The Defence Strategic Review (DSR) identifies that ADF Reserves must be able to complement the Defence workforce and provide an expansionary capability during crises. However, ADF Reserves are a part-time workforce, which presents inherent challenges in providing an expansionary capability with high readiness.
There are several considerations for Army in generating and preparing its Reserve human resource capability such that provides a force that is effective and deployable. Financial incentives are important; however, they alone will not improve retention. Instead, the predominant factors that affect the employability, deployability, and retention of Reserve soldiers are training, governance, personnel management, and infrastructure. Each of these factors needs to be wholly understood if Army is to generate a capability that can support the intent of the DSR.
Training is one of the central components of soldier readiness as it facilitates skill development and retention. Reserve training commences with basic training and initial employment training for soldiers, or the officer training continuum for officer cadets. Trainees are generally required to complete multiple modules to become fully qualified. Ongoing training modules are generally designed for a duration of 2 weeks to allow soldiers to take time off from civilian work to complete.
To expedite the training process, Army has reduced the time recruits spend at basic training, condensing the five-week training into three. Facilitating shorter training blocks occurs through the removal of competencies and qualifications from the course. This reduction creates a liability in training for the reservists as it abbreviates the amount of training provided without adjusting the overall competency that must be attained. Therefore, Army is not reducing the time spent training soldiers, and is simply shifting the burden of training to other units. If Army is to