At the Forces Employment Charity, behind every phone call with a client, every specific piece of job advice, and every successful job placement, is a member of staff who empathises and values those who have served and the military families that support them. Each staff member has their own story to tell – how they got here, what attracted them to their current role, what makes them tick, and crucially, their motivation to support veterans, spouses, partners and dependants.
Continuing our monthly interviews with staff across departments such as employment advisors and operations we’re interviewing Kevin Grist, Manager of the Veterans’ Support Programme.
Read on to learn about Kevin’s career, motivations and advice to veterans.
Can you tell me about your role at the Forces Employment Charity?
I am currently the manager for the Veterans’ Support Programme, so I manage 11 Advisors around the UK.
Eleven consultants! How do you enjoy managing that many people?
The way we work is fairly unique. I know that hybrid working has now become the norm, but with the 100% home-based work that we do, it can be difficult to manage a team of people and to try to get across information. But it is great, I love what I do. The great thing about this job is that I learn something new every single day. Every day is a school day. I am learning how to manage a new programme all the time because we are a new programme. I am incredibly lucky to have 11 brilliant advisors that are so talented, experienced and passionate, it’s brilliant!
Can you go into a little more detail about what exactly the Veterans’ Support team do?
We cater for veterans and clients who are still serving. We support people with anything employment based which could be something as simple as a CV review, to a full career re-brand or re-shuffle. Anything that is employment based, my team will support with. On my team, we work very closely with the Royal British Legion (RBL) and build relationships with RBL managers and case workers across the country. The Veterans’ Support team are also specialists in funding and getting funding for our clients. The roles of advisors on both my team and the Ex-Forces Employment Programme are quite similar. I think around 50% of the role is giving advice and guidance on employment but the other 50% can be anything for motivation and coaching to keeping people going. We have all been in the job-seeking process at some point, we’ve all had to find work and I doubt anybody thinks ‘what a fantastic and easy experience this is!’ Sometimes you need a friend and somebody to lean on when you are having a bad time when looking for work. That is a lot of what we do, we give our clients not just employment support but somebody to lean on during difficult times and when they need a kind ear.
It sounds positive but also like there can be challenges?
Yes, there can be some. We are a new programme and that has been an interesting journey. As a manager, I am there to be the sounding board when my team come across barriers. It is challenging navigating these barriers but can be incredibly rewarding too – everyone has their highs and lows wherever they work, but I believe we are lucky to work for a charity that cares about people and gives people autonomy to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
How do you keep your team motivated?
Communication is key. We have weekly meetings, but I also speak to my team individually so that everybody has at least an hour every week. My approach is to be open and ensure people know that they can contact me at any time. Before I was a team manager I was an advisor and that means the team know they can call me and know I can help because I’ve been in their shoes. If you are managed by someone who has done the same job previously, I think you automatically have a little bit more respect than if they had no idea about what you do. I am a massive advocate for having a strong work-life balance. For me it is always about making sure that people do their job to the very best of their ability but knowing that they need to take the time for their own life. Having fun is important and people need to be included in the decision making – so I don’t think there is one specific answer, I think there are a lot of things. I have always tried to manage the way I like to be managed, so it is as simple as that!
What energises and motivates you every day?
I am incredibly lucky; I adore my home life and I really do enjoy what I do at Forces Employment Charity. Every morning, it’s great to know that I have the freedom to go out and work with the people on my team who go on to help other people. The fact that I work for a charity that gives back to other people, gives me motivation. To know that in some small way, I work to make a difference to somebody somewhere. As a manager, I am responsible for my teams well-being and professional development and that drives me! Another thing is being able to work from home. It is wonderful, I love that I can be around my cats and listen to the backstreet boys. Work-life balance is key for me and I always say this to my team, at the end of the day no matter what time it is, if you can look in the mirror and say, “I’ve done a brilliant job today, I’ve done everything I need to do and more”, close your laptop, switch your phone off and you’ve had a good day. You do the job to the very best of your ability and then you go and enjoy your life. I try not to make life too complicated, and a simple life is a happy life.
What did you do before you joined the Forces Employment Charity?
I worked for the NHS in IT and Networking and then I turned 30 and decided it is time for me to do something interesting. I decided to go to China where I taught and managed at International Schools. I was only going to do it for six months but that turned into five years! There were some fantastic benefits of that, firstly, I got to see China which is an amazing country. I got to immerse myself and work in Southeast Asia and I have seen so much of the world over there. But most importantly, I met my future wife Melanie, who I get married to in a month’s time. We met the first month we were in China! So essentially, I travelled all the way to China to meet a girl from Newcastle. They all said it would never last but 18 years later we are still together! When I came back to the UK, I wanted to do something to make a difference and that meant working for charities. Over the years, before I came to the Forces Employment Charity, I spent my time working on programmes around the country helping mostly people with either long-term unemployment or disabilities and then I’ve transitioned now to the Armed Forces. I have always felt comfortable working for charities – every penny that is raised goes back to the charity and that is why I never shied away from that since returning from China.
