Career view: Phil Miles, director of Clarion Futures

This week, we talk exclusively to Phil Miles, who works in a career-orientated role for Clarion Futures, a part of Clarion Housing Group, the largest housing association in the UK.

Hi Phil, please tell us a little about yourself, the company and your current role in it.

I’ve been a director with Clarion for over 10 years and have worked in the sector for 25 years. As well as being a good landlord and building new homes, through Clarion Futures we provide a wide range of additional support to our residents and local communities to help them improve their lives and communities.

Our programmes include support to help our residents get a job, improve their finances and digital skills, and make their local neighbourhoods more vibrant with a strong sense of community.  We’ve got huge ambitions for Clarion Futures, for instance we’re aiming to help 4,000 people into work and make a positive impact on the lives of 15,000 young people every year.

What’s the career path that has led you here?

After university I worked for the Overseas Development Administration researching locust plagues in Africa and the Middle East! Great as the job (and travel) was, I found myself wanting to work directly with people in need and make a difference in local communities. I did a Masters in Housing at the LSE which got me into the social housing sector. After a couple of years as a housing officer I was lucky enough to lead an estate regeneration project. From there I never looked back and via roles in development and new business I’ve become increasingly focused on socio-economic development and regeneration.

Are there projects and/or mentors from your career that have been particularly important to you?

I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity to lead an estate regeneration project early in my career. From that one project I learnt a huge amount which really helped give me a rounded understanding of development and regeneration. This included working with architects, financial modelling, project management, urban planning and community consultation.

I have been encouraged and supported by many good people along the way but Keith Exford, the retiring CEO of Clarion, was instrumental in offering me that first opportunity and I’m pleased to say that 20 years later he has also been a great advocate for the establishment of Clarion Futures as a key part of the new group.

Did you start working with ambitions of your current role have your ambitions adapted as you’ve progressed?

Apart from wanting to be an explorer or David Attenborough I never had any ambitions growing up and certainly never imagined I would become a director in any shape or form – my father was a vicar and essentially did the same job for 40 years. There’s never been a ‘plan’, I’ve just been very lucky to have made some slightly random decisions that in hindsight have really paid off and contributed to a fascinating and varied career, helping to make a difference to the lives of thousands of people every year.

What gives you the most personal satisfaction about your career?

I’m very fortunate to meet many of our new apprentices and residents undertaking work experience when they first start. To a person they are inevitably quiet and shy on first meeting barely able to look me in the eyes. I’m always amazed and delighted to see them a couple of months later totally transformed, beaming and full of confidence. You can almost sense the moment when the penny drops that they have something to contribute to the world and they shed all the self-doubt and negative assumptions they’ve carried around all their lives. Many eventually become our employees and progress through the ranks, there’s nothing better than that.

Are there major differences between property-related careers at a housing association, compared to at a private housebuilding company?

I haven’t worked for a private housebuilder but I guess the key difference with a housing association is that once built we generally hold on to our properties which require long-term management and maintenance and careful stewardship of the local community. That means there are many areas of work you can move into in a housing association and always new skills to learn. These are not just property related but include, for instance, delivering great customer services in the new digital world. I’ve worked in many different parts of the sector and I’m sure that’s one factor that has really helped me in my career.

What opportunities does Clarion offer for young people and those looking for a new property-related career move?

As part of supporting 15,000 young people every year we provide activities including mentoring, citizenship and ambassador opportunities, alongside community-based volunteering, sports and arts based programmes. Our apprenticeship programme is a great route into the sector for people, and not just young people. In the first six months of this year we have supported 150 people to take up apprenticeships, and we are expanding our construction training provision to achieve a minimum of 250 every year in future.

Are there particular qualities that you look for in candidates in your department?

We run a wide range of services and each have their particular needs, for instance our employment staff need to be energetic ‘people people’ whilst other teams require strong partnership building and project management skills. The key thing is to combine the passion and empathy to make a difference in deprived communities with the professionalism and maturity to operate confidently and successfully in a large and complex business. Technical skills are less important than emotional intelligence and the drive to work hard and be flexible.

Do you have advice for those interested in housebuilding as a career base?

It has given me an incredible career that frankly knocks the socks off any of my friend’s supposedly ‘sexier’ jobs in the City, law, civil service etc. It’s a fun and supportive sector to work in, I couldn’t recommend it enough.

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