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

My learning story: Thomas Sutton


Incommunities strategic business lead for customer services shares how the GEM (Graduate Employment Mentoring) programme paved the way to achieving his current role in leadership.

With the blink of an eye, I have been a housing professional for more than seven years. Quite an achievement for someone who wasn’t even aware of the career opportunities the sector offered all those years ago but I have loved every minute!

I left university determined to have a profession and a career which fitted comfortably with my value set. I had just spent the last three years at the University of Warwick studying politics and sociology developing quite a political conscience and so it felt necessary for me to practise what I had been preaching and look to do something which was for the greater good and not just for my own enrichment. And so looking around at the graduate schemes prominent on campus at the time, I entered the world of teaching. Deferring a year to do a bit of travelling, my original plans to be a secondary teacher were carved apart due to reform of the education system and I instead returned to take up a primary school post on the TeachFirst graduate scheme.

It just wasn’t for me and I didn’t feel any real intellectual stimulation from the constant emphasis on SATS results and the inevitable focus on teaching for the test. So I bravely stepped into the world of unemployment, not sure what my next move was, having committed to a tenancy in a part of the world foreign to me (Yorkshire). I began to look around the jobs market and secured an interview with RBS which would have offered me a decent salary and relative comfort for my age and needs at the time.

However, even though my social ethos hadn’t quite been enough for me to continue in the classroom, I still wanted to do something with a bit of soul and something I would be proud to talk about rather than just blend into the graduate jobs market.

Sat on my bed in Leeds writing my memoirs (they nearly got published), I stumbled across the GEM programme which was offering unemployed graduates an opportunity to work in a sector with real social values and where a strong psychological contract was required. This was something to catch my eye!

And sure enough, it lived up to expectation and still over seven years later, I am reaping the benefits of the GEM programme. To begin with I secured a six-month temporary contract at Incommunities working on the impacts of welfare reform. And as my career has evolved, so has the GEM programme and I have been very lucky to have had Incommunities support in staying involved every step of the way.

Gaining my CIH Level 4, securing a permanent position, tutoring both Level 3 and Level 4 CIH students, visiting the realms of power in Westminster, gaining a supervisory position, visiting housing associations in foreign countries, presenting at international housing conferences, managing a city centre housing office, winning 24 Housing's young leader of the year, heading up a newly created customer service department, gaining my Chartered status and now gaining a new senior leadership role as a strategic lead for customer services for one of the biggest housing associations in the UK: the list goes on and on! What next? Who knows but the housing profession is full of opportunities and with the GEM programme, you will be able to seize them!

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