Guest blog: Apprenticeships at Together Housing

7 March 2018

When I got into housing, 40 years ago, it was a different environment to the one we have today.  There were only a few Housing Associations, a reducing private rented sector and the main alternative to owner occupation was council housing. The first association I worked for operated in Yorkshire and the Humber and a key role, alongside the provision of housing, was in regeneration, especially in the ex British Coal estates where we worked intensively with local people and organisations to help regenerate communities.

Obviously times have changed and amongst other things we are now developing mixed tenure estates where people own, rent or have part ownership of their properties living alongside each other and dispelling the old mono tenure “council estate” stereotypes that rose up out of the post war slum clearance.  Although the quality of housing has improved, no recent government has seen enough homes built to keep up with demand and the result is we are now in the midst of a housing crisis.  In order to address it, the North of England needs 50k homes to be built every year for the next ten years and Housing Associations, like Together Housing, need to and are ready and willing to play their part.

The financial crisis which resulted in a slowdown of new build completions also resulted in a reduction of people wanting to join the construction industry and a subsequent reduction in the training and development of building related skills. The outcome has been a skills shortage in the construction industry and companies are finding it hard to recruit.  In response, housing associations are working in a variety of ways to develop relevant skills amongst people in their local communities.

Sometimes, it’s about the apprentices we recruit ourselves. We have office and repairs staff who have come through the route of apprenticeships who have found that housing is a sector that has far more to offer than they may have first thought. It’s more than that though. In order to build and manage homes Together Housing works with a variety of partners which presents a range of opportunities. On a number of our developments we’ve had conditions built into our agreements with our construction partners to proactively offer placements to trainees.  At Pendleton Together, our groundbreaking partnership with Salford City Council to regenerate Salford, we won last year’s Festival of Learning Regional Award for the North, for the many apprenticeships, traineeships and community courses we built into the project from the start. Some of those apprenticeships really changed lives; one man went from being afraid to leave the house to gaining employment with one of our delivery partners, an example of regeneration not just transforming the bricks and mortar, but transforming lives.

Even more innovative has been our partnership with OSCO Homes. They specialise in Modular Panel Design building, where homes are built off site and then assembled quickly on site, cutting  house building times. OSCO operate a factory within HMP Hindley, where they train and develop serving prisoners, selecting some to progress onto traineeships working on building the panels. Upon release, OSCO continue with their training, progressing some onto apprenticeships and employing them to work on site, assembling the panels they previously built. Not only is this bringing new people into the construction trade, it’s also helping to reduce re-offending and providing ex-offenders with work; it’s win win.

Construction (and housing generally) can provide those who have struggled with education a real opportunity to progress. Our charity, Newground Together, fund a project helping young people disaffected at school, access other forms of training and find new opportunities, with several progressing on to apprenticeships. We’re helping people in our communities get the education and skills that they need and equipping them to become part of an industry that needs to develop fast and enable the construction industry to meet the increased targets of new homes.

National Apprenticeship Week often focuses on the education or construction sectors, but as the roots of apprenticeships are in providing skills and employment, so the roots of housing are in helping people reach their potential to be able to afford a home that they want to live in.

Steve Close is Chief Executive of Together Housing Group who, as owners of 38,000 properties across the North of England, are one of the largest housing associations outside of London.