Housing Technology interviewed technology-specific housing recruiters from James Andrews Recruitment Solutions, Karbon Homes, Lioness Recruitment and StaffCircle about how to find and keep the right people for all levels of housing providers’ IT- and business-focused roles.
Is social housing different?
Laura Bruford, director of Lioness Recruitment, said, “Recruitment in social housing is different to other sectors because our sector isn’t just skills-driven but also values-driven. Companies’ core values must therefore align with the values of the candidates they appoint because the services provided should ultimately always be with tenants in mind.
“Recruitment is also driven by value for money; permanent and fixed-term roles will be benchmarked and there is often little manoeuvrability further along in the process for this to be increased, although this benchmarking approach can sometimes cause problems for niche skillsets.
“Our sector also focuses more on employees’ wellbeing and benefits than some private-sector businesses; as the quote goes, ‘if you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers’.”
Nathanial Ray, assistant director of ICT and digital transformation at Karbon Homes, said, “On paper, jobs in the housing sector can be the same as other sectors but salaries can often be a differentiator. At Karbon Homes, the salaries for all our roles are benchmarked against market rates so we know they are competitive, but the performance cultures and performance-related-pay models of private-sector businesses can mean candidates are often attracted elsewhere.
“As a sector, we should actually be celebrating and promoting our points of difference. With many housing providers being SMEs, their size and agility gives staff the chance to build a career, make strides in their professional growth, be more nimble and, most importantly, do work that has a high social value.”
Adam Cragg, director of James Andrews Recruitment Solutions, said, “In many ways, recruitment in social housing is no different to other business sectors, whether that’s private sector, local government or not-for-profit organisations. The technology used generally remains the same – of course, there are housing-specific systems but, in general, supporting Microsoft applications is a uniform operation.”
Do you need housing-specific knowledge?
Lioness Recruitment’s Bruford said, “The need for housing-specific knowledge depends on the role and the candidate. That said, we always find that it’s very helpful for candidates to have some social housing experience so that the environment isn’t a complete shock!
“If you’re recruiting for an application- or business-systems analyst, it is almost always necessary to have some relevant experience with housing management systems. However, for other roles, such as infrastructure or managerial, where the technology skillsets are less specific, we’ve often found that there are excellent candidates within the wider ‘third sector’ better suited to those roles than some people with social housing experience.”
Housing providers’ wide variety of business applications
Karbon Homes’ Ray said, “We need to ensure we’re creating and running high quality services, not becoming application developers and ‘technology siloed’ experts. Although technology is a significant business enabler, it’s not our core purpose; we should be able to translate the service needs of our business users into strategic and tactical (as applicable) solutions and make them available fast.
“This is where IT application specialists come in, mainly through moving towards PaaS or SaaS solutions with low- or no-code rapid development abilities. There is still a dependency in our sector on traditional IT application providers, so highly proficient, sometimes expert, skills are needed.”
Lioness Recruitment’s Bruford said, “Dealing with housing providers’ wide variety of business applications is something that comes with experience; that’s why it’s so important that housing providers thoroughly vet their recruitment partners.
2 years of hands-on experience in housing recruitment. It’s therefore our business priority to ensure we remain completely up-to-date with all systems and new technologies, including housing management, asset management, repairs, scheduling, finance and HR.
“After so much time working in housing, we’re confident that we know almost everybody who is about, as well as whether they’re actively or passively looking for roles, and we can quickly connect the right person for the job.”
Variety of recruitment methods
What is the role of specialist recruitment consultancies, preferred supplier lists (PSLs), general recruiters and direct recruitment?
Lioness Recruitment’s Bruford said, “Specialist recruitment agencies can quickly identify niche candidates and are generally much more thorough in their recruiting processes. They tend to provide shortlists of only the most suitable candidates, taking time and headaches out of the recruitment process for hiring managers, and they can completely manage the recruitment process from start to finish. However, one drawback of a specialist agency is that, by their very nature, they can’t help with all of an organisation’s recruitment across all departments.
“Preferred supplier lists are usually compiled by HR teams and will often be based on historic success in the form of numbers of roles filled and should theoretically provide the best agencies for each department. The problem with PSLs tends to be that sometimes these don’t take into account a particular department’s opinion when dealing with agencies, leading to agencies being on lists that aren’t really delivering.