Great story! What led you to this career and what is it about this job that appeals to you?
When I moved to the Forces Employment Charity it just seemed like a natural move for me. I know somebody who worked for CTP as a CTP assist advisor, and it gave me a real taste of what it was like to work here. I waited for two years for a position to open because we were a much smaller charity back then, so I kept my eyes open and one day this position became available. When I looked into the charity it had an excellent track record of supporting veterans but also had a great ethos when it came to their own employees. I could also see there was the ability to progress within the charity, it took me a while, but I got there in the end. I have been here for five years now, and I am still proud to work for the charity. I know we have been through change (from RFEA to Forces Employment Charity), but I think that at this moment in time, there is nowhere else I would rather be, and considering my role managing this new programme, it has been a brilliant journey.
What are some of your hopes for the charity when looking into the future?
For the longest time, the charity was internally promoted as a silent charity. It was almost like a badge of honour, saying that we don’t go out there crowing about our achievements but that has obviously changed as the RFEA combined with the Officers’ Association bringing about the Forces Employment Charity. One of the greatest things we have in this charity is the quality of its people and its ability to give a quality service. On previous programmes I have worked on, even for some charities, it is about output, throughput, what are your results and it can feel a bit like a factory churning out products. This charity has never been that way, we give a very high-quality service to our people, and I believe that is what we will continue to do. Invest in our people and as a by-product of investing in our people, we ensure that our clients are looked after in the best possible way. There is plenty of scope for us to continue to grow!
What advice would you give to a veteran who has lost confidence?
I would say “don’t feel like you are alone in this” because sometimes people think that they are the only person in the world who has lost confidence. Because of the military mentality, they have this feeling that they must be strong and that they cannot show weakness. Therefore a lack of confidence is something to be ashamed of and that is total nonsense because we are all people at the end of the day!
When people are transitioning from the military to the civilian world there is an awful lot of change that they must cope with. Change is scary irrespective of your background and who you are, people always find change, to some extent, to be something that triggers them. We are here at the Forces Employment Charity to assist with confidence and motivation because it can sometimes be difficult. Often when somebody has newly left the Armed Forces, it is a complete career change which means new training and all sorts of new things they must get used to. Regardless of how long they have been out of the military, some veterans find it difficult to settle into the civilian world and can lose sight of their own self-confidence. To get somebody to believe in themselves is not an overnight fix but at the Forces Employment Charity we not only give employment advice but help people see their strengths and if used in the right way have a successful career.
Knowing that you’re not alone in your thoughts gives you strength because I think most of us, if you have confidence issues or mental health issues, you assume you are the only one who feels that way and that is just not the case. You can come out of the other side and have really fulfilling lives and careers. I think fear itself stops people from taking a risk and I think sometimes people stick with the role they’ve got because it is the safe option no matter how unhappy they are. Taking a risk to move might be something that you tend to think negatively of but there are so many opportunities. If you make change for the right reason, then you can go on to live better and more fulfilling lives. One of the things that I used to hear a lot is how wonderful it is to speak to somebody who listens and to speak to somebody who has the time to listen, it makes a huge difference to just be kind.
That is said across all the programmes, just having someone to talk to can be so beneficial. When you look back at the feedback, from the Families Programme, for example, it’s all about the appreciation clients feel for Advisors listening to them and the fact that they listened helped boost their confidence. As you say, this is such a fantastic resource for the Forces community that they must take advantage of it.
I have never been in the Armed Forces but there is such a caring mentality in the community. People just want to help each other. I tend to find that the answers people are looking for are already within them and as an Advisor it is about pulling that information they already have, out of them and helping them believe in themselves. A big part of what we do is gently pointing clients in the right direction.
What is something that you learned at work recently?
I was in a meeting recently and one of my team said, “did you know that beekeeping is a really growing trend for veterans because the buzzing of the bees naturally calms people with PTSD?”. I was very surprised!
What is the most interesting role you have supported a client to obtain?
One of the best successes I ever had was getting somebody funding. He had serious complex PTSD and all sorts of issues; he couldn’t work anywhere inside. We got him funded to be an outdoor training specialist, and it took him a year but now he teaches people to kayak and sail! Another one of my clients, who still gets in contact, was a prison officer but didn’t want to be a prison officer. He had a very caring nature and together we managed to get him to work at a care home working with disabled children. He has never been happier and every Christmas he always says, “Hey Kev, how’s it going, I am still loving my job.” He went from being spat at, and dealing with some tough situations to becoming a carer. It just goes to show that big changes to completely different careers are possible, no matter your background.
To find out more about the Veterans’ Support Programme click here.