On joining Berwick Partners a couple of months ago to grow the Housing practice, I started putting together a sector brief for our Researchers. Putting pen to paper I realised something. It had been years since I had thought deeply about what a Housing Association actually is.
The sector, like any other, is awash with its own buzzwords. Social hearted, commercially minded, value for money etc. These all sound great, but in my experience it’s actually fairly tricky to explain succinctly what these buzzwords are referring to.
“Social hearted” - about what?
“Commercially minded” - around the product, or the customer, or is it both?
“Value for Money” - who’s money?
It’s this vagueness that limits the potential talent pool attracted to the sector.
If you view the profile of a Head of Service working for a Housing Association on LinkedIn it’s likely that they have been working for one since they graduated. This could become dangerous if unchecked. Housing Associations are hungry for skill sets that have not been traditionally developed within them. Communicating how those from other sectors can add value is critical if future risks hitherto unseen are to be managed competently and successfully.
Step one is promoting the sector to as wide an audience as possible in a way that is clear. With that in mind, here’s my attempt to answer five questions in 2 tweets or less assuming the reader knows zilch about Housing. Of course, there are numerous interpretations and many reading this will feel some are higher up the priority list.
- What is a Housing Association?
A not-for-profit business that uses a mix of taxpayer and privately funded income streams to build and manage residential homes of all tenure types. They also provide services to the people who live inside those homes. Their rights are regulated by the Homes & Communities Agency. In all cases they play an enabling role in communities they operate in.
- Why do they exist?
To use their financial capacity to provide housing to those unable to access the open market for homes. In 2017, with rising income inequality and an acute Housing crisis, their potential customer base has widened dramatically. Some Housing Associations also build homes for market sale to subsidise wider business activity.
- How big are they?
They can vary dramatically in size. They can be comprised of 10 homes or 100,000. Some have asset bases worth billions of pounds and build over 1,000 homes annually. As a large proportion of these assets are fixed they can raise capital investment cheaply to fund future growth. This makes them powerful when lobbying Government on behalf of customers.
- Who do they need?
Finance professionals to manage a diverse portfolio of asset risks. Skilled construction professionals to build high quality homes. IT professionals to develop better ways of interacting with customers. Customer service experts able to manage a diverse customer base accessing multiple products & services. Proven leaders from multiple service sectors.
- What career potential is there?
A lot. Housing Associations are less vulnerable to market forces and the products & services they provide are in high demand nationally. As such, sustainable growth is not just assured but required. As products vary from customer apps to care services and housebuilding, career growth and ability to add value is open to those from many industries.
There are so many more questions that could be asked, and part of the tweet exercise is a test for me as I often find it tricky to explain the world of Housing Associations simply!
There are very few sectors that cannot offer skills that would add value to a Housing Association, but candidates need to understand them before they can see the career potential.
Have you got an important question you could answer in two tweets? Have a go below.
Nathan Minnighan specialises in making senior management and leadership appointments in the Housing sector.