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Direct Works – Past, present and future

Russell headshot

We speak to Direct Works Group Chair, Russell Thompson as they approach their 25th anniversary, to find out more about his vision for the next exciting chapter in the membership organisation’s history.

Q: Tell us about the early days of Direct Works and how it all began?

It all began in 1999 when the Direct Works Forum was founded by Keith Simpson who launched the forum of like-minded colleagues working in social housing services management. Our aim was simple: to promote excellence in social housing maintenance by providing training and professional development to our members and encouraging them to explore innovative ways to deliver their services.

Since then, our membership has broadened to include local authorities, arm’s length management organisations (ALMOs) and a growing panel of Affiliate partners who are on hand to share their knowledge and support our members.

In 2020, we rebranded to simply Direct Works to reflect the change in our approach and in meeting sector requirements pre and post Covid as well as a commitment to deliver more services  for members.

This year will see more exciting developments as we continue to grow the organisation into new areas, offering more options to our members to have their say in shaping the future of the housing sector.

Q: How has the sector changed since Direct Works launched, and how have you adapted to reflect your members’ needs

A: The sector has seen huge changes, with new regulations coming into force, net zero targets and the myriad of challenges associated with the skills gap and an ageing workforce. We have always encouraged our members to take the lead in preparing for upcoming changes and use their voice to influence how the sector can be improved.

There will always be challenges, and supporting our members is at the core of the Direct Works ethos – it’s something we’re passionate about and our team all have first-hand experience in managing change, so we’re expertly placed to help.

 

Q: What are the biggest challenges currently facing your members and how is Direct Works addressing this?

A: One of the biggest challenges is the labour shortage and the skills gap. The combination of an ageing workforce and fewer young people entering the sector has become increasingly difficult to manage. Our role is to help our members to demonstrate a clear path for apprentices and show they can have a rewarding career, with plenty of opportunities to develop their skills and ensure the sector is in good shape for the future.

Another major challenge is managing new legislation and regulations. For example, the Procurement Act which comes into force in October has huge implications for social housing providers. Our role is to signpost our members to all the resources available to them in the run-up so they’re fully prepared to hit the ground running.

In addition, our members are managing a whole range of issues – from rising costs associated with Brexit, damp and mould, net zero targets, improving resident engagement, and how best to harness new technological advances. These all have associated costs and need to be managed carefully, so finding the right people with the right skills has never been more vital.

Q: What strategies can your members implement to address the labour shortage?

A: Training is key. We encourage our members to invest in professional development programmes to upskill their existing workforce and provide plenty of opportunities for on-the-job learning. It’s also important that we focus on ways to attract a more diverse talent pool by promoting career opportunities to a wider cross section of young people who may not have considered a career in housing before.

By fostering a more inclusive work environment and encouraging diversity, we can all work together to promote our sector and encourage new talent. It’s a big challenge, but we are seeing huge progress with some excellent apprenticeship schemes and programmes to support the older workforce to upskill and share their expertise with the next generation.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about joining the sector?

A: As a sector, we are incredibly generous with sharing our knowledge, so my advice would be to use all the tools available to you – whether that’s an accredited training programme, in-house mentoring, learning on the job from experienced colleagues or being a part of an organisation like Direct Works, there are lots of options, so put yourself forward for any opportunities that come your way.

Q: Tell us about what’s next for Direct Works

A: Looking ahead, we have big plans to expand into new areas and develop our offering to include more bespoke support for housing professionals. Over the years, we have seen an increased demand for professional services such as recruitment, consultancy, procurement advice and more.

Our vision is to work with our networks to pull everything together under one roof, harnessing the latest technology to build a thriving community of engaged members and affiliates. It’s going to be an exciting journey for Direct Works, so watch this space!

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