How Housing Associations Can Entice Private Sector Staff to Work in the Public Sector
Historically, the inclination in social housing recruitment had always been that companies recruited like for like, with a very organically grown pot of candidates. If a candidate hadn’t previously worked in the sector, that was enough for firms to discount them, even if they possessed the right skills and ability to do the job. Over the last two to three years there has been an increase in appetite, for candidates who come from outside of the market.
Elisa Langton, Head of Social Housing for Deverell Smith gives her insight and advice on how housing associations can attract and hire private sector candidates.
The Housing sector has traditionally employed “like for like”, typically only hiring from public sector backgrounds. Why and How is this changing?
The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 is having a knock on affect in the housing employment market. The loss of income for social landlords due to the obligation to reduce rents by 1% per annum for a four-year period, has fueled the need for commerciality and increased appetite for developers in the housing sector as new homes are being built for outright sales to cross subsidise the affordable housing element.
There are two sides to the market now – there are organisations that are trying to be more commercial in their approach to housebuilding and be viewed as commercial builders rather than housing associations. And then there are the “traditional” housing associations who also want to be more commercial but have boards who are ultimately quite risk-adverse; this means the majority are unable to execute different approaches to development and recruitment.
What is the biggest employment challenge facing the housing sector at the moment?
With the traditional housing association formula having been in place for so many years, sometimes it’s safer to stick with what they know rather than take a risk with the unknown. So, whilst the latter want to attract commercial talent, unfortunately, many may never be in a position where they can offer the same kind of packages that private housebuilders can. As much as housing associations try to think commercially and attract candidates of a sales focused mindset, ultimately the heart of what they do is still building homes for social/affordable rent. On that basis, because they are cross subsidising and putting any profit they make back into the business, they are never going to be able to offer candidates the same levels of salary and bonuses that you see with traditional housebuilders. Therefore, they must work differently to entice those high-level candidates into their organisations.
What would you recommend as the most effective selling points for attracting more candidates to the housing sector?
Firstly, housing associations are usually very honest about what they can or cannot offer. Secondly, as much as the wider property market can fluctuate, the affordable housing world is fairly stable, as the market for these types of homes will always be there, this provides an attractive career path to those moving over from the private sector, where it’s likely they will have experienced various market peaks and troughs that always affected the recruitment market.
It also appeals to people’s altruistic side; the sector is very much focused on improving people’s chances in life and creating an environment for people to get on in life. As such, people feel proud to work in an organisation that makes a difference and benefits the communities they are working in. Individuals who work for housing associations often get involved in a much wider range of tasks than they might in a specialist role for a traditional housebuilder, where you don’t always get exposure to other areas of the business. There is an opportunity to see firsthand the people who are benefiting from the homes you are building and sometimes, that is job satisfaction enough.
What can individual housing organisations do to attract high quality private sector candidates?
Organisations across the sector are raising the bar in terms of putting attractive packages together to entice people to make the move from private to public sector. There are the larger brands, such as London & Quadrant and Clarion, who have very big build programmes that can keep commercially-minded candidates interested. There are also organisations with much smaller programmes who are becoming equally commercial in their approach; they are willing to take risks and can offer the kind of roles and exposure which will attract candidates from outside of the sector as much as those with traditional backgrounds. It’s very much dependent on the culture of the organisation, the schemes they are investing in and how much of an impact the candidate can make on the organisation.
How should Housing Associations approach the recruitment process when seeking private sector candidates?
It is important during the recruitment process that both sides take the opportunity to learn about each other. Housing Associations need to whittle out what people’s motivations are and decide if they are better suited to a commercial environment or if a housing association really is the better fit. Candidates need to have a clear understating of what housing associations are all about and how they operate differently to private sector developers. Whilst there is still an element
of closing sales and doing deals driving the bottom line, it’s also about understanding the mission and strategy of these organisations and how the homes they are building are going to impact the lives of the people who live in them.