“We now come to general recruitment agencies; these are risky because they will say ‘yes’ to every role without having the knowledge and experience to deliver. They will often submit very long shortlists, so clients find themselves ‘shortlisting a shortlist’. General recruitment agencies often have poor attention to detail; this can be problematic at all stages of the recruitment process and wastes a lot of time. General recruiters are usually best for high volume recruitment and dealing with organisations who have a lot of patience!
“When it comes to direct recruitment (i.e. DIY), we have always encouraged organisations to try and recruit for themselves in the first instance, particularly in view of the financial savings. However, this isn’t feasible for many businesses because of the time and resources needed, coupled with their likely lack of experience in identifying niche skillsets.
“That said, we do come across organisations who are adamant that they can resource every single role themselves and never, ever have a requirement to use external agencies. The likelihood of this being true in 90 per cent of cases is unlikely because we can’t all be experts in everything all the time.”
Line-of-business managers and HR teams
James Andrews Recruitment’s Cragg said, “In our experience, successful recruitment is always more likely if line managers are involved in the process. Being able to speak to a manager to understand any skill gaps in a department and the specific requirements on a job description vastly improves the chance of success and is something we always insist on.”
Karbon Homes’ Ray said, “Line-of-business managers should define all of the requirements and carry out the assessments. As long as the HR team provides the framework and underlying logistics, the line managers (whether business or IT) should do the rest.”
Lioness Recruitment’s Bruford said, “In technology departments, line managers tend to be heavily involved in their own recruitment activities because they need to define their key skillsets, propose those within a job description and then ensure that the right candidates are selected for interview, whereas HR teams tend to be mainly involved to oversee the general process and maintain the smooth running of the recruitment process, such as spotting and weeding out duplicate CVs from different recruitment agencies.
“There should be a healthy balance between the IT & HR teams during the recruitment process or it can cause all sorts of problems such as candidates being kept waiting too long for internal referencing processes and final paperwork, and then being lost to other organisations with more streamlined recruitment processes and internal teams that work harmoniously together.”
Housing’s culture and ethos
Mark Seemann, founder and CEO of StaffCircle, said, “Focusing on organisational culture is the key to recruiting high-performing and engaged employees. Culture, ethos and values are vital at all stages of the employee lifecycle, starting with recruitment.
“It’s important that an organisation’s core values and beliefs are clearly defined and communicated, then used as the basis for all hiring decisions. Employees with clear goals aligned to company objectives have a stronger sense of purpose and achieve more.”
James Andrews Recruitment’s Cragg said, “The majority of people in the social housing sector would agree that it is a unique culture, so look for candidates who not only have the right business and technology skills but also the soft skills to succeed. While becoming more commercial is frequently a goal for many housing providers, there is often the need for candidates to have some experience working in a public-sector environment.”
Lioness Recruitment’s Bruford said, “Why would anybody want to work somewhere that they feel miserable in their role because of a mismatched corporate culture and ethos?
“We are in such a candidate-led market at the moment that many candidates are well aware that they don’t need to put up with office gossip, shoddy management or a lack of employee wellbeing, to give just a few examples. In contrast, they could have been interviewed virtually and been offered and then accepted a new role with a great business within a matter of days.”
Lioness Recruitment’s Bruford said, “Do your due diligence. Make sure whatever recruitment approach you take is the right one for you and don’t close your doors to agencies in case you need their help down the line. Check that whoever you partner with for your recruitment actually has the substance and experience that they claim to have; getting tied to the wrong agency can be a headache.
“Be quick – as mentioned earlier, we are currently very much in a candidate-driven market; candidates with niche skillsets are currently coming on and off the market within a matter of days. If candidates have been clear that they are interviewing elsewhere, it’s understandable that they won’t wait around for three weeks while you shortlist for a role they may or may not actually get.
“Be clear – it’s really important that you’ve ironed out exactly what you are looking for before engaging an agency, as opposed to only doing so after receiving several batches of CVs because you’ve changed the required skillset(s) at each point.”
Karbon Homes’ Ray said, “First of all, make sure you are doing attractive and interesting work and tell that story on social media and online. After all, companies and their people are the real attractions of our sector because salaries will never be a point of difference that we can win with.
“Housing providers are obviously not technology companies, so someone else should be best at the highly technical skills; lowering the technical and proprietary skills needed for housing IT will therefore open up more of the market to us.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Adam Cragg (James Andrews Recruitment Solutions), Nathanial Ray (Karbon Homes), Laura Bruford (Lioness Recruitment) and Mark Seemann (StaffCircle) for their comments and editorial contributions to this article.