15 May 2023

Professional qualifications create the future

No doubt you will have heard about the recent announcement from the UK government that it will be a mandatory requirement, as part of the Social Housing (Regulations) Bill, for all social housing managers to hold a professional qualification.

In his headline for the announcement, the Housing Minister, Michael Gove, stated that he wanted to see this as a catalyst for driving up standards in social housing, and improving the lives of social housing residents.

An estimated 25,000 social housing managers will be required to have an appropriate level of housing management qualification (regulated by Ofqual) equivalent to a Level 4 or 5 Certificate or Diploma in Housing, or a foundation degree from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

This is a sizeable chunk of the social housing workforce but note the terminology – the emphasis here is on managers. So, what about aspiring managers? Or staff who are perfectly content in their role but have an interest in formally, and recognisably, developing their professional skills and underpinning their practical knowledge with evidence of study?

These people (you, perhaps?) are vital for the sector, delivering frontline services and needing an array of skills and knowledge to do so.

I would guess that, if you work in housing at any level, even for a short time, that you’ve probably attended ad-hoc, topic specific training events, to develop key practice and improve your knowledge. Or perhaps you’ve undertaken a longer or broader course of study, covering behaviours and professional competency.

Whatever stage you are at in your career, all this learning contributes to your ability to develop in your role and build confidence. If you are then presented with a challenging issue in your work, you will not only have the technical knowledge to manage that effectively, but you will also have increased confidence and that will lead to the correct actions being followed by you in a timely manner to resolve the matter.

Michael Gove is frank and direct in his call to the sector – he wants to ‘professionalise’ and drive the culture change he believes many social housing organisations need to operate effectively.

I have read some commentary on this from leaders across the sector and there is a distinct theme which emerges – by undertaking a qualification, you are putting in place the building blocks of knowledge which underpin a professional approach to your job.

Let’s be clear though, you don’t simply enrol on a qualification and after passing it emerge on the other side as a fully-fledged professional – the learning journey it takes you on, meeting people from other organisations, sharing experiences in classes and forums, dissecting views and unravelling problems with the knowledge to do so - these are the routes to good professional practice.

As a housing tutor, I have assessed many assignment submissions dealing with the topic of professionalism in the sector. Some of these papers struggle with how to define professionalism. How would you define it? We all of course expect our teachers, doctors, surveyors, and social workers to be ‘professionally qualified’ but what does this mean?

Well, would you be happy having your house foundations assessed by someone who told you they had been assessing foundations for 10 years but had no qualification doing so; or someone who had studied this on a recognised course and had the qualification to prove it, plus 10 years' experience? I know who I would choose! (And probably who a job selection panel may choose, too).

Having appropriate qualifications for the job you do is important. It shows you are competent at that level of study; that you have been independently assessed, and that you are so committed to your role and achieving quality outcomes that you took on a course of study to prove this and passed it.

It sets you apart from your peers, it shows your manager that you are competent in the job you do, and it gives your customers confidence in knowing that you are the right person, with the right skills and knowledge, to help them.

Careers in social housing offer variety and a unique opportunity to help solve problems for people and improve their lives. But there are a lot of variables to consider every time you pick up an enquiry, an application, or a complaint. Not all of these can be managed by simply having some ‘experience in the job’.

Integrity, ethical behaviour, and professional conduct are three key areas everyone in the housing sector must demonstrate every day. CIH had identified these characteristics long before Mr Gove made his announcement.

If you haven’t done so already, it is well worth viewing the CIH code of conduct, code of ethics and the CIH professional standards.  I regularly assess housing apprentices on Level 2, 3 and 4 courses during a final panel discussion – almost all are motivated, dedicated, skilled and knowledgeable, but one question I often ask does elicit the deepest thought and longest pause before it is answered – ‘How would you describe the characteristics of professional behaviour?’.

The CIH offers a range of courses to help you develop your knowledge, skills and behaviours. If you enrol on a CIH course, you will have online resources to refer to, learning guides, personal allocated tutor support and work relatable assignment tasks to help you develop and improve.

By undertaking a course, qualification, or similar learning event, you will be joining other like-minded housing sector workers. Yes, you will probably be nervous, especially if you haven’t studied for a while, and yes, you will need to put in the time and effort to pass, but I would urge you to think about it. You will be supported, and you will learn and achieve far more than relying on work experiences alone. The qualification at the end is the proof of your learning.

So regardless of whether you fall into Mr Gove’s target audience for this latest announcement or not, give some thought to undertaking a housing qualification, at whatever level suits you best. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Written by Peter Wynne

Peter is a CIH academy tutor & independent end-point assessor.