Meeting defence people’s needs through modernisation

Within Defence, we recognise that the world of work and people’s aspirations are changing.

As Chief of Defence People, one of my key objectives is to ensure we have the policies in place to allow us to retain the right number of skilled Service personnel. In my summer 2018 article, I outlined several initiatives we had set in train to make the Armed Forces more modern and attractive to both serving personnel and new joiners. I’m proud to say that we have now introduced many new initiatives, and we are making good progress towards meeting our 2015 Strategic Defence commitment to make a career in the Armed Forces better balanced with family life, reflecting the realities of modern life.

We have started the roll out of the Future Accommodation Model (FAM) with a pilot at three military bases. FAM gives more choice to more Service personnel over where, how and with whom they live. The pilot has already launched at HMNB Clyde and Aldershot Garrison and is set to launch at RAF Wittering later in the year.

Under the pilot, personnel can still select Single Living Allowance (SLA) or Service Family Accommodation (SFA) but can also choose to live in private rental accommodation or buy their own home. Importantly, no SLA or SFA will be sold as a result of the pilot. We’ve also broadened access to SFA. Personnel with more than four years of service and in a long-term relationship, or have caring responsibilities, can now apply to live together in surplus SFA.

FAM has been designed so the homes our people need, whether they chose to rent privately or use SFA, will cost them broadly the same. MOD will pick up the difference in expensive-to-rent areas. The three-year pilot will be used to test the policy and see how personnel respond. We will then decide whether to expand FAM to the rest of the UK, which we expect would take some time. 

Some events in our lives require us to reassess our needs and demands outside of work and how those impact on our primary employment. An employer’s ability to enable its people to respond to these events, often for temporary periods, can sometimes be the difference between a valued employee staying or leaving.  Reservist opportunities have always allowed our personnel more flexibility than those in Regular Service, but we have responded to requests for more flexibility for those in the Regular force, building on existing opportunities such as remote working and variable start and finish times.

Our new Flexible Service policy (introduced in April 2019) allows Regular personnel to ask to temporarily work part-time and/or restrict their separation from home base, subject to operational need. Flexible Service arrangements can last between three months and three years and the law behind the policy ensures there is greater certainty for the individual during this period, so they can make commitments that would not normally be compatible with traditional Regular Service.

By February 2020, 144 Service personnel and their families have benefitted from Flexible Service arrangements, many of whom said they would have otherwise had to leave the Armed Forces. The policy has also enabled people time to study for qualifications that they wouldn’t have been able to attain without Flexible Service, allowing them to acquire new skills and qualifications that will benefit Defence and broaden their employability. Whilst operational capability still comes first, changes such as these show that we are serious about giving our people more choice, and generate a positive cultural shift toward the greater flexibility demanded by a modern workforce. 

While we continue to modernise Defence to make it more family friendly, I must congratulate the Families Federations who, amongst other vital work, have established a brand new one-stop-shop website, Forces Families jobs, that provides access to employment and training opportunities for families of our Service personnel.

I’m also pleased to announce that the Armed Forces Covenant, which was launched in 2011, has over 4,000 organisations signed up. The Covenant is a promise by the nation to ensure those who serve or have served, and their families are treated fairly. 

Like the Families Federations, we are helping our people by embracing technology and introducing new online tool and services. For example, Armed Forces personnel and their families can discover and understand the support and benefits that are available to them through Flexible Service, FAM and more, with our easy-to-use online tool, Discover My Benefits. 

When people do need to leave Regular service, their skills and experience are always highly sought in Reservist roles. We know that our Reservists have a desire to do more, but finding out about opportunities in the Armed Forces, from short-term tasks to longer-term commitments, is not as easy as it could be. So, we are developing a new digital service that offers an easy way to discover Reserve and Rejoiner job opportunities in the Armed Forces, across all three Services, and to stay connected with Defence. Called Reserve and Rejoiner Opportunities, it will modernise Reservists’ job-hunting experience through technology and bring it more in line with today’s expectations.

As you’d expect, it will have a powerful job search tool but unlike existing tools, it will enable users to register their preferences and choose to receive email alerts whenever new, relevant jobs are added. It will also introduce a new way to stay connected with Defence, displaying information based on users’ preferences, with email alerts for new content. It is designed to work on personal and MOD devices including mobiles, desktops and tablets and is due to launch in the summer 2020.

As part of the package of support for veterans, the Veterans’ Gateway’s 24/7 helpline provides an outreach service, where it proactively calls those who have served, to check in on their wellbeing and remind them of where support can be found. This is part of the UK-wide ‘Strategy for our Veterans’, which outlines a new vision and principles to support those who served, as well as their families, in every aspect of their lives for the next 100 years.

As Chief of Defence People, I am extremely proud of the progress we’ve made to create more opportunity for continued service, and to make sure those who have served are resettled effectively. As I hand over to Lieutenant General James Swift, and join the ranks about to resettle and transition, with all the hope and fears that brings, I reflect that it is the people of our organisation that are important and an inspiration, and are at the heart of Defence. And as we know a strong, well cared for heart drives a healthy body. It has been a pleasure serving with and for such people.  

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