How can housing associations help tenants tap into their potential?

Upskilling tenants is one way to mitigate job losses and prevent tenancy issues as the government's furlough scheme ends, says Matt Adam.
Matt Adam, chief executive of We Are Digital.

According to the work and pensions minister Thérèse Coffey, the end of the government’s furlough scheme in September will lead to a rise in unemployment. Those who work in retail, hospitality and tourism are particularly vulnerable.

So how can tenants find work in a post COVID-19 environment? This is a key question housing associations must answer and, indeed, most are now facing. In this new world, tenants must widen their options.

BAME prioritisation is particularly critical. A study of more than 1,000 Peabody residents found that those of African or Caribbean descent were less likely to be furloughed and 56% more likely to have lost their jobs during the crisis than those of European descent. The survey also showed that 38% of Peabody’s working residents had lost their jobs, had their hours cut or been furloughed.

Fourteen roles and one application

And the good news in all this? There are roles out there for those who can venture into diverse sectors they may not have previously considered.

Digital marketing, for example, is a sector crying out for talent. We are finding from conversations with employers that there just aren’t enough people out there with the skills needed to fill current vacancies. Our findings are echoed in the wider marketplace. Mark Wright, the 2014 winner of reality TV show The Apprentice, recently complained that his digital marketing business has 14 roles immediately available but has received only one application to date.

The skills and confidence to gain higher paid roles

Training is emerging to plug these skills gaps. In 2020, We Are Digital worked on a pilot project with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to improve digital skills regionally. The 12-week training course, known as Digital Boost, targeted diverse and excluded communities, providing participants with the skills and confidence to gain higher paid roles in digital industry.

Applications were particularly encouraged from women, black and minority ethnicity residents – BAME representation in digital agencies was only 14% in 2019 – and those who have historically struggled to access training and education. Young people disadvantaged or displaced by COVID-19 were also a focus. Each demographic target was hit in terms of course attendees.

Attendees learned how to plan, test, implement and refine digital campaigns, working as a team to design and present a commercial strategy. Our students come to believe it is possible to take fresh ideas into competitive modern marketing businesses, while our training emphasises that diverse backgrounds are an advantage in digital industries where authenticity and individual stories are highly prized.

During 2021, the Digital Futures Fund, itself a Prince’s Trust Workforce Fund and GCMA partnership initiative, will provide training and support to enable hundreds of young people aged 16 to 25 to take their first steps into their future digital careers.

Employment boost

On a national level, we’re now working with Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing Association (MTVH), which provides homes and services across 57,000 homes in London, the southeast and the East Midlands, to develop future digital marketing work opportunities for tenants. The project will target residents aged 18-plus and reaching up to 48 attendees. The move forms part of MTVH’s Resident and Customer Empowerment Strategy.

We are also urging housing associations in the South East to refer over 2,000 tenants to free digital inclusion training to help them find new jobs, as part of our work with the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) to boost employment in the area. Rresidents will also receive a free tablet device and internet access to use if eligible.

Pandemic-proof

Digital and tech roles have proven themselves pandemic-proof. Indeed, advertised vacancies in this sector increased by 36% between June and August 2020. We have personally witnessed a growing desire to fill digital skills gaps. Employers in our growing national database, which includes start-ups, SMEs (two thirds of whom are reporting digital skills shortages) and big corporates, are ready to take on work experience placements, apprentices and early careers roles linked to our training in digital marketing.

The opportunities for progression are out there – tenants just need to gain sight of the right opportunities to help them develop and grow.

Matt Adam is chief executive of We Are Digital, a venture capital-backed social impact business. It has helped thousands of people access essential online services, manage their debts and find work during the pandemic through its training work with housing associations, local authorities, banks and corporates. For more information, visit www.we-are-digital.co.uk.

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