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OpinionPeople and LeadershipShort Read

The Need to Challenge Our Industry Partners

At a recent conference I attended, with many defence industry key players, we spent a lot of time learning how we are transforming the way we deliver our education and training in the military through synthetics and simulation.

We heard how parts of our wider organisation, such as Defence School of Technical Training, are changing learning opportunities and organisations such as Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) and our industry colleagues are engaging in innovative collaboration work to support these changes.

Please Mind the Gap!

Our people are central to what we need to deliver but are we now seeing a change now in how people need to learn or has this always been there but mainly ignored because it was much harder then to individualise training and education.  Do we have a data gap for learning styles in the same way society has a gender data gap as highlighted by Caroline Criado-Perez in her recent book Invisible Women?

Defence simulation demonstrates innovative and collaborative work, ensuring we deliver confident and motivated personnel to the front line.  Our allies are doing the same – we operate similar and in some cases the same equipment in complex operating environments against similar foes. We are all trying to do this in a busy operational environment where we are no longer regenerating post Afghanistan but are continually expected to deliver with less money, fewer resources and faster than ever before.  We can’t educate and train in this environment without synthetics and simulation.  

Fewer Military Psychics Needed: A Call for Pragmatists

Our world, however, is changing faster than we can train for so we need to stop trying to predict the future war and start tailoring our simulation environments to our operational environments. How do you train an engineer one day to build a field hospital in a remote location in South Sudan and the next expect them to work collaboratively alongside civilian contractors building an emergency hospital in the heart of London in an exhibition centre?  How do we train a ships company, used to undertaking hydrographic work, to rescue migrants from the central Mediterranean? We need to make it faster, lighter, more flexible,  more mobile, networked and readily available.  What else though needs to be considered?

All of this work is driven by data collection however this has to be underpinned by the correct data being used not just the data taken from the traditional picture of a NATO standard serviceman. Is the data that is being used by defence contractors truly representative of the end users? 

Matthew Syed in his recent book Rebel Ideas, identified that diversity of thought is a powerful tool to be used in our innovation processes.  Without that diversity of thought we cannot get the best ideas at the table.  We will only get that diversity of thought if we make everyone feel as if they belong in the team and can bring their whole self to work. 

The Challenge for Industry

These challenges to the wider defence industry are ways they need to change to ensure they are representative of the forces they want to engage with, how they mirror the culture of today’s armed forces and how they ensure the technology that is being developed represents all the users not just that standard NATO serviceman.  This includes moving towards gender neutral language and  considering wider diversity when designing equipment and developing synthetics.  Can the service person still deliver operationally in the confident and motivated manner we train them to if, for example, they are wearing kit that doesn’t fit well because it has only been designed with men in mind?  You only really understand a man if you walk a mile in his shoes …..for many servicewomen who spend careers wearing uniform and equipment designed for the male body this is part of a our daily life.  An early understanding by our industry partners of the key differences is essential to support all personnel. This helps people feel part of the team and included. When individuals feel included, they remain confident and motivated. 

The key? Teams and Understanding

If industry wants to deliver systems that allow all individuals to be part of that team then they need to ensure they understand the lived experience of the wider, diverse nature of today’s armed forces.  If we operate together we need to train together and therefore the synthetic environment must support that by exploring the lived experiences of those in minority groups in the military, gender, BAME, neurodivergent and something we continually think is a big problem – the dreaded millennials.  We need to really understand that final group is already serving alongside us as senior non-commissioned personnel and middle ranking officers. We have millennials driving warships, leading regiments and flying fast jets.  Generation Z, the follow on from millennials are also already in service and working alongside us daily.  If we want these people to feel included, motivated and confident in a training environment we need to alter our language, use correct terms, not call everyone guys – we are moving towards a time when the post millennials  will be joining the service and many of these individuals identify as non-binary or gender fluid.  We need to start engaging with the non NATO standard service person.

But How?

So how do we do that, I have written before about the power of networks  and the demonstrable difference understanding the lived experience of our personnel makes to the senses of belonging and therefore engagement with the wider more diverse members of the military community is essential for industry partners to provide synthetics that’s allow us to continue to recruit, train and retain the motivated, confident workforce we need.

We also need to see that products are meant for everyone, there needs to be  thought of who is being represented in promotional material – who is in the photos, who is on the marketing stand, who is presenting at these conferences. Representation matters – you can only be what you can see is a common phrase that has real meaning.

Real Change: Good for Business, Good for the User!

Much of the challenge for organisations which have been male dominated for many years, recruiting often from the pool of retired officers and senior non-commissioned personnel is how to bring this representation and diversity into product production and delivery, do they know who the end user is most likely to be? Will their hand fit the controls? Will the headset be light enough to wear? Can the end user get the best out of the product?  We now need to see more diversity in this Defence industries not just in synthetics and simulation not only for improving the end products but there is also evidence this improves the wider business model.  This is the next step change required in cultural change from our industry partners.


Kay has been in the Royal Navy Medical Services for over 26 years originally as a nurse and for the past 17 years a Medical Services Officer.  She is currently on a graduated return to work programme following rehabilitation.

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