The only way is up
A new scheme aims to give Chartered Institute of Housing students a feel for what it’s like at the pinnacle of their profession. Michael Pooler discovers how the programme is helping housing rookies focus their careers
Imagine being a student and getting to spend a day shadowing someone at the top of your chosen field, at the height of their career.
This autumn five Chartered Institute of Housing students in London will have exactly this opportunity. They will spend a day shadowing a chief executive of a social landlord. The Executive Insight programme - which was piloted last year - aims to give a glimpse into the professional lives of those heading up housing organisations, so students can strive for the top from the earliest stages of their careers.
The idea for the free scheme came from Alison Hayward, voluntary education lead at the CIH London branch. Having previously worked as a consultant surveyor before studying housing, she feels that ‘education isn’t enough these days’.
‘All too often people get an entry level job and they are so far removed from what happens at the top that they don’t have anything to aspire to,’ Ms Hayward explains. ‘Nor do they understand or appreciate the sheer range of activities that a chief executive does.’
With this in mind, she set out to create an initiative that would raise aspirations in the sector by showing what is possible to achieve; and at the same time expose participants to the range of activities undertaken by social landlords.
Last year four successful applicants, all of whom were studying while working, and chosen because they best articulated how they would benefit from taking part in the scheme, were coupled with chief executives from housing associations and local authorities across London. An effort was made to match the participants according to their areas of interest, and the partners were free to set their own format to get the most out of the day.
Some participants put themselves forward to take part because it was a chance to seek one-on-one advice from a helpful senior professional, while for others it was an opportunity to gain new insight which they would be able to use when making career choices.
Rachel Clarke, who works with several local authorities as a manager at the East London Housing Partnership, spent two half days with Roy Evans, director of housing at Wandsworth Council, to best select the activities from Mr Evans’ diary that appealed to her. This allowed her to explore her two areas of particular interest - the reform of the housing revenue account and allocation schemes.
‘As I work with local authorities it was very interesting to see what another council in a different part of the city is doing,’ she says. ‘It’s a really good opportunity to broaden your knowledge.’
For Rumina Katun, a gas contract co-ordinator for 966-home Methodist Housing Society, a visit to 20,000-home Peabody opened a door into another part of the sector.
‘I felt inspired and would love to be one of the youngest female chief execs of a housing association,’ she says.
The contacts made during the day can be equally fruitful for studies: Ms Katun, for instance, used a Peabody estate, that she saw during her day at the organisation, as a case study for her master’s degree dissertation.
But just how realistic an idea can one day give of the work of a chief executive?
Maria Figueira, a contract manager at Southwark Council, who visited David Montague, head of 66,000-home London & Quadrant, admits she was ‘a bit cynical’ at first, but the day exceeded her expectations.
‘I wouldn’t change anything about my experience and I would recommend it to others,’ she says.
In the experiences of all last year’s students one thing that stands out is the degree of passion among staff they discovered in the organisations they visited.
‘The reason I went into the sector was to make a change in the community however small that may be,’ says Ms Figueira. ‘And the day with David [Montague] showed me the impact we can have.’
As the programme is organised by volunteers at the CIH’s London branch, it is on a small-scale with only a handful of places available - five chief executives and directors of housing are involved this year - and limited to London at the moment, although Ms Hayward hopes the positive feedback will lead to it being rolled out further afield. She’s already spoken to other CIH branch committees about how the scheme works.
London-based CIH students interested in participating should contact Alison Hayward by next Friday:email@example.com
A career boost
Maria Figueira, contract manager at Southwark Council, spent a day shadowing London & Quadrant chief executive David Montague as part of the Executive Insight programme (pictured above).
‘The first thing David did, which I thought was great, was ask what my interest was and what I wanted to gain from the day,’ she recalls.
The pair arranged a schedule of activities, including a visit to a building site and attending meetings, which proved to be of practical benefit to Ms Figueira’s own work. ‘It raises your profile and helps give you an edge,’ she says.
By seeking and valuing her professional opinion on a range of day-to-day issues he faced, Mr Montague helped raise Ms Figueira’s confidence, which has gone on to help her in her work.
‘David gave me a massive confidence boost. When I came back into the office I approached my senior managers in a more assertive and grounded way,’ she adds.
For chief executives the day offers safety in the knowledge that the reins of housing are being passed into the right hands, says Mr Montague. ‘By getting involved in these projects I can be more confident that when my time comes there will be brilliant, passionate, creative, capable leaders ready to take my place,’ he says.
‘Participating in Executive Insight involved little commitment and no drain on resources.’