career progression in their organisations (47%), down from 55% last year.
We’d encourage organisations to look at ways to compensate employees without having to raise salaries significantly by offering a complete package of career development opportunities, well-rounded flexible benefits and a positive workplace culture, despite an uncertain outlook.
Social housing organisations will also need to be mindful that the use of contractors or temporary workers to plug skills gaps shouldn’t affect plans to also invest in long-term training for existing staff or recruitment strategies to secure permanent talent as they plan for long term growth.
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