This year’s Scottish Housing Day is focused on careers in housing. So we have asked Cairn staff about how they got started in the sector and what their job involves…
Michelle Reid about working as a Housing Officer
I started my Career in housing as a youth trainee for the Highland Council straight after I left school when I was 17.
My first work experience was on logging housing applications for future tenants and doing a lot of filing for the Highland Councils income officers. Now I’m sending my own letters as an Income Officer, so it feels like a real full circle moment!
As a Housing Officer I do pre tenancy interviews for incoming tenants and help our tenants if they have fallen into financial hardship by referring them in the right direction for money advice. I’ve also been linking up with my colleagues in the tenancy team going on site visits and allocating properties.
To be a housing officer you need to be a good listener, very organized, empathetic, sometimes firm, and have a good understanding of policies and procedures surrounding rent and arrears.
Lynsey Newlands, Housing Officer (Tenancy) – Learning on the job
My first job at Cairn was as Administrator within Homeworks. After 18 months an opportunity to cover for a maternity post came up in another team and I was asked if I would consider it. That was a very busy and challenging year, but I loved it! With changes in the team a new full-time post came up later and now 8 years later I can still say I love my job.
What qualifications did you need for your position?
I have no housing qualifications at the present time. I have attended multiple training courses relating to matters that I deal with day to day, and I do a lot of training relating to MH, Safe Lives, management courses, health and safety etc.
Unfortunately, when I went to start my Level 4 Housing Course through Edinburgh Uni, Covid hit which halted the course. I am looking to apply for this again when I have the time that I can dedicate to it.
I would say that to make a good housing officer you need a lot of patience, empathy and understanding as you will come across a lot of different and difficult situations. That said you do also need to be tough, firm and resilient especially when dealing with emotionally draining situations.
Anna Goldthorp: Combining my passion for social justice with creative experience
My undergrad was in Environmental Art, focussing on site specific work and public art projects, so I’ve always been interested in understanding the built environment and its importance in sustaining cohesive communities.
I realised that I could combine my passion for social justice along with my creative experience and interest in communities by working in social housing. For me, working in this field is incredibly fulfilling, knowing I can play a small part in providing a safe, warm, affordable home for someone means everything.
Do you need qualifications or special experience to work as a Development Officer?
It certainly helps. I have a Postgraduate Diploma in Housing from The University of Glasgow, which means I am a Chartered Housing Professional. The elective classes I undertook during my time there focussed on regeneration and sustainable housing development. Before becoming a Development Officer, I had worked in social housing for six years across various roles and departments, including tenant participation, housing services and repairs reporting. Having that range of experiences, combined with the learning experience of the PGDip helped me to step into Development.
Susan Wilson, Development and Regeneration Manager – There are so many aspects to my job!
I studied Architecture and in my fourth year I worked on a regeneration project for a Glasgow Housing Association, I really enjoyed working with the Association and tenants and went on to work as an Architect for a few years and on mainly Housing Association projects. During the recession I was made redundant and went on to study the Postgraduate Diploma in Housing at Heriot Watt University.
What do you do day to day?
There are so many aspects to the job and at any one time I could be involved in identifying future development opportunities, negotiating with developers and landowners, consulting with one of many Local Authorities and Scottish Government to submit projects in their Strategic Housing Investment Plans. I am also involved with the development of the design brief for projects and working up developments from inception to completion.
David Cargill: A housing career is a good way to combine my customers service and construction skills (Regional Lead North)
When I left school, I joined the Merchant Navy, which provided me with a foundation of skills, that I have been developing ever since. Following on from this, I enjoyed time working in the retail environment where I picked up invaluable customer services skills.
I then went onto experience the construction industry where I would further develop my customer services skills but also develop further skills within construction.
It was then when I started to work with maintenance officers and clerk of works for Registered Social Landlords and Local Authorities. I liked what they were trying to achieve in supporting people to live in their homes, help to sustain tenancies and provide quality homes and services. I viewed this career as a good way for me to combine my customer services skills alongside my construction skills, so I decided to apply for maintenance officer jobs.
After a couple of failed applications, I was successful and became a Maintenance Officer. That was 13 years ago, and I have not looked back. I have gone onto have a very good, successful and rewarding career within housing becoming a maintenance manager and a national maintenance manager. Following on from this, I made the change from property services to customer services where I am now Regional Lead responsible for housing and customer services. You can have a very rewarding and fulfilling career in housing if you are centred around the services, support and standards customers should receive.
Jason MacGilp on his role as Cairn’s Chief Executive
I did the housing studies degree at Bristol Polytechnic – now University of the West of England – in the mid-80s of the last century, which gave a broad training in all aspects of housing development, neighbourhood management, law and housing finance and included various work placements.
My mother was a social housing tenant for many years with Guinness Trust and I know how important a good housing service, a decent home and fair rents were to her and her young family.
What do you think are the benefits of working in the housing sector?
Good quality affordable homes and services can transform lives and communities. If we all do our jobs right (including the Chief Executive) we can change lives for the better. Social housing can, at its best, make a real difference to individual people, families and our society as a whole.
How did you become Cairn’s Chief Executive?
I applied and got lucky one fine day in the Summer of 2011. I am a housing person through and through and have worked for a number of housing associations, local authorities, in consultancy and policy development at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) in various roles over the years. I think seeking out a range of experiences in different aspects of the sector – housing management, development, maintenance, policy – gives a good background.
For anyone aspiring to senior leadership roles (and not everyone does or should!) keeping a focus on the core purpose of any organisation and being clear on what your contribution can be, and actively getting involved in projects and organisational initiatives can be useful experience. Being open, and prepared to listen and learn from others, taking the occasional calculated risk, and being ready to sometimes fail, and to learn from those mistakes is also important. Reflecting on why things went well is also just as useful.