Facing the future
Meet the young people who have launched their housing careers via a popular scheme to get the long-term unemployed into work - and discover why they are a dying breed.
Since October last year, the government’s £1 billion Future Jobs Fund has paid for social and green organisations to offer temporary professional positions to young people unemployed for six months or more. Its aim is to help them develop the skills, experience and confidence to make their way in a difficult job market.
Social landlords have been among the fund’s beneficiaries, and in March this year a group of 10 young unemployed people began work with Catalyst Housing Group’s London-based income recovery team, where they have been helping to reduce rent arrears.
Catalyst has also been paying for those interested to complete a Chartered Institute of Housing certificate in housing level 2 during their six-month stint, at £975 a time. ‘We pay for it as an incentive,’ explains the group’s employment and training manager Luciana Buzak. ‘There has been quite a bit of competition among organisations to attract these young people.’
Their manager, Chris Shoubridge, admits to having had some initial misgivings, but these were soon quelled. ‘They have all been really keen to learn and have put in some real effort,’ he says. Asked to quantify their contribution, Mr Shoubridge says that Catalyst, which provides 16,000 homes in London and the south east, has recovered £179,000 in revenue from one of the two patches his team covers. He says that the Future Jobs Fund contingent has ‘made a major contribution to that’.
The new employees began work in March this year and will finish in September. Each believes their future is now much brighter as a result, and without exception each now wants to forge a career within the housing sector. It has been good for Catalyst too: Ms Buzak describes these young people as ‘new blood and fresh enthusiasm’.
But Mr Buzak, along with thousands of fellow FJF participants nationwide, must make the most of these gains while they last. In May, the chancellor announced the programme would become another spending cuts casualty.
Inside Housing spoke to five of Catalyst’s intake to ask them about their experiences so far - and to find out how they feel about the end of the Future Jobs Fund.
‘I’m a Catalyst resident. Before I started working here we had a surveyor come round, and I called her up afterwards and was not happy with the way she spoke to my mum. I was ranting down the phone. Now I sit four desks away from her in the office, and listening to her on the phone I have total respect for what she does.
‘I absolutely hated being on Jobseekers [allowance]. I didn’t want to go back into [working in] supermarkets and stuff - I want to work my way up.
‘I love housing and I want to stay in it. Everyone we have spoken to at Catalyst has said they never thought they would work in housing. It’s an industry you fall into and fall in love with at the same time. There are so many things going on - you don’t have to stay in one section.
‘The coalition government hasn’t got a clue what it’s doing. This has been one of the greatest things we have ever done. It has boosted our confidence, it has put us in an industry we have all learned to love and it has given us ambition and goals and directions. To cut that and stop other young people from having this expe rience is the wrong thing
‘[My proudest achievement is] the fact that I can call up a tenant, and tell them they can cut the amount of arrears they are paying, that they will be out of debt soon. Doing that for someone is what makes my job amazing.’
‘[Housing] is a great sector - whenever you deal with someone you can see how you it affects them. I do enjoy that but I prefer to be in the back office. I like looking at numbers and figures - it’s still helping out, but in a different way.
‘It was very difficult [being unemployed] - we’re in a credit crunch and everyone is getting rid of workers, so to actually find something was really hard. Being on the dole was depressing, but it has picked me up coming here.
‘The people around you are a good bunch, a very diverse set. I’m able to speak to the managing director - if you go to any other company the MD wouldn’t look twice at you. I’m lucky because I sit right outside the director’s office, so when the heads of department come through I get a chance to network.’
‘[Scrapping the scheme] is a bad thing, but it looks like the new government are trying to bring in apprenticeships. With an apprenticeship it means the company has more of a vested interest in you as well.’
‘At first I was nervous. I had no clue about housing, but by the second or third week I was getting more confident. When you’re unemployed you’re doing nothing, you don’t talk to customers, and your language isn’t formal. So I started getting back into shape.
‘I always thought I’d end up in admin as a receptionist, because that was my first job after finishing university. When I was applying for better jobs, I kept getting rejected because I didn’t have any experience. How can I get experience if you won’t accept me?
‘I really like the Future Jobs Fund scheme because it’s a way to build experience. My biggest achievement has been gaining the confidence to talk to people. I’m usually not this chatty, but because I have dealt with so many people about their arrears I know how to approach people now.
‘It’s not a boring routine - everything is different about this job. Catalyst has so many opportunities; I don’t want to leave. It’s the perfect job for me right now.
‘Cutting this scheme now is unfair. I’m so lucky that it was around when I graduated, but my sister has just graduated and she is really struggling [to find work]. There is a lot of competition.’
‘I have always wanted to work in housing. I’m from Afghanistan, where a lot of people don’t have a house. I thought if I can’t help them, I’m going to at least help people here get a house.
‘I went to the council, to every housing association, applying for every job - but they all got back to me saying “sorry, you have no experience”. This role has boosted my love for working in housing. Here I do a lot of different things - working on anti-social behaviour cases, going to viewings with neighbourhood managers, going to court to seek possession…
‘Working here has changed me a lot. My mother is a social tenant, and from that perspective I used to be very negative about the income officer or our housing officer - but now whenever anyone in my family complains about repairs or whatever, I explain to them the reason why they can’t do it, that we are not the only people that they have to deal with.
‘[Cutting this funding] is very bad. We have had a golden chance to get into housing, which is very hard without any experience. We feel like we are professionals. One of my managers asked me how to do something - I said “Excuse me, can anybody hear this? My manager is asking me for help!”.’
‘My previous jobs were in retail and charity fundraising - everyone there used to say that office jobs were boring, but this has been really amazing. When we do leave I will definitely cry because they are a really great bunch of people.
‘This [job] was a real godsend - working with tenants is definitely what I want to do. The social housing movement is so important. Now I want to be a housing officer or a housing manager, and then do that until I retire.
‘You don’t have time to think “I am going to learn about this” because you’re too busy doing it. That’s only possible through a scheme like the Future Jobs Fund. I’m not saying everyone aged 18-25 is ready to work; if they have been on the dole for too long, it becomes normal. But if the government pushes them hard enough and supports them by giving them opportunities, then there will be less people on the dole.
‘My proudest moment was when a tenant gave me a present and a card… I was so happy I was able to help someone so much that they would go out of their way like that.’
The £1 billion Future Jobs Fund was introduced in October last year. Since then, the Department for Work and Pensions claims 8,660 short-term positions have been created across the social enterprise and green sectors.
It’s difficult to estimate how many of those have been housing jobs as some participating landlords, such as Catalyst (which has taken on around 50 unemployed young people through the fund), have accessed the cash through intermediary organisations. Among the figures available, however, the number of jobs created includes 30 at Guinness Trust, 40 at Poplar Harca and 69 at Novas Scarman.
The DWP says its new ‘work programme’ - still at the consultation stage - will combine features from many of the welfare-to-work schemes begun by the previous government when it is rolled out next year, while £150 million will be funnelled into creating apprenticeships. ‘These will be sustainable, long-term jobs rather than just for six months,’ says a DWP spokesperson.
Catalyst, like every other beneficiary organisation, receives around £6,000 from the government for each FJF employee. That covers their salaries, plus an administration fee of £500 per person.