Helen Giles has worked in the social housing sector for 24 years. She is human resources director of Broadway, the homelessness services provider, and managing director of Broadway’s Real People, a social enterprise human resources and management training consultancy.
In 2008, she was awarded an MBE for services to homeless people. Helen has expertise in all areas of HR, people management and staff development and believes in a pragmatic and common-sense approach based on experience of what works in practice.
Blog Posts (4)
Last week I posted a piece about those workers in care and support roles who abuse the system and their service users by wilfully holding down two or more jobs on concurrent hours.
A friend of mine working for a community project recently went round picking up elderly people from their homes to take them on a day trip. When he arrived to pick up a resident from a home run by the care subsidiary of a large group RSL he was shocked to find what he did.
The economy is a mess, the national debt out of control.
So the government is supporting the running of public services by co-operatives.
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Posted in: career in housing
Usually social housing organisations welcome people from different or allied sectors with transferable skills and experience and I don’t believe that the reason you haven’t had any success – if you have been applying for jobs – would be prejudice about the fact that your experience has been in the private sector.
It may be that because you come from the private sector that you have not had a great deal of experience in the way that social housing organisations run their recruitment and selection processes. Whereas in the commercial sector it is the norm to submit a CV and a general covering letter, most housing organisations will expect you to demonstrate – either on an application form or in a structured covering letter – how your previous experience and achievements match each of the criteria on the person specification for the job. If you don’t do this, you are very unlikely to get an interview.
Once you get invited to a test centre and interview, you will be given every opportunity to demonstrate how your competences, skills and experience match what the organisation is looking for.
You could look at registering with a recruitment agency working within the sector that provides free seminars or coaching on how best to present yourself at application and interview stages.
With regard to references, you can explain in your application that you have been self-employed but offer to provide references from clients or contractors that you have worked closely with.
Posted in: Career in housing..but which degree
Only apply for a housing degree if you are more passionately interested in housing than any of the hundreds of other things that you might study at university. Unless you are absolutely set on a career for which a degree in the discipline is non-negotiable (e.g. medicine, engineering), you should study whatever rings your bells sufficiently for you to happily immerse yourself in the literature and assignments relating to that subject for three years.
You are right that housing associations are great places to work – which is why they dominate the Sunday Times list of Top 100 not-for-profit organisations to work for. And every housing association offers a range of career opportunities beyond mainstream ‘housing’, for example business development, HR, finance.
Employers in social housing are not looking primarily for a degree in housing; indeed for most roles a degree of any kind is not essential. What is important for progression into more senior roles is having the level of cognitive abilities (verbal, numerical, abstract reasoning) that would be required for access to a degree course. Also, the kind of core competencies that doing a degree in pretty much any subject would serve to hone: for example analytical and critical reasoning, personal organisation skills, self-directed learning and development, ability to structure and write reports.
So I would suggest that if Geography or something else is your true area of interest for academic study, go for it. Maybe do some voluntary work for a local housing association or homelessness service in your spare time. Then when you graduate, look for an entry level role or graduate trainee scheme in a housing association. As long as you are able to show that you are intelligent, self-aware with good interpersonal skills, conscientious, and genuinely committed to developing a career in housing, you will go far.
Posted in: London weighting?
Whereas the pay differences between regions across the UK are much smaller than they used to be, there is still a significant difference between typical salary levels in London and the rest of the UK. My pay advisors suggest that the difference between London and Nottingham is in the region of 10%, although it is worth pointing out firstly that the size of the difference will depend on a number of different factors, for example, job level, with bigger differentials for lower level jobs and much smaller differentials for senior level jobs which typically enter a national recruitment market. And secondly, related to this, there is no such thing as a 'real' pay differential and ultimately it is very difficult to determine exactly how much one area pays compared to another for the same job.
Typically, I would expect a Housing Officer in London to have a higher salary than one based in Nottingham and this reflects the higher costs associated with living and working in London and the fact that many organisations with regional pay structures, including a number of large housing associations, pay a premium for London based jobs, whether that is through the use of the traditional London Weighting or their own salary weighting. For a mainstream Neighbourhood Officer based in Central London my pay advisors would suggest that a typical median pay range is in the region of £28,000 - £30,000 (although the market range is relatively wide, spanning from around £25,000 to £35,000).
Posted in: FAO Housing and or Policy Officers
Sad to say it, but this really isn’t an environment where employers are going to consider fast-tracking you into their organisations at the kind of level you want to be at on the basis of your degree learning and skills transferable from a near management post in another sector. In fact, unless you happen to have really hard-to-find skills like surveying/development, this sort of break after speculative submission of a CV really never has happened in social housing to any great extent. This is a sector where there’s an expectation that you see a specific job advertised that you think you have the competences and transferable skills for and then apply for it. And the more recessionary the landscape and therefore the more unemployed people competing for jobs, the more junior that first step is going to be.
The current scenario reminds me very much of the last time we had really serious unemployment levels in the 1980s. I wanted to change horses from my initial choice of career and applied to no end of organisations as a graduate entrant before realising that the only way to go was to learn the basic skills that employers actually wanted (at that time secretarial and admin skills) and start at the bottom in an admin support role.
So I hope you’re lucky and someone wants to give a keen graduate a break, but my more realistic advice is to apply for an admin, customer services, or assistant housing officer type job, show your great potential and work your way up.
Posted in: Speculative applications
I would say that whereas Housing Associations are always crying out for good development staff, particularly at more senior levels, most associations have clear, open, transparent processes for advertising roles – in specialist housing and development press and on their own websites – and for inviting applicants to demonstrate their suitability for shortlisting against clear person specification criteria. Therefore, the reality is that for these jobs as for any jobs in Housing Associations, any speculative approach is likely to be met with a polite two-liner saying ‘Thank you for your interest in the Association; where we have vacancies these are always advertised in XXXX”.
So it would probably be better for you to focus your energies on regularly scanning the places where advertisements are likely to appear, and perhaps identifying a number of associations that you might be particularly interested in working for and regularly checking the vacancies on their websites.