The shortage of high-level talent in the social housing sector is well documented – with 71% of employers expecting to face recruitment difficulties over the coming year, a third having already experienced a scarcity of projects and change management skills, and half increasingly struggling to find candidates with senior leadership qualities.
But with sector activity continuing apace during economic downturn – as people depend on affordable housing solutions – coupled with nearing government targets to tackle the under-supply of properties, the need for skilled talent has never been so great.
Outsourcing IT services is certainly not a new concept, but it’s one that is often overlooked when finding ways to combat such recruitment challenges.
Here, our operations director and social housing specialist, John Blackburn, explores how re-allocating the help desk function in particular, can deliver significant financial, operational, social, and environmental benefits.
Whilst managed services providers (MSPs) aren’t immune to the skills shortages facing the social housing sector, they remain an excellent way to access a rich and diverse pool of knowledge and expertise.
As specialist organisations with a wide network of industry connections, they’ll often onboard professionals who are both experienced and highly skilled in their role – and don’t require dedicated training. It’s because of this that MSPs can be engaged at short notice, to bring an immediate solution to an urgent project need.
Boasting experience and expertise in a variety of sectors, MSPs are able to tap into intelligence from different customer projects to offer first contact resolution and facilitate a higher quality end-user experience.
With the ability to enter service level agreements (SLAs) with outsourced IT companies, IT teams working within housing associations can also reap the benefits of improved performance. Not only is it easier to turn the dials up when compared with internal teams, but it’s also easier to measure and feedback on process, due to greater oversight.
There’s a common misconception that MSPs act as a direct replacement for your internal teams. The reality is, the two can easily work together effectively.
By outsourcing your help desk function, your managerial and human resources teams won’t need to add handling an IT department to their list. A third-party partner will take care of everything – and often around the clock – leaving your organisation free to focus on the strategic and tactical future of its tech estate.
It’s important to remember that growth doesn’t always come from more business – often, it’s about having more time to concentrate and look at the bigger picture.
With in-house IT help desks requiring multiple, full-time salaries, added operational costs, and ongoing training budget, MSPs bring significant financial benefits to your organisation, too.
Offering the ability to scale up and down as required, organisations can pay for the specific IT services they need, when they need them – with the guarantee that the resources will be readily available. Plus, the MSP will take care of the full project – from technology integration and transition to long-term end-user support – to remove unnecessary headaches and help retain in-house talent.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift to more flexible, hybrid, and digitally-focused ways of working. And as a result, there’s an ongoing need to keep pace with the wants and needs of today’s employees. To do so, organisations must be able to offer innovative solutions that are user-friendly and efficient, whilst keeping a sharp eye on finances.
With vast expertise in services – spanning cloud consultancy, security-first SD-WANs, IT environment audits, transformation services, and more – MSPs can offer valuable infrastructure and support to help you compete in the talent market and attract skilled workers.
Our team at Central has a collective 250 years’ experience within the technology industry – so not only can we provide the know-how, but cost-effectiveness and a professional service to boot.
We make it our mission to be seen as an extension of our clients’ IT teams, so if you need our help short-term to solve a problem in the long-term, let’s talk.
It’s no secret that the tech sector is facing increasing pressure on the employment front – not least because of the national IT skills shortage.
But with custom learning routes available via apprenticeship programmes, organisations can not only help bridge the gap by enhancing recruitment options, but facilitate the ideation of fresh knowledge and perspectives too.
Here at Central HQ, we’ve had a scheme dedicated to nurturing tomorrow’s talent since 2009 – set up by our very own client director, Mike Dunleavy.
And because we’re so proud of all our apprentices’ willingness to dig deep and develop their expertise, and understand the impact they can have on a team first-hand, we’re keen to showcase and celebrate each and every one of them.
But, before we kickstart the series, what better way to set the scene, than with Mike himself.
Take it away, Mike…
Can you tell us about how the scheme came to fruition?
It was all about the organisation of the company at the time really.
Shortly after joining Central 14 years ago, I had moved into a management role, and had completed a lot of courses to better understand industry standards and how to manage service needs for clients. It was an excellent time for me personally, but I noticed that senior people were managing all areas of operation – including first and third line support.
In this sense, there was no defined structure within the support team – everyone simply ‘mucked in’ to get the job done. And while this worked at the time, I saw that this needed to change if we were going to progress and become more robust – which is especially important in such a competitive market.
