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Reflecting on my first few months in post

As many of you know, I took on the role of Chief of Defence People (CDP) just as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to grip the world in February. As you can imagine, this has meant that the first few months in post have brought some interesting and unexpected challenges as we all get used to this new way of life. While some aspects of the ways in which we work have changed drastically in recent months, the crucial role you all play has remained constant. You are more valuable and essential to Defence outputs than ever before in these challenging, uncertain times.

As CDP I am in the privileged position of being able see this first-hand and have the opportunity to make sure that you all feel supported, developed and engaged throughout your careers and beyond. I plan to build on the successes of my predecessor, Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, by continuing to improve the offer and by working with the single Services to increase the recruitment and retention of Service personnel. We can achieve this by developing a workforce that is drawn from the society we represent, that reflects the demands of the modern world we operate in, and maximises the use of talent across the military and civilian cadres.

Over the past few weeks we have read, watched, listened and learned about the ongoing racism and diversity and inclusion issues that are inexcusably still present in society today. Racism and discrimination, in any form, has no place in Defence. We say we have a zero tolerance on these issues, and we need to live up to that. The Permanent Secretary, Stephen Lovegrove, has said every single one of us needs to use our voice to dismantle discrimination. We have a responsibility and a duty to call out racism where we see it and to challenge inequality where it persists or thrives.

We've seen some incredibly engaging and thought-provoking messages from staff across the department, from colleagues at the British Embassy in Washington, and from our Race Champion Sherin Aminossehe. The all staff dial in earlier this week generated an important discussion around the issue. It's vital to have an open and honest dialogue on discrimination, racism, and diversity and inclusion across Defence as a whole.

Going forward, we want to ensure that people's talents are developed and used where they are needed most, as well as giving them more opportunity to shape their own career paths. We must also make sure that those transitioning to new roles, or back into civilian life, have been given access to the tools and support they need to prepare for their next chapter. This is an area that has seen much improvement in recent years, but I know that there is always more that can be done.

The importance of mental fitness

The world in which we operate is changing at a faster rate than ever before. We must be ready to recognise, understand and respond to the pace of change, and our success in meeting this challenge depends on our people. Covid-19 is just the most recent example.

We are ramping up our efforts in the provision of mental health support; particularly given the challenges we are currently facing. We must do all that we can to ensure our people are adequately supported with the tools, resources and training required to do their jobs, as well as the necessary support for their health and wellbeing.

As members of Defence it is important to look after our physical fitness. Whether maintaining peak condition for active service, staying healthy and fresh so that we can do our best at work (and in our private lives), trying to keep in shape as we transition to life after the Forces, or even undergoing rehabilitation, we know that physical fitness is key. It's vital that we give the same consideration to our mental fitness, as it affects the way we think, feel and respond to others in both our professional and personal lives.

The crux of this work is in making sure that Service and civilian personnel have access to the right level of mental health support both during and after their service. As the Chief of Defence People, I'm responsible for the policies to support the wellbeing of all personnel. I'm acutely aware that without proper mental fitness, we can't expect our people to serve to the best of their ability, and of the impacts this can have on personnel once they leave. Defence has an obligation to provide the right support.

In April 2020, we brought forward the launch of HeadFIT, an online platform that provides you with the resources to help form healthy habits and take a proactive approach to management of mental health. We did this to provide the support you deserved during the Covid-19 pandemic and to help you adapt to new challenges and working environments.

HeadFIT aims to enhance and support the existing and future mental health and resilience initiatives available to you all and is one of many tools now available to those looking for help with your mental health. The Army's OPSMART programme is a flagship for mental resilience training and wider mental health support. The Royal Marines have developed their own resilience programme, REGAIN; last September the Navy launched their NS People Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2019-2022 to increase awareness of the importance of health and wellbeing; and the RAF continues to develop its Thriving at Work programme. All our civil servants have access to the 'health assured' Employment Assistance Programme, providing emotional support 24/7.

On a wider scale, Defence has also recently signed up to the 'Thriving at Work' standards, and we continue to have access to a wealth of Defence charities and mental health networks. We hope that, as part of the suite of mental health support offered by the MOD, HeadFIT will provide you with the tools you need to maintain your mental fitness throughout your career and beyond.

Keeping up with the pace of change

Rapid changes to our ways of working have accelerated our digital transformation and improved our ability to adapt to different ways of conducting business. Making sure that those who are leaving the Armed Forces can - and do - access the services they are entitled to is an essential element of the Defence People Team's work. The UK employment market is already undoubtedly affected by the impact of Covid-19 and Service leavers will understandably be concerned. Defence is working hard to implement temporary emergency policies to address the issues which we are all having to navigate at this unprecedented time.

While this is undoubtedly a challenge, necessity is the mother of invention and Covid-19 and its constraints has increased the pace and scale of innovation. My team has already introduced policy changes and actions to ensure that Service leavers are not disadvantaged. This includes developing new direction and guidance for Career Transition Partnership (CTP) and Enhanced Learning Credit (ELC) policy.

Supporting Service leavers

We know that access to CTP services has been impacted, and we have reacted by extending the entitlement by three months to 27 months post discharge, so Service leavers and veterans are not adversely affected.

In addition, we've made sure that the Core Resettlement Programme (CRP) and Employment Support Programme (ESP) will also be entitled to an extra three months access to CTP services post discharge. We have also ensured that initiatives such as CTP Future Horizons can be accessed online and by email when face to face meetings are not available.

Complementing this Whole Force approach, the single Services have developed their own interim policies to allow certain Service leavers to extend their service or retract Notice to Terminate. We believe this is vital in order to retain talent and provide certainty for those who are about to leave in uncertain times.

These are just some of the steps we have taken to reduce the impact on our Service leavers and veterans, but we're acutely aware that the situation with Covid-19 is ever evolving, and the changes I've outlined here are in no means the only action we have taken. Any Service personnel looking for more detailed personal guidance should speak to their unit Chain of Command for further direction and support.

What has become clear to me in my first few months in post as CDP is that in Defence we recognise more than ever that the world of work is changing quickly, and that we must adapt flexibly and quickly to keep up. Our people, civilians, Service personnel, their families and veterans are the most important component of Defence and the reason I serve. You have always been the critical factor of Defence capability and will continue to be in the 21st Century as we transform to ensure we retain our edge. ​

[Originally published, in part, in Easy Resettlement magazine].

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