02 Sep 2022

Housing apprenticeships: cultivating the next generation of housing professionals

The professional approach to housing management has a long history. The Northern Ireland Housing Trust’s first annual report in 1946 stated:

“The Trust, in its early days, secured the services of a trained woman Housing Manager. Further … eight Ulster women were selected for training and, by arrangement with the Society of Women Housing Managers, are at present being trained in England. … The training is strenuous and includes studies in business accountancy, building construction methods and maintenance, law of housing and the social services. Concurrently, students also perform the actual day to day duties on housing estates …”

Much has changed since then (the Society of Women Housing Managers is now known as the Chartered Institute of Housing). And yet the role of the housing manager and the importance of education highlighted here remain very familiar themes.

Housing is a critical profession, with managers working to foster healthy communities where people feel safe, secure, and can thrive. But like many important jobs in modern times, housing is experiencing acute pressure in an already stretched workforce.

Adding to this pressure, in Northern Ireland, has been the closure of the housing management degree, not least because the course resulted in high numbers of jobs. Many social housing providers and some private and third-sector organisations became accustomed to recruiting graduates.

Our members were clear with us that education pathways – particularly for people leaving school – could not be lost, given the important role they play in attracting housing managers. So as a professional body with education at the core of our charitable status, we stepped in.

The result of our intervention, to date, has been eight social housing providers recruiting 23 housing apprentices this summer. This happened ahead of enrolment in a new housing apprenticeship program in 2023, following nearly three years of work developing the program.

Housing organisations are places where people can advance a great career, and multiple education options play an important role in attracting and retaining talent. This means we cannot stop with apprenticeships alone. Additional pathways are at an early stage of development including a foundation degree and a new undergraduate course.

The new apprenticeships are the result of partnership working (like much good work in housing) and I would like to acknowledge two people without whom it simply would not be happening. Fiona Dempsey of Belfast Met (you can find Fiona putting good ideas into action near you), and Caroline McKeever of North West Regional College and the Sectoral Partnership in Health and Social Care (who committed countless hours to the development of the apprenticeship framework).

Caroline remarked to me just how engaged the housing sector has been in developing the program. The co-design will ensure that the apprenticeships are live to the sector’s needs, and I think the strong level of support for the first year of a new program shows it is off to a good start.

I’d like to thank everyone for their efforts in creating such an engaging apprenticeship program over the past three years. We look forward to getting started and cultivating the next generation of housing professionals.

The Housing Practice (Level 3 Apprenticeship NI) will initially be offered by North West Regional College as an online course, giving access to learners from across Northern Ireland. The CIH Level 3 Certificate in Housing Practice will be used as the knowledge component.

Written by Justin Cartwright

Justin is the National Director of CIH Northern Ireland.