Introducing the apprenticeship scheme helped us to create a more streamlined division and reinstate an element of structure, whilst also growing next-generation talent and giving back to the community through job creation.
What are some of the benefits an apprentice can bring to the team?
The IT and tech environment is particularly fast-paced, which is great for next-generation talent as they are usually very quick learners and keen to develop their skillset.
Because of this, we’re able to be very agile and, as we’ve already explored, bring some more structure to the team in terms of varied capabilities. This not only improves productivity and morale of the internal team, but creates an increased level of value for our customers too.
On a personal level, I also find it really fulfilling to be able to mentor other people and impart my knowledge and experience in a way that’s so appreciated. Not only that, but it’s great to see that our apprentices are unafraid to challenge us too if they see a more efficient solution. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that needs to be the case going forward.
Our younger members of the team are digitally-native, and have never known a world without the internet, so they offer a really productive exchange of ideas.
And how does the scheme benefit next-generation talent?
They have incredible exposure to not only different elements of the industry, but a team of industry specialists – each with a rich portfolio of experience. Innovation never stands still, which means they’re always able to pick up new ideas and learn about the market’s most disruptive solutions.
Once an apprentice has passed the scheme, not only do they have a job ready and waiting for them here at Central – which they can either choose to accept or take their learnings and explore other horizons – they also inherit a variety of accreditations that we’ve acquired as an organisation. These include City and Guilds and Microsoft certifications.
Most importantly, we care. We’re not just people-centric in terms of our customer approach, we’re really passionate about nurturing our team.
We want young people to have the opportunities to grow and develop their careers, and we know how difficult that can be in today’s volatile employment landscape. The reality is, they have lots to offer and they should be given the chance to hone their interests in a supportive workplace.
An added benefit of working at Central is also that we’re a family-run firm. This means that unlike in larger organisations, apprentices don’t get pigeonholed into one standard role – there’s the flexibility to shape it to their individual interests and specialisms.
What does onboarding a new apprentice look like?
Our service delivery manager, Nick Bowling, is responsible for interviewing and appointing each candidate, although the rest of the team does also have an input.
Generally, he majors on personality and cultural fit above all else – it’s about thinking whether you can see real drive and passion, and imagining that individual working alongside the other members of your workforce. Tech isn’t always essential either – in fact, we’ve recently been looking for candidates with retail experience if anything, as it demonstrates confidence in talking to people.
Once they’re on board, we operate using a buddying system to help with upskilling. As well as having support from the training provider, they’ll also have a designated customer service representative who they can seek advice from.
And what does an apprentice’s first few weeks at HQ look like?
Once all the admin is over the line, an apprentice will spend a large proportion of their time listening in to calls and shadowing senior members of the team – learning the ropes and seeing how to navigate a variety of customer conversations and queries successfully.
Once their confidence has built up, it’s good to let them get stuck in and have a go at taking first-line support calls themselves – with a buddy on hand to step in, should they need assistance.
Once the apprenticeship is completed, where’s next?
It’s entirely up to the individual whether they remain with us or look for opportunities elsewhere. Of course, we’d love for every one of them to stay, but we’re also happy to have played a key part in their development.
We’ve had over 20 apprentices over the years – two of which are now senior members of the team, two who are transitioning to become permanent employees after graduating, and one who is less than six months into the programme.
A lot of our engineers are generalists, but have one area of specialism. Jordan, for example, has a lot of accreditations in networking, whereas Kyle is an expert in Microsoft and has learnt quickly through more hands-on projects.
If you work hard, are motivated, and passionate, you can go far. People can hold themselves back, but the fact we have real-life examples of where it works well – that should be empowering for all next-generation employees.
It’s about putting the effort in to keep pushing boundaries and move your career to the next stage. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith.
When do applications open?
There’s no real pattern to the scheme, which is great from both a talent acquisition perspective and for those who are seeking an opportunity outside of traditional hiring schedules.
People can always get in touch to enquire, but generally we’ll start our outreach for the first-line element of support if we take on a new contract that requires extra ‘hands’.
Does this sound like something of interest? Whether you’re armed with further questions or want to apply to become an apprentice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Central Networks are a strategic technology partner. Excellent technology is a given, customer service, trust and long-term relationships are what drive our business. We support CEOs, Heads of IT, IT technicians and transformation directors to ensure technology provides an edge to their organisations.