The Nature of Professionalism
The notion that there is such an occupation as a housing professional is rather disputed concept. Managers working in the housing sector have had a considerable challenge presenting themselves as professionals. In traditional sense, there are some occupations, due to the nature of their work and professionalism, are well understood, while in some disciplines, the description of the work remain opaque. Such occupations as an architect, accountant, a lawyer, medical doctor or a surveyor can be easily understood, but the claim of a housing manager is not well understood to many (Casey, 2008). Urban sociologist are critical of housing managers being referred to as professionals argue that housing workers rely more on generic knowledge and common sense more than any specialised training (Casey and Allen, 2004). The claim over professional status has led to various perspectives on what constitutes a professional work.
In the basic definition, a profession can be described as an occupation that needs specific skills, knowledge, training, formal qualification and is normally paid (Butler, 2010, p. 98; Hurd 1967). The early sociological interpretation of the subject distinguished a professional from a non-professional through a number of attributes. Such attributes include formal education and entry requirements, a specialist body of knowledge, task complexity, professional code of conduct, and a high indeterminacy-technicality ratio (Butler, 2010, 98). According to Anleu (1992, p.104) points out that some of the early definitions of professions included “formal education and entry requirements, a monopoly over esoteric body of knowledge and associated skills, autonomy over the terms and conditions of practice, collegial authority, a code of ethics, and commitment to a service ideal”. Building on this Turner (1996) believes that a professional must possess “special knowledge and skills”.
From the altruistic perspective, altruism is the basic foundation of all profession (Cruess, Cruess and Johnston 2000). In this perspective, professionals are the people who are prepared to go above and beyond their call of duty to serve mankind (Middleton, 2008). Altruistic perspective assumes that professionals are “motivated primarily by their professional ethic and hence to be concerned only with the interests of the people they were serving” (Le Grand, 1997, p.155). In that regard, professionals are expected to display altruistic behaviours in the course of their duties. In the wake of September 11 attack for instance, there are some emergency medical personnel, fire-fighters and police who rushed to the scene never to be seen again. Members of the disciplined forces, especially the military, constantly put their lives in danger in the call of their duties. Thus in the altruistic sense of professionalism, the basic defining characteristic of a profession, as Baum (2001) notes, is the practice of professionals to put the interests of others above their own-sometimes at infinite cost to themselves and their loved ones”. Thus in altruistic perspective, the ability to serve others selflessly is the true mark of a real profession.
However, as Meiksins and Wason have rightly observed, “there is no single theory on professions: rather there are competing theories, no one of which has become completely hegemonic” (1989, p.561). This is why while some will put more emphasis on altruistic behaviours; other considers proficiency in performing a task, and belonging to a professional body as the defining characteristics of a profession. The latter perspectives put more emphasis on formal training.
In the light of these competing perspectives, the collective endeavour of housing managers to present themselves as professions has been challenged. According to urban sociologist, housing manager’s lacks the necessary collective identity to be recognised as professions (Malin, 2008). Berger and Luckmann (1967) posed that housing managers lacked the any unique “stock of knowledge” to fit in professional status. In spite of all these criticism, it would be wrong to posit that a housing manager posses none of unique knowledge as skills (Butler, 2010). Housing courses are grounded in all aspects of housing –its laws and history, how plumbing and drainage systems work and how houses are built (Wiles, 2011). In addition, modern housing managers have to gain peoples skills, management skills as well as be versed with human rights concerns (Mullins, 2013). All these units help a manager to see the greater picture of housing that allows them to understand how the constituent parts of sector works.
Business ethos in the housing sector
Housing professionals have a reputation for high standards of conduct and probity which are reinforced by the ethos of the sector as well as the various legislations. The professional body, Chartered Institute of Housing have listed the principles that each worker is the sector is expected to adhere to. Among the principles that characterise the practice of housing professionals include, equity, access, participation, rights, selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and equality and diversity (Snell,2004; CIH 2014). Since professionals in the social housing sector serve some of the most unfortunate members of the society (homeless person) they are expected to uphold the principles of justice and equality and maintain a recognised structure of practice.
More so, social housing sector has evolved to be governed by various laws that professionals are expected to serve all times. Such laws as anti-discrimination laws, transparency and accountability laws as well as health and safety regulations forms the legal framework in which the sector operates. In addition, since homelessness is a human right issue, housing professionals are expected to carry themselves in dignity and soberness that safeguard human values.
Some of the fundamental principles of housing are equity and access. In UK, houses for the homeless or those at the risk of homeless are never enough (Swinney, 2000). At every time there are thousands of applicants waiting to be allocated a house. Through working in such an environment, housing professionals have cultivated the principles of equity and access in their operations. This principle dictates that all applicants must have a fair and equal access to housing and related facilities. In addition, the distribution of economic and social resources within the sector must meet the principle of equity. In that regard, the underlying principles in allocation of resources is to ensure that they go to the neediest members of the society.
Participation is another key aspect of housing professionals. The CIH code of conduct as well as the Localism Act 2011 demands that social housing, like any other public sector, must embrace the principles of involvement and engagement. As a result participation has emerged as one of the best practices in the housing sector. In the participation principles, recipient of the public services are allowed control and make decisions on issues that directly affect them. In other words, tenants of the social housing have become customers who deserve a say in the final product. It is from this principle that modern tenants can influence such critical issues as the design of houses in which they live in, security and how to deal with Anti-social behaviours in their neighbourhood.
