Digital Skills for Defence: How the MoD is upskilling its workforce

Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK and Charlie Forte, DG CIO, Ministry of Defence at the launch of the Digital Skills for Defence initiative at the Microsoft Experience Centre

With over 270,000 personnel, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is one of the UK’s largest employers with one of the most expansive remits, covering defence and security across land, sea, and air. In the increasingly digitally-enabled world of Defence, the need to develop corresponding expertise is crucial.

Digital affects every part of the ministry’s operations, from the operation of fighter jets through the way the business of Defence is run. To ensure they are equipped for the future, the MoD is underlining their commitment to digital upskilling through their new transformation programme, Digital Skills for Defence (DS4D).

One Defence Mindset: Why people are crucial to a tech-forward solution

This new programme will enhance digital skills across the MoD for its workforce. Senior officials from the MoD attended a session at the Microsoft Experience Centre to celebrate the launch of DS4D.

Claire Fry, Director of Function Integration at the Ministry of Defence, is the programme Senior Responsible Owner. She believes this is the perfect moment to capitalise upskilling across defence.

“The MOD is no different to any other organisation in that technology is only one part of the jigsaw, the real driver is the mindset of our leader,” says Fry.

“As senior leaders across Defence, we understand that successful data and digital exploitation underpins everything we do, from the war fighter to how we run the business of Defence.”

Claire Fry, Director of Function Integration, Ministry of Defence, speaking at a lectern
Claire Fry, Director of Function Integration, Ministry of Defence

“The DS4D programme will enable us to grow our commitment to digital innovation and growth mindset across Defence.

“This event gives us the opportunity to really drive our ‘One Defence’ mindset,” says Fry. “We know that people are what gives defence its edge, so it great for us to come together and set out how we will be investing in skilling our teams to work with digital.”

Reimagining the world through the lens of digital

As evidenced in Microsoft’s report on defending Ukraine, digital systems are critical in today’s security landscape. The DS4D programme intends to equip the defence workforce with new knowledge and power.

Technology offers a competitive advantage. In a world with over 43 trillion cyber signals per day, applying machine learning could, for example, help analysts separate the signals from the noise. Digital has the potential to transform supply chain efficiencies, modelling and wargaming, or even optimising the Internet of Things across devices.

“Digital capability and digital skills are such a critical and crucial part of National Security,” says Charlie Forte, the MoD’s Director General Chief Information Officer.

“Digital transformation and cultural change are pivotal to our success and a core element of Defence’s digital strategy. We need these skills in place to deliver game changing digital and data capabilities across Defence.”

“Ensuring that digital skills are being incorporated at all levels is key everyone needs to be digitally savvy from the Chief of the Defence Staff through to a recruit on day one.”

“To that end Microsoft is one of our strategic partners helping us to develop and deploy on our future. We’re at the intersection of ‘possibility’ and ‘do-ability’. The partnership we have with Microsoft is beginning to change the game.”

Digital transformation starts with learning

The MoD will be introducing leading Edge learning opportunities and exploiting technology that is accessible to all uniformed services and civil servants, to bring rich digital skills to the users through collaborative tools, and partnerships. DS4D are trialling a number of technologies include Microsoft Viva Learning that support the digital upskilling agenda.

Charlie Forte, DG CIO, Ministry of Defence watching a Microsoft Viva Learning demonstration
Charlie Forte, DG CIO, Ministry of Defence watching a Microsoft Viva Learning demonstration

The life expectancy of a skill is about five years, so to adopt a growth mindset it’s imperative to commit to learning. The ministry intends to learn lessons cross functionally to create a strong digital ecosystem where people are constantly assessing their skills.

The Royal Air Force has a commitment to equipping the Next Generation RAF with technological and digital skills in their Astra scheme. Dr. Arif Mustafa is the RAF’s first Chief Digital and Information Officer. “The RAF has three strategic tenets: ‘Succeed today. Innovate for tomorrow. Value our people’,” Dr. Mustafa explains. “For the latter, that means upskilling everyone. We’re converging a nascent team rolling this out.”

Dr. Mustafa recognises the challenges that come with a project like this, the key one being time. “Everybody is extremely busy so having the opportunity to schedule in learning time is essential. Just having the tools to collaborate or work together, like with Viva Learning, is invaluable.”

“There are also great resources such as low-code no-code apps for our teams to create and solutions to day-to-day work challenges. It’s also important to have all sectors working together – whether it’s the RAF, GCHQ, or the Navy – having equal access cross-functionally, and across all levels, is tremendously valuable.”

Forward thinking: Skills to set the MoD up for success

The Digital Skills for Defence programme is creating an environment for all personnel to feel empowered to develop their skills.

“We are in a critical age of defence,” reflects Claire Fry. “Everything is digital, and we need to ensure we have broader ecosystems in place to mitigate for this. Microsoft is a key industry player who can offer different platforms and benefit the organisation.”

Microsoft UK’s CEO, Clare Barclay commented: “Almost every organisation I speak to is prioritising digital skills. When businesses invest in people, we all benefit; skills open doors for everyone. It’s an exciting time for the Ministry of Defence and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.”

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