The equation for Army is simple. Join while you’re relatively young and fit, serve for as long as you can and then at some point, discharge. Beyond that, there is no plan. Although Defence does a lot to assist with the transition from military to civilian life, much of what we do as military members is counterproductive to civilian lifestyle. Our skills and experience as military members, although extremely valuable, are also very different to the civilian sector. We have transferable skills that nonetheless lack value without the context of civilian experience. This all needs to change.
The Military Lifestyle
The military lifestyle largely insulates us from both family and friends, not by design, but by necessity. As Army draws its people from every part of the country, very few military members are able to live in the same city as their wider family and childhood friends. The Army lifestyle demands postings to different locations throughout a career, and defence members can find it difficult to make social connections outside of the military as a result. This can make transitioning to civilian life a rather large change and can feel like you’re starting your life all over again.
The skills we have as military members are all highly valuable in the civilian sector. Planning, personnel management, conflict resolution, risk management and decision making skills are all easily transferred into other industries. Yet what we lack is the context of how to use those skills in a civilian workplace. Foreign concepts such as dealing with workers’ rights, unions, direct recruitment of staff, casual labour forces, and differing backgrounds across a workforce can make it difficult for us to adjust. This is where industry experience is key to generating recognisable value from ex-military members when they transition, and set them up for success.
The hypothesised benefit of encouraging secondments outside of the ADF is twofold. Firstly, it allows experiential learning in a new environment which directly invests in human capital to grow ADF capability and capacity. Put simply, what is learned outside the ADF can be used to better the ADF. Secondly, it provides ADF members with an understanding of the civil sector to enable seamless transition at the conclusion of their full-time ADF service. In short, it allows people to prepare themselves for transition.
This does not mean secondments encourage discharge from the military. Contrarily, a secondment may in fact make an individual realise they are not suited or not ready for employment outside the military. It may create greater loyalty to service as people feel valued due to the investment placed in them. We should not see secondments as a threat.
The proposed model would see the ADF partner with a broad range of defence industry and non-defence sectors – spanning consulting, management, training, safety, logistics, security, telecommunications and intelligence among others. The ADF will use those partnerships to actively seek Defence sponsored secondments for their highest performing commissioned and non-commissioned officers, which will benefit their development within their field of expertise. This aims to provide value to their future role within Defence and already occurs in the form of tertiary education in a number of fields. The key difference being that organisations need to be provided with incentives for taking on military members to compensate them for the associated training costs and subsequent loss of the human capital on their return to Defence.
The experience would come with a return of service obligation of 2-3 years, or a specific posting duration, to meet service needs for particular roles. This would be communicated with the industry partners for full transparency. At the completion of their return of service, some members will return to the company in which they were seconded or the industry in which they were placed, that is a fact. However, many more will remain serving. Some of our currently serving commissioned and non-commissioned officers have already done so, to great effect for the ADF. When individuals do choose to leave full-time service, they will have a base level of skills and experience that will aid them in successful transition.
The benefits to the ADF and its people are wide and varied:
- Diversification of human capital.
- Grow the ADFs reputation.
- Set people up for successful transition later.
- Establish industry networks and ties.
- Find ‘non-military’ ways to do things.
- Develop broader ways of thinking, reducing group think.
- Better communication skills.
- Better understanding of civil sector worker’s rights which allows us to better care for our people.
- Increased conflict resolution and interviewing skills.
- More competitive in the civilian job market for transition.
- Societal improvements and less mental health issues for veterans.
- Make friends in the civilian world for a more successful transition later.
- Better employee engagement and loyalty due to being ‘invested in’.
- Renew enthusiasm for a military career.
- Allow and individual to learn what the military is and isn't good at compared to industry.
The ADF is the primary beneficiary of a secondment. The ADF reaps the reward of human capital in return for time. The cost is minimal, yet it can yield significant returns. The tertiary beneficiary is the individual, which in turn generates loyalty to the organisation, sets people up with skills and experience for successful transition, and may reduce mental health issues at the conclusion of full-time military service. Partnering with businesses may also encourage the creation of Reservist-friendly leave policies which allows for more part-time service beyond a full-time career.