How the army is changing: an interview with Brigadier Suzanne Anderson
The Head of Individual Development for the British Army explains how the army is becoming more inclusive and focused on preparing soldiers for life after the militaryMatthew Rock
Gunshots crackle over the cold, hard ground at Sandhurst in Camberley, Surrey. Two armed Gurkhas stand guard as I drive through the gates at the home of the British Army officer.
Brigadier Suzanne Anderson, the army’s Head of Individual Development, is ready for a big day. The morning we meet sees the launch of the updated Army Leadership Code, the blueprint for how the army views leadership.
Our interview takes place in the Gloucester Room at Robertson House, an impressive late-18th-century building. A large animal skin hangs on the wall by the stone fireplace. Breakfast is hearty sausage sandwiches and we’re both soon tucking in.
Anderson, 48, is one of the most senior women in the British Army. After completing a master’s in linguistics at Cambridge, she signed up in 1994, drawn by the combination of adventure and academia. Since then, she has seen varied service, including commanding a university officer training corps. Today, to put it in commercial-world terms, she is the army’s head of talent.
Her role has three main aspects: making the army’s offer as inspiring and tangible as possible for potential recruits; encouraging soldiers to acquire qualifications to go with their skills; and making sure soldiers and officers are always prepared for life outside the military.
Social changes are affecting each aspect. When Anderson joined the army, she knew certain roles would be out of bounds. Today, women can serve in all areas of the army.
The army must present itself as inclusive of all sectors of society, as well as challenging any misconceptions that it is rigid and overly hierarchical. And it must be flexible enough to accommodate new types of recruit, whether they are career changers or from different ethnic backgrounds. “We need to understand the future workforce, not just the workforce we’ve got today,” says Anderson.
Soldiers develop many skills as part of their training, but may neglect to gain the associated formal qualifications, which can leave them feeling they have nothing to offer. “It’s my job to say: ‘You’ve got the skills; why not get the piece of paper as evidence?’ That way, instead of saying to a civilian employer ‘I was an artificer in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers’, you can say ‘I was a mechanical engineering professional, leading a workshop’.”
To this end, via the Army Skills Offer, the army has funded 37,000 certificates, predominantly in areas of leadership and management. This is at the heart of CMI’s relationship with the army.
Then there is transition and resettlement. For some people, leaving this very structured life can be difficult. Here, too, attitudes are changing.
I was struck by Anderson’s comment that, almost from the moment they enter the army, soldiers are encouraged to consider life outside it. This is what is known as ‘whole-life development’– train, develop, retain and transition.
Before I leave, I’m given a quick tour, including Old College, where newly commissioned officers march up the steps at the end of Sovereign’s Parade. With its stately buildings and sculpted grounds, Sandhurst may look different to the commercial world, but the British Army is just one more organisation that is working hard to stay relevant and ensure its people are as skilled and adaptable as they can be, in a volatile, uncertain world.
To find out more about army courses eligible for CMI qualifications, visit CMI's Army webpage.