CIH’s unique programme that creates professional traineeships for disabled people to develop a career in the housing sector has welcomed its second cohort of trainees, and CIH’s Housing magazine has asked some of them to tell their story.
Jayne Wallace, who is in the second year of her placement, admits she was nervous when she started her traineeship with Gloucester City Homes in 2009, but she now really enjoys it.
Jayne has ataxia, a disability that affects her speech and mobility. Previously Jayne worked as a beauty therapist but wanted a complete change of career. ”I like to be involved with people and Working Links (who provide tailored support to help people get back into employment) suggested I go into housing.” It was when she got in touch with Gloucester City Homes that they made the connection with CIH’s Positive Action for Disability and she started the two-year traineeship.
All trainees spend two years with a housing organisation during which time they work in different functions, shadowing officers and taking on their own responsibilities. At the same time they must complete a professional housing qualification.
Jayne started her traineeship in customer services and is now currently working in resident involvement at Gloucester City Homes and is full of praise: “I was nervous about being on the phone, but tenants are really supportive and I enjoy work. People at GCH are so nice… they know me now and I feel more confident.”
Andrew James started his traineeship in January 2010. He is working for Habinteg Housing and, like Jayne, is currently spending time in customer services. As a former resident of Habinteg, which provides specialist housing for disabled people, and a wheelchair user he understands the issues disabled tenants face. The opportunity to develop a career in housing is a major bonus of the traineeship. Andrew says: “I thought the traineeship would be a good stepping stone for disabled people to develop themselves and have a career rather than just a series of jobs.”
Andrew recognises, however, that it is an investment from the trainee as well as from the employer “we are on a trainee salary”, he explains. Studying for a postgraduate housing course alongside the traineeship demands time and energy too, but he is positive: “I am enjoying the degree – it gives you a focus – and it is also part of your job.”
Karen Elliott now has her own patch as a trainee housing officer in supported housing at Affinity Sutton and is “loving it”. Karen has a background in social work and has managed an estate agency in Spain for older people and fitted the criteria of the traineeship advertised at her local Job Centre. “I get up in the morning and I really want to go to work”, she says. Her next secondment is with the customer services team, which she was initially apprehensive about because her glaucoma means she cannot spend much time using a computer screen. “They have said they will put me on reception in customer services, which will be much better,” she continues.
Following a serious illness Paul Blayney got involved with the Shaw Trust, which found him the opportunity on the Positive Action for Disability programme with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. Paul says: “Before, I was working in sales and I didn’t enjoy it, now I have changed direction and taken a degree in sustainable communities.“ He recognises that pursuing the degree, which he says is “excellent” would not have been possible without the trainee salary and the course fees being paid. Currently Paul is enjoying the face to face work with tenants during his placement as a trainee community support officer.
Preparing for work
The Shaw Trust’s Jane Sherry, Head of Employer and Graduate Services, has been working closely with CIH to help recruit trainees to housing organisations. The charity supports disabled and disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently.
Jane says: “There are many reasons why people with disability should be part of the workforce but none more compelling than the benefit that their contribution brings to the business. The insight and direct experience that a person with disabilities has can help with service design and delivery, reflecting the needs and aspirations of the market place. By 2020 it is predicted that 50 per cent of the population will be living with a disability or long-term health condition. With such a large percentage of the population forecast to experience disabling conditions, there really shouldn’t be a debate about it; a diverse workforce enables an organisation to quickly tap in to what its customer needs, it makes sound business sense.”
Jane concludes: “CIH is a great example to other organisations; with a positive action programme they are demonstrating the importance and value of recruiting from a group which is under represented in social housing management.”
Positive about disability
Dorrie Sherer, Head of Resourcing and Development at Affinity Sutton says that, as a positive about disability employer, recruiting trainees under the CIH PAfD scheme is a “natural step… in line with our overall strategy of building a diverse work force”. Affinity Sutton had originally intended to recruit just one trainee but the field was so strong they ended up recruiting two. Affinity Sutton is running the programme along the lines of its graduate programme with each of the trainees undertaking three four month placements during their first year – they are set objectives and have a personal development plan and will be formally reviewed and given feedback at the end of each placement. Dorrie added: “Their first placements end towards the end of November and so far all is going well – the trainees and their managers are all positive. We’ll decide in consultation with the graduates where their second full year placement will be.”
But at a time of government spending cuts and when budgets are being slashed, what outlook is there for an intensive trainee programme of this kind? Graham Findlay, who manages the project at CIH has seen such positive interest from employers that he is upbeat about the future.
Graham says: “It’s been a really exciting two years for the PAfD programme. To a great extent the first intake of trainees – including Jayne and Andrew – have been the “guinea pigs” for the project, and I’m very pleased to know that they are gaining the essential experience and knowledge that will make them first class housing professionals.
“Many of our trainees have made massive strides in their own development since joining the programme – for example, one has undertaken a Masters degree and another has won a “Best Employee” award. And the message from our housing partners has been clear – that the PAfD programme has made them think differently about disability, and that disabled people can make a significant and unique contribution to their organisation.
“The project is on track to deliver its main objective, which is to produce talented disabled housing professionals who will add value to any organisation that employs them and who will go on to forge a successful career in the sector. In times of recession and cuts, equality and diversity might be seen as an area that is intangible and a bit of a luxury. I think that the PAfD programme shows the reverse is true – that in difficult times, it is even more important that disabled people get the opportunity and support to show they can excel, and that housing organisations can really benefit from employing them.”
For more information on the PAfD programme and the potential opportunities available please contact Graham Findlay via email.