Behind every phone call, email or piece of advice with a spouse or partner, young person or veteran in the Surrey or Hampshire area is a member of the EM3 Veterans and Families programme who make it their mission to provide strong employment and education support for the military family unit.
As a team of military and veteran spouses and parents the EM3 Veterans and Families programme thoroughly understands the barriers young people and spouses face, such as frequent moves, isolated locations, education gaps, separation from family and social networks and more. By providing one to one advice, guidance, bespoke career and training advice and so much more the team help the military family unit overcome these barriers.
This month we are carrying on our monthly Meet the Team the team interviews by speaking to Kelly Wales, military spouse, Education and Skills Liaison on the EM3 Veterans and Families Programme caseworker.
What do you do at FEC?/What does an Education and Skills Liaison do?
I am the EM3 Veterans and Families Education and Skills Liaison. Every day is different which I really enjoy. My initial role is to initiate a relationship with educational institutions such as schools, colleges, further education institutions or a local youth group education centre. My role is sort of an awareness piece – I tell other organisations about the charity and what we have to offer with a particular focus on young people. I also tell organisations how we can support them and work with their existing careers department and provision.
So you tell people who we are, what we do and how we can help them?
Yes, initially. The next stage is building and connecting with the right people. I call it connecting the dots, for example, a school with children from military families could sit in isolation and not know about the support that is available from the local garrison or welfare centre. Sometimes schools can get a bit blinkered with what they are doing and providing and not realise that they can tap into a range of support that would benefit their students.
It is not just how we can work one to one and support them with their employment pathway but also how we can work with them to ensure that kids from military families aren’t disadvantaged in any way. The support provided through the EM3 Veterans and Families programme ensures they are not at a disadvantage because they are military. Children don’t always have a choice in what school they are going to so we need to ensure there is a provision available to help them with the transition and support if a parent is deployed. Educators don’t always understand the impact that these things, transition and parental deployment, have on children.
How are schools and youth groups selected to be supported?
When I started the programme I was given a whole list of schools in the M3 postcode region that were known to have a percentage of military children. I had to go through the list, find the school, make contact and start building relationships. Sometimes I was introduced through the Local Enterprise Partnership, who we work in partnership with on the EM3 Veterans and Families programme because they have their own careers department and relationships with some schools. Sometimes though it was just a cold introduction! Youth groups were already established – they are already being run by Army Welfare Service – so I contacted them and requested a meeting.
Your role sounds huge! What are some of the challenges you face?
It can be challenging sometimes because you don’t always know the circumstances of the individual children, you sort of bunch them all together as ‘military dependants’, assuming they all have that shared experience. This can be true sometimes, for example, they could have lived in one place for their whole lives or have deployed parents. Those are common characteristics but the demand on individual children is different because they will react differently to the same circumstance. For example, one child may be very outgoing and want to engage but another might be going through certain issues at home that make them less engaged. Every day is different when working with young people. You never know who you are going to meet! Building relationships in schools can be difficult sometimes, but my past experience as a teacher has been so beneficial. I can add more context to school situations with my team, for example even though what we offer is free, time and resources are limited in schools. And when you go even further out to colleges and sixth forms it becomes even more difficult because there are so many tutors and departments. Trying to find the right person or the right department to engage with can be hard. And even then once you have a relationship with one department they may not have spoken to other people within the college so the message doesn’t get disseminated well. There are no quick wins, it’s a long process developing these relationships. And then on top of that you have to try and build trust with a young person. You are another adult that is trying to tell them what to do and give them advice and they might not be open to that advice. It’s a lot of rapport-building. It can be challenging but also really rewarding.
Wow. You sound like you overcome these challenges quite well! Could you tell me about your motivations and your career up until you joined Forces Employment Charity?
So it’s been quite varied, I did the university route. Followed my passions – computer science and business management, and that was my pathway. I was going to become an IT expert. Software development, and coding, that was my thing! When I finished university I joined an e-commerce organisation and my husband had just joined the RAF, he was in officer training so I didn’t see him much. I was down south and he was up north. We always had a long-distance relationship but this situation gave me a chance to reflect. If I stayed in London I wouldn’t see him as much as I would like… so do I stop following my career path and follow him? I was at a crossroads and I decided that, well I have always loved children and loved giving back so I thought, I would retrain as a primary school teacher. I went back to university and did a one-year PGCE at Roehampton and from there decided to apply for a job near where my husband was based. It was my first-ever interview and my first ever job! I was a teacher for nine years and an assistant headteacher and then I hit another crossroads. Do I do the training for the headship or do I leave and have children?
I decided to step away from education and focus on building a family. Because of the travelling we move every 18 months. I used to do maternity cover and supply cover but just found it wasn’t for me. When my kids got a bit older I thought, “what else can I get into?” and took advantage of all the free courses available. I retrained as a social media manager and then found a great project to be part of which was the Military Coworking Network. Working for the MCN was a great opportunity to help get a pilot project off the ground that would help military spouses like myself to find employment. During my time there I came across many other spouses who had stepped off their career path to follow their spouses. I worked there for about 5 years and in that time I got my NLP coaching qualification so I am a qualified coach. When the opportunity came up to work with children and the military community it was a no-brainer.
I always think that you might know what you want to be right now but that might not always be the case, things can change, and different opportunities appear, you just have to adapt! And that is something I like to tell young people too.
Wow, I had no idea how varied your journey was!
This is why I like to tell the kids I work with my story, this is what I have done until now, yes I wanted to be one thing but things happen and you have to be adaptable and resourceful and flexible. Don’t get me wrong it’s been hard and times when I have felt like “who am I? What am I doing?”, there are moments like that! But I think everyone has those moments. You have to sort of say to yourself ‘I’m not defined by being a military spouse, I’m defined by the choices I have made” I am happy with those choices! And yes some days, sometimes I feel frustrated but I know that we made those choices together and I am happy with that. I have always followed my passions and I think if you love what you are doing it helps!
It’s quite an inspiring journey. I love what you said about not being defined by being a military spouse but by the choices you have made.
I didn’t even realise I said that! I was on a call earlier and someone mentioned not wanting to sacrifice their time with their kids, they want to work because it’s good for them but not if it’s to the detriment of their children. I am very lucky that my husband’s job is stable which gives us flexibility and I know that if it doesn’t work out then I have time to do a course or retrain and throw myself into something else. And he supports that because of how I have sacrificed my career for his.
Last question! What advice would you give to military families?
Make use of the resources available. Do your research when moving to a new area, do your research about the support available for the whole family unit, children included. It’s a very close-knit community so reach out and accept help when it’s offered. Take advantage of the opportunities provided like free courses and trips. One of the most important things though is to talk. Talk as a family about how they have found the move, what worries do you have? Be open with your family, living the lifestyle is challenging but you aren’t alone! Reassuring kids that there are going to be other military children and activities they can do is important too.
And that about wraps up this month’s interview, thanks for talking to me today Kelly!