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23 May 2024

Brendan Forbes, a British Army veteran, runs a successful property maintenance business, Forbes & Son. He’s committed to empowering veterans, employing them in support of the Armed Forces Covenant. With strong leadership skills from his time in the military, he’s passionate about passing on those skills, knowledge and values to every team member he employs.

At Trades Training School, we hold the same values. Our founder Antony served with the Royal Marines and has first-hand experience of leaving the armed forces and changing careers. Our Armed Forces Resettlement Training offers ELC-funded courses, that Brendan took advantage of when enrolling a member of his team – Nacanieli Bale – with us earlier this year to take our Building, Installation and Property Maintenance course.

We asked Brendan a few questions…

Tell us a bit about your business and the type of projects you take on.

Forbes & Son is a family domestic building company that takes on a wide range of projects, such as renovations, extensions, and custom home builds. We offer high-quality craftsmanship, attention to detail, and personalised service that engenders trust for the unique needs and desires of their clients.

What kind of team do you have around you, and what jobs do they do?

The F&S team is joinery centric. Joiners are in between every layer of a house build, so we know a building inside and out very well. I have a joinery trade, but I tend to leave it all to my team of highly-experienced joiners as I add more value in the office nowadays. Our current standing on the books is 2 joiners, 1 joinery apprentice and a labourer. We have a large network of sub-contractors who fill the trade gaps according to the project. It’s taken time to find the team I have now, and I can honestly say that I am happy with the output and quality.

With over a decade in the British Army as Section Commander and Platoon Sergeant, what crossovers do you see in running a building business?

I was fortunate to have had a trade before joining. That was half the battle. I knew what good looked like, I knew what other trades should be doing in order to support the next trades in the door. The thing that helped me most was understanding the team you are with. As an infantry Platoon Sergeant in the Rifles, I knew my people’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. It’s the same in business, know your team, train them if you have gaps, be kind and compassionate, but also demand the best and push for them to be the best.

In the armed forces, you are also equipped with fantastic values and standards that support your team and company. Never be afraid of standing out, be bold, challenge when you feel something needs to be challenged, question a process for your understanding and for continuous improvement.

Remember, as a business owner, you are not the top of the pile. Servant leadership is still in fashion, so apply it. Be attentive to you workforce, your suppliers and above all your clients. It can be tough but coming from my background, stakeholder relationships come naturally.

I am continuously learning, and so are members of the armed forces. Every stage gate they pass through brings new knowledge and experience; this is the same as a business. I wear many hats to keep my company floating: accounting, sales, marketing. It’s all new to me, but I learn, and I implement to the best of my ability.

You support the Armed Forces Covenant. Why is that important to you, and what impact does it have on the people you employ?

Supporting the Armed Forces Covenant as a bronze-awarded signatory holds great importance to me. Having experienced the daunting feeling of leaving a large organisation, I understand the significance of businesses that recognize and support individuals with military backgrounds, short-term adjustment needs, or reserve commitments. This understanding led me to sign up and extend the same support to my employees.

Supporting employees’ professional development has been mutually beneficial. They will possess a broader skill set, while gaining valuable experience in an industry they may initially feel excluded from. This commitment to our employees aligns with our support of the Armed Forces Covenant, creating a positive impact for both the individual and the business as a whole.

What challenges do you face with trade-based skills when working on a project?

One of the challenges I face with trade-based skills when working on a project is finding the right staff with the necessary abilities and attitude to work. As a manager, I understand that this process will always be ongoing. I can address ability issues by providing training and assigning tasks appropriately. However, dealing with employees who bring a negative attitude from previous toxic workplaces can be more difficult. In these instances, my military background kicks in, and I focus on maintaining a go-getter attitude and finding solutions to barriers. Some employees may struggle to adapt to this mindset, especially if they are used to a more process-driven approach. When I encounter a veteran, I see it as a positive sign, as their mindset often aligns with mine. In my company, no one is above simple tasks like making coffee or picking up litter, including myself. Leadership skills are crucial in overcoming these challenges and ensuring project success.

Can you tell us a bit about Nacanieli, and why you sent them to us for an ELC- funded Building, Installation and Property Maintenance course?

Nacanieli made a brave decision to relocate to Scotland in pursuit of a new career path and approached me for a job role that matched his abilities. After a year of working with F&S, he expressed an interest in moving beyond labouring. We identified a training provider in the Trades Training School in Edinburgh and used our partially claimed ELC credits to fund his Building, Installation and Property Maintenance course. I continued to pay his wages while he attended school and topped up to cover the course value. Nacanieli has now completed training in tiling and plumbing, enhancing his skills and qualifications, making it a worthwhile investment for our small business.

What appealed to you about this approach to training?

I was initially drawn to this approach to training because it offered a course in two stages - plumbing and tiling - over the course of a month. This was a significant time investment, but I was pleased to discover that the courses did not have to be completed in one block. We could send Nacanieli away for 2 weeks at a time with a 2-week break in between the stages, reducing the impact on our operations.

Moreover, after conducting my due diligence on the school, I felt reassured that Nacanieli would be in good hands. I learned that one of the business owners, Antony, is a veteran RM, and Gillian has a background in law. With this level of professionalism and expertise, I had full confidence that the school would deliver on their promises and produce positive outcomes.

What skills did Nacanieli come away with?

Tiling and plumbing, and also a community he could drop in on for support and further experience.

How did you use these skills on a project?

F&S do a lot of renovation projects, so to support our operations Nacanieli can now be one of the first in for demolition of bathrooms and kitchens, ensuring all water connections are safe until we are ready to install a new bathroom or kitchen. In both instances he would carry out tiling if specified, but almost certainly connect sinks and run waste.

How did the course alter Nacanieli’s ability to do the job?

It gave him more knowledge and understanding of how houses of different periods are constructed in relation to his contributions of plumbing and tiling.

Did the course have positive effects on Nacanieli in other ways?

The course gave him so much confidence. He is always asking if any new sites have any tiling aspects for him to sink his teeth into.

Are the skills transferrable to others within your team?

The skills would be transferable, but I prefer to have an expert in the team. We are joiner centric, so I’d expect my joiners to do joinery. Though if I were to employee another labourer, I would consider upskilling if they can show the same attitude to learning and development as Nacanieli had.

We have been a preferred supplier with the Career Transition Partnership since 2010 and have years of experience providing trades training to armed forces veterans and forces leavers. If you are interested, rest assured that we will make everything as easy as possible for you, from handling the paperwork to helping you find accommodation. Find out more here.


Antony, Nacanieli and Matty celebrating the completion of the course.

Antony, Nacanieli and Matty celebrating the completion of the course. 


mastering tile cutting techniques

As part of his course, Nacanieli learned to master tile-cutting techniques.


brendan and nacanieli finishing a job

Brendan and Nacanieli finishing a job.










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