The skills of any workforce are vital to achieving a strong economy. Cities that have a high proportion of residents with no or low-level qualifications tend to have weaker economies, including low wages and high unemployment. Within cities, people with low skills and the unemployed are more likely to live in social housing – indeed, of those living in social rented homes over 10 per cent are unemployed, compared to just 6 per cent of those in private rented accommodation and 1 per cent of those who own their home.

Given this, Centre for Cities’ new report examines how housing associations are working to improve the skills levels of their tenants and the communities they live in. Many are actively involved in moving tenants into training and employment and they design, deliver and fund their own programmes to do so. We use several case studies to draw out lessons that would improve wider skills and employment policy, highlighting 3 areas that are crucial in improving the success of such policies:

1) Generating demand for jobs
Many housing associations create apprenticeship opportunities within their own organisation and also make use of local networks to identify outside employment and training opportunities. For example, in order to obtain a contract with A2Dominion, developers must offer work placements to residents of the housing association. In this way A2Dominion has secured training for residents in construction, electrician and gas fitter roles.

2) Flexibility and local tailoring
Based on the long-term nature of the relationships housing associations have with tenants and their freedom to design their own programmes, they are able to offer on-going support tailored to individual and local labour market needs. Wolverhampton Homes, for example, designed its Learning, Employment and Achievement Programme in consultation with tenants, determining what residents see as their key barriers to employment and what training would most benefit them. This lead to the association offering its own work experience programmes that run between 9:30am -2:30pm, allowing parents to take part without incurring child care costs.

3) Use of data and evaluation
Housing associations collect a range of data on their tenants such as qualifications held and employment status. For example, Hyde Park has strong data on the main household tenant, which they use to target who they advertise their programmes to, leading to increased enrolment on programmes and cost and time savings.

However, the housing association has far less information on other members of a household and lacks the resources required to collect this, meaning they rely more on tenants referring themselves. Sharing of data between local organisations would give organisations a fuller picture of clients and ensure support and recommendations are complimentary.

Data on the evaluation of skills and employment programmes is also currently limited, with few initiatives looking at long-term impacts, including how long participants remain in work, if training is successfully completed and what individuals then move onto. Such information is vital in determining the most effective way to upskill the population. Funding to enable robust long-term evaluations needs to be included in programme design.

Housing associations provide a good source of information and experience on what is needed to up skill individuals, particularly as they work directly with two groups government interventions struggle to reach – the low skilled stuck in low-pay and the economically inactive.  With 1 in 10 of those aged 25-64 having no qualifications, better utilising this knowledge can help meet the UK’s ongoing skills challenge.