Riverside are a major provider of affordable housing, care and support services in England and Scotland, with almost 56,000 homes in management.

Operating at scale across over 160 local authorities, their vision is to transform the lives of the 90,000+ people we house and revitalise the neighbourhoods in which they live

They provide well maintained, good quality affordable housing whilst creating opportunities to increase household income through programmes of employment, affordable warmth and money advice. Their housing, care and support services enable people facing a wide variety of challenging circumstances to lead more resilient and independent lives. Riverside revitalise neighbourhoods by building new homes, creating and maintaining green spaces and bringing people together through community engagement programmes.

Lee Buss-Blair is the Director of Operations for Riverside’s Care & Support function, including their homelessness services, older people’s services, services for veterans and managed agents. He has worked in supported housing for over 20 years, specialising predominantly in homelessness. Prior to this, he worked within the NHS delivering support to people with HIV/Aids.

In his current role, he is responsible for the strategic development and delivery of all of Riverside’s Care and Support services, including Housing Management. This includes; 10,000 units of accommodation, 13,500 customers, 1,200 colleagues, and a turnover of £110,000,000.

Alongside his role as Director of Operations, Lee is the Group Veteran’s Lead and is active in the national discussion on veteran homelessness.

Lee shared a blog with us in which he discussed the challenges facing the housing sector. He outlined the steps that his organisation have taken to initiate a recruitment drive and put the sector back on its feet. Since publishing this piece, Lee has also shared with us another blog on how the housing sector can work towards ending veteran rough sleeping.

As a sector, supported housing faces a number of significant challenges. But none are as acute, or as far-reaching, as the challenges, we currently face in recruiting and retaining colleagues, the people who deliver the services that our customers so desperately need to support them to overcome barriers that exist in their lives to be able to go on to live independently in their communities.

Several factors, including the post-Brexit drop in net migration and the impact of Covid-19, have resulted in significant workforce challenges across a number of sectors. As purely commercial sectors, such as retail and logistics, increase their salaries to attract a smaller pool of candidates, supported housing seems to have seen an increase in challenges associated with the recruitment and retention of staff.

The majority of roles we advertise are Local Authority grant-funded, with the level of funding fixed for a 3-to-5-year period without any inflationary increase. As the job market moves, the fixed nature of the funding means that we cannot, as a sector, increase salaries without an increase in the grant funding levels available to us.

While the situation is fluid, our colleague vacancy rate has risen significantly over the last two years, from 5.5% in 2020, up to 9.3% at the start of 2022.

In addition to our own recruitment challenges, our national account supplier for temporary recruitment is frequently unable to source cover for temporary roles. They have also been given the offer to fill permanent roles with a 15% fee, but have been unable to source or provide candidates, despite this incentive.

Over the past six months, we have been working with colleagues in a number of areas in the South East of England to focus on providing them with additional talent and recruitment resources.

A weekly working group was set up in September 2020 with a cross-section of stakeholders – Service Managers, Area Managers, Regional Operations Managers, People and Talent Partners. The group work together to discuss recruitment challenges and opportunities, with a view to improve candidate attraction and fill vacancies. Recruitment briefing calls are completed with hiring managers for each of the vacancies while job adverts have been refreshed and re-written to ensure that they are more engaging to the candidate market.

Riverside has partnered with a specialist consultancy during Covid-19 to support with recruitment of particularly hard to fill areas in the South East, they have also been unable to source candidates.

Our budget allocated to paid advertising avenues has been exhausted with disappointing results. In Kent, there were 30 positions advertised between October 20 – March 21. In total there were 31 applicants. Only eight applicants were suitable for interview, and six offers of employment were made, leaving 24 positions unfilled.

Similarly, in Surrey, there were 17 positions advertised between November 20 – March 21. There were 94 applications, only 18 were suitable for an interview and only six offers of employment were made leaving 11 positions unfilled.

In September 2021, we paid for our job adverts in Surrey to appear at the top of every Indeed job search. This resulted in 50 people clicking into the advert. However, after the salary was revealed, only one candidate applied.

While it has been the case in the South of England that recruitment has been challenging for some time, the inability to source temporary agency cover is new, and we have started to see similar challenges across the rest of the country, including the North East and North West.

As our efforts in the South East to improve our practice in relation to recruitment prove, this alone is not sufficient to attract candidates and to make supported housing an attractive option in comparison to retail, where salaries have seen increases over the last 12-18 months.

Supported Housing front-line staff perform a skilled role in, sometimes, incredibly challenging and stressful environments. Our colleagues are dedicated, and often driven by a sense of vocation. But after a prolonged period of stress from working during a pandemic, in an environment made more challenging due to staff shortages, we risk losing them to (often) better paid, lower stress, sectors.

We have depended on people’s sense of vocation and innovated in our practices to attract new talent into the sector, but with limited success.

As we move as a nation to the desired ‘high wage economy,’ without the levels of funding required to provide salaries that are both commensurate to the work, and competitive, the supported housing sector risks being left behind.

Vital services for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities face being left without the staff required to deliver the much-needed support.

Lee Buss-Blair, Director of Operations, Care and Support Function, Riverside.

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The housing sector has been struggling with recruiting new talent and retaining its workforce. Lee Buss-Blair Director of Operations at the housing provider Riverside, shared how his organisation are tackling workforce issues.

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