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MAIL APPOINTMENTS: PLUS POINT FOR GRACE; Jobcentre boss started as office clerk.

Byline: GRAEME LENNOX

FORMER benefits office clerk Grace Kennedy was appointed deputy director of Jobcentre Plus in Scotland earlier this month.

She now oversees 8300 staff at Jobcentres and Social Security offices.

Edinburgh-based Grace, 44, is the first woman to hold the post. Here, she tells some of the secrets of her success.

How did you land your first job?

I left school in 1975 but didn't really know what I wanted to do. I answered an advert in the local paper and two days after my 17th birthday I started work.

What qualifications were needed?

I required five O-grades, including English, to join the civil service. I was given the choice of becoming a clerical officer for the unemployment benefit office or the employment office. I didn't really know the difference at the time but chose the unemployment benefit office.

Did you know what to expect?

In those days you didn't really get formal careers advice at school.

What did the job entail?

I worked on the counter of the Greenock benefits office. As people came in, I asked them to sign a declaration that they were unemployed, then calculate their benefits.

How was the training?

On my first day I was shown round and told about some of the processes. I got formal training fairly quickly. The public sector tends to have far better training provisions for staff. A lot of the early grounding still remains with me today.

How quickly did you progress?

As soon as I was competent at processing claims and calculating benefit I was given more responsibility. After six years I got my first executive officer's post as a benefits supervisor in Paisley. It was all about people management - getting the best from staff, using their expertise and skills and delegating work. It was all new to me and pretty daunting.

What lessons did you learn?

There has to be a step change from being one of the staff to being a supervisor. You were one of the crowd... now you are detached from that but still very much a team player. You have to be prepared to make difficult decisions that people may not always be happy with. It's how you do that which is important.

Did you ever think of a career outside the public sector?

At first I didn't think I could make a career out of the civil service. I certainly wasn't a career-driven woman. I married Michael at 21 and was happy then, as now, to combine marriage and work.

Nearly 28 years and several promotions later, what is the secret of your success?

I was lucky enough to be successful when the opportunities arose at various points in my career and I got a lot of support from people around me. I'm quite hands- on and very much a people person. I treat people as I'd want to be treated. Having said that, I don't shy away from difficult decisions.

How has the job changed?

The transformation has been exceptional. I would invite anyone to come into a Jobcentre Plus office and see for themselves the extent of the changes. There is a much sharper customer focus and the service we deliver is second to none.

Have you changed as a person?

I began as a fairly shy, quiet 17-year-old. Over the years my confidence has grown. The fact I've worked my way up from the bottom means I have a sound understanding of the business and know what is achievable by others. I'm always happy to help people who are keen to get on. It's great to see others progress and know you have helped, even if it's just a little.

THE CV

NAME: Grace Kennedy

STATUS: Married to civil servant Michael, 49. They live in Gourock

CHILDREN: Stuart (12)

EDUCATION: Greenock High School (seven O-Grades, two Highers)

STARTING SALARY: pounds 4000 approximately. Now earns pounds 50,000+
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 31, 2003
Words:651
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