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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

How did you get into housing? Katie's story


This morning’s National Careers Week guest blog comes from 23-year-old Katie Barker, who has been an assistant HR business partner at Grand Union Housing Group since February 2018. When Katie attended Sandy Upper School in Bedfordshire, she didn’t know what she wanted to do…

I’d had drilled into me to do my GCSEs, A-levels and go to university, all to prepare me for the world of work. Between things I knew, things I didn’t know and things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, housing fell into the latter section.

I went to Keele University and graduated in 2017 with a first-class honours degree in history. I then joined a graduate scheme for one of the big recruitment agencies in London, working there and in Milton Keynes. But within about eight months I’d worked out it wasn’t the role for me. After uni I’d wanted a proper job went for what was on offer – I kind of fell into it.

I thought I’d failed because I hadn’t found my dream job straight after uni. I gave myself a really hard time. Though now I see it was a valuable experience because it taught me what I didn’t want to do.

I loved working with people, really enjoyed interviewing and I knew I was good at it, but I wanted to finish the journey with people after I’d interviewed them. It certainly wasn’t a rewarding role.

My mum was an HR director, so I grew up with a bit of an insight into HR. I wanted a job that was people-focused and to see how a business could drive change by empowering its people. I wanted to work for an organisation that gave back. I wanted to work for a company that wasn’t profit-driven, that helped people in some way. My job search was to find an HR assistant role, but to learn my trade in an organisation that does good.

Since starting my HR role I’ve learnt that in order to get the best outcome, you can’t always go straight from A to B – people and situations are often complex and you have to tailor your approach to every situation. I learn about people by building relationships with them and by doing that, I can now see high performing teams, strategic thinking from managers that wasn’t there before and a lot more collaborative working.

Since joining Grand Union, I’ve been working to gain my CIPD level 5 in human resource management. I completed the course in six months instead of twelve with a day-release at North Herts College.

It was incredibly challenging. I’d gone from academic writing to looking at business cases, but it’s massively helped me in my role, from law and looking at employee relations to how a business operates and KPIs.

My main tasks in my role are three-fold: problem solving in employee relations (when you need knowledge of the law to support line managers in making the right decisions and keeping the organisation safe); influencing senior management and directors with business decisions (having the rapport and relationships so they trust you enough to rely on you and suggesting different approaches); and supporting the directors with controlling the establishment and the budgets (where you look at your top talent, your under-performers, high-absence cases, apprentice pipeline, secondments and maternity leave) – it’s a lot of mapping!

I’m in quite a responsible job at quite a young age and I still think I have to prove that I know what I’m talking about. When I’m in meetings with directors, negotiating with unions or justifying to someone a decision they’re not happy with, it’s always in the back of my mind that the other person is thinking ‘she’s 23, what does she know?’ It’s not something that’s been exhibited by my employer or colleagues, but it’s just something I’m conscious of.

My ultimate ambition is to become a director of HR by the time I’m 35. That might not happen - and if it doesn’t, then that’s ok. HR is more behind the scenes, so I stay in housing I’d like to take a secondment into another corporate function role, perhaps project management or service improvement, to give me more insight into housing. I want to stay in the not-for-profit or charity sector, that’s for certain.

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