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Reflections on leaving the military – the digital challenge

By Rupert Jones CBE 
Published: April 5, 2022
READ TIME: 3 minutes
Leaving the military 35 years after entering the gates of Sandhurst for the first time offers the chance to pause to reflect. The world has changed immeasurably in that time, and the military profession and character of war have revolutionised in parallel.

In the third decade of the 21st Century many of the certainties that offered the West stability and security since 1945 have been shattered. Strategic shocks are hitting us with disturbing regularity, but have we collectively woken up to the geo-political realities or are we living in deluded blindness? 

I think caution is needed to guard against drawing premature conclusions from Ukraine’s courageous defence of their homeland or the seeming strategic and tactical ineptitude of the Russian invasion. It will take time to really understand what the high level lessons are. 

In the meantime, political assertions should be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism. Defence reviews throughout my career were born more from budget realism and optimism, than a genuine analysis of Britain’s place in the world and a clear-eyed analysis of threats and trends; I suspect that the same applies to many of our closest friends like Australia and Canada.

What is clear is that nations need their militaries to have both the top-end hard tools of war with which to fight and win on the battlefield, but also information age tools to prevail in the digital combat arena. It is a false choice to favour one over the other; they are complementary. Both require the military to recruit great people, but it is moot whether the system has kept pace to attract the digital soldiers (or sailors and airmen) they need today.

My interest in this area has been fuelled by my new role advising the Australian veteran founded digital skills start up, WithYouWithMe, so I thought that I would share a few thoughts in a series of short articles over the coming weeks looking at:

  • The character of the modern battlefield and role of the digital warrior, drawing in particular on my experiences as the deputy commander of the coalition that defeated ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
  • The challenge facing militaries as they undergo digital transformation, looking through an operational level lens from my time commanding the UK’s group of operational level deployable HQs, which acted as an experimentation testbed for UK Defence.
  • Reflections on the skills and flexibility of young people joining the military, the opportunity and skills they gain from their time in uniform, and how their skills translate back into civilian life.

The digital skills gap is as real in the military as it is elsewhere. There seems to be a great deal of analysis of the problem, but rather less evidence of people rolling their sleeves up to find solutions. WithYouWithMe is a refreshing exception and is making waves in the UK. They offer their market-leading path to assess digital aptitude and rapid upskilling to veterans and serving military for free. Successful defence digital transformation only seems likely with the insurgency-style support of this sort of private sector firm.

Let me know what you think and subscribe to my articles to continue the conversation. No one has all the answers. I know for certain that I don’t, but I really look forward to exploring this further.

Learn more about how you can source, recruit and deploy diverse new talent into your organisation or find untapped talent within your existing workforce. Explore Discover Potential.

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