One big question: what do RSLs need to do to recruit and upskill enough staff to achieve WHQS '23?
With the publication of the updated Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS), Community Housing Cymru spoke with leaders across the social housing sector, to ask them One Big Question…
To achieve the ambitious standards set out in WHQS 2023, what are the vital steps that Welsh social landlords need to take to recruit and upskill enough staff?
Alan Brunt, CEO Bron Afon Community Housing; board member of Community Housing Cymru and the Foundational Alliance Wales
“If WHQS 2023 is the pathway to our becoming ‘good ancestors’ (to use the words of HACT’s Andrew Van Doorn), then the issue of skills is a hurdle to negotiate. It’s a growing preoccupation for Bron Afon and our peers in the sector, particularly those organisations with a direct labour force. It is also a regular discussion point within Community Housing Cymru and the Foundational Alliance Wales, but the solutions aren’t straightforward!
“We think the best approach to new entrants to the workforce is a collaborative one alongside Coleg Gwent on the future content of apprenticeship programmes. However, its ability to adapt courses has been constrained by a funding mechanism which is set at a national level and favours meeting immediate demand with little flexibility to anticipate future needs. So there’s also a conversation needed at national level to support locally based solutions.
“I’d like to see more focus on shared apprenticeships with a pick and mix suite of units that allow individuals to specialise in certain areas, but with a core grounding in a recognised trade.
“It strikes me that WHQS 2023 is a great opportunity to pilot this in the social housing sector, but we’d need to start now to be able to see the benefit towards the second half of the programme.”
Darren Hatton, head of housing standards, climate change and rural affairs group, Welsh Government
“Welsh Government officials are working with the Welsh Government Department for Economy and Skills along with industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Training Board and Federation of Master Builders in assessing skills and the supply chain needs of both products and services.
“This has resulted in the publication of the Net Zero Skills Wales Action Plan in February this year. This action plan is looking at eight emission sectors including residential buildings.
“The next phase of this work will be a sector-wide skills consultation, which will capture sector-specific skills requirements and is scheduled to go live in September 2023.
“This consultation will set out the current skills position for each sector, skills that are needed in the short, medium and longer term and how we will achieve these. This will lead to a sector skills roadmap and an implementation phase.
“It is clear that the new standard provides significant opportunities for Wales’ supply chains of products and services to develop the TrustMark accredited and PAS 20235 qualified skills community in Wales.”
Elly Lock, head of policy and external affairs at Community Housing Cymru
“WHQS is an ambitious standard, however housing associations are absolutely dedicated to working towards achieving this.
“In order to make these goals more realistically deliverable, the social housing sector needs urgent government investment and support to create the highly skilled workforce that is needed.
“Housing associations are committed to working with Welsh Government to help inform a skills strategy to ensure that workers are recruited and adequately trained to help deliver more sustainable homes.
“Their drive to be at the forefront of nurturing green skills, also means that housing associations are investing in local people and communities to deliver the Wales of tomorrow. In North Wales, for example, Adra housing association is leading a decarbonisation partnership that brings training, skills and jobs to the local community to find solutions to decarbonise homes.
“It is this type of innovative thinking, combined with vital government support and partnership working, that will enable social landlords to recruit and retain the workforce it needs.”
Malcolm Davies, senior programme manager/housing decarbonisation, Welsh Government
“It is essential we secure clear commentary of actual need so that appropriate funding can be brought to bear, though this is not only about the current, but all the asset management, planning, administration that goes with it.
“There is a significant opportunity for those seeking a new role, or to retire, to stay on and become trainers - which is something we urgently require.
“Succession planning and the need to engage with, and raise awareness among 10 to 21 year olds as to the hugely varied careers on offer across the whole supply chain of construction, design, science, product research, administration, digital and the four utilities sectors, is also crucial.”