As it is the case in most public sectors, housing professionals are expected to have regard in human right issues. Modern housing laws have evolved towards protection of tenants (Rodger, 2000). The tension that exists in the housing sector, ranging from shortage of housing facilities to austerity measures in housing budget is no excuse for disregarding human rights issues. As a result, the anti-discrimination law (e.g. Disability Act 1995 and Equality Act 2010) have put up legal mechanism to safeguard the traditionally marginalised and disadvantaged members of the society. Protecting such rights has become one of the safeguarded business ethics in housing sector.
In line with the altruistic perspective of a professional, members of the housing sector are expected to be selfless. In the course of their duties, housing professionals must observe the mission and values of their employers (social landlord). No worker is allowed to gain financial advantage or use their position to benefit members of their families, housing staffs or their friends. At times, people close to housing professionals might be in need of houses, but allocation must go to the most deserving people.
Other virtues as accountability, transparency, openness, honesty, integrity, objectivity are some of the characteristics that make the housing sector gain the professional status. Housing professionals are accountable to their customers (tenants), regulating government bodies and all the stakeholders in the social housing sectors. Every activity of the sector must be subjected to the appropriate scrutiny (Reeves, 2006). Even if it is awarding of tenders and contracts, everything must be done above board. In addition, while serving, housing professionals must divorce their personal interest from the interest of the people they serve. In other words, housing professional does not entertain any conflict of interest. Every action of housing professionals has to be in the interest of the community in which they serve.
It is a national government policy that every public sector must practice the principles of equality and diversity. In line with these principles, housing sector has cultivated principle of appreciating the cultural diversity of its customers, staffs and all the stakeholders. It has become the principle of the sector to treat everybody equally (Robinson, Reeve and Casey, 2008). This is not to forget the crucial principle of confidentiality and privacy. Just because housing professionals exert power over in house allocation does not warrant them to intrude into their customer’s privacy.
The CIH code of conduct has served the housing profession well so far, but as the housing sector changes; it is advisable that the professional body revise the codes to fit in the current social housing environment (Thornhill, 2004). Principles of equity, integrity, accountability, openness, equality and inclusiveness, objectivity, diligence, observing the law, impartiality, respect for others as contained in the CIH code of conduct have been in professionalising the sector. All these principles are important for every sector.
A profession that is not open, accountable, objective, and diligence lacks the requisite of a professional status. In its enforcement, the CIH has ensured that members to it professional bodies observe and practice all these principles. Nonetheless, the qualification of CIH has since lost the weight that it used to exert in the housing sector. Like Wiles (2014) observes, three decades ago, the adverts for most senior housing jobs required the MCIH qualification as a standard. The qualification is no longer emphasised. Wiles recall that during the time, “CIH saw itself as on a par with RIBA and RICS as a proper professional body”. As Wiles notes, CIH no longer sees itself as professional body in the old sense of the word (Wiles 2014). The decline of the CIH as professional body affects the holding together of the business ethics in the housing sector. To hold the ethics of social housing together and to build the collective identity of housing professionals, CIH must work to regain its professional body status.
More importantly, the CIH need to realigns its code of conduct with the changes that have taken place in the housing sector. In the past, housing managers used to be associated with the day-to-day managing and maintaining rough council estates. That dowdy image has seen quite a turnaround. The modern housing professional is expected to create safe neighbourhoods and develop communities that tenants choose to live in. In the modern business environment, tenant are not seen as an unfortunate people who need help, they are customers whose housing is a right and who must receive the greatest satisfaction from housing providers.
The CIH code of conduct needs also to change to fit in the emerging issues. In the current social housing environment, understanding such issues as consumer and community focus, social exclusion and regeneration, customer satisfaction, generic and multi-skilling and interagency have become crucial in the professional management of housing. Government policy and legal framework has also changed a great deal. There are a lot of changes expected in the ongoing welfare reforms. A code of conduct has to enshrine all these attributes.
In the wake of austerity measures and the government policy of affordable housing, housing managers will find it difficult to hold on with their traditional ethos (Murray 2011). Even though social housing sector is hedged on the premise of alleviating poverty and homelessness, it has come a time when housing managers are faced with the tough choices of commercialising the sector. A new code of ethics is required to govern how managers will balance the changes.
Since social housing sector incorporated professionalism in delivery of services, the results has been improved customer satisfaction. Professional standards such as equity, accountability, openness, objectivity, respect, integrity, honesty, adherence to the law, involvement are the key drivers of customer satisfaction. Starting with the ways houses are allocated, the way housing managers respond to tenants issues such as repairs, maintenance and anti-social behaviours all the way to the regeneration policy, professionalism has been key to service delivery.
Professionalism in the housing sector starts with short listing of potential tenants. Since the demand for social houses outstrips supply, housing managers have to be seen to be fair in the way they allocate houses. The principle of access and equity come in handy in this stage. Apart from some few complains, most applicant believe that housing managers are generally fair in housing allocation.
Involvement and engagement has evolved as one of the best principle in the current professional practice (Hood 2010). In line with the Localism Act guidance, most of the social houses providers have set up avenues for tenants participations. Most of the councils have actions groups, tenants committees and from time hold tenants forums to discuss issues affecting them. This professional practice has resulted to improved customer satisfaction (Audit Commission 2004). The underlying case in this professional practice is to deliver the services in the way the recipient want them to be.
Such other professional practices as honesty, equality and diversity, respect have been critical to customer satisfaction (Hanson, 2010). Tenants are happy when they perceive social landlord to be honest. They are also satisfied when they believe that they have been treated equally, fairy and with respect. In the modern management of housing, housing managers are paying attention to such issues as minority groups, LGBT, young people, disabled persons or any other disadvantaged group. The hallmark for the management has been to create a safe neighbourhood and develop communities that tenants are happy to live in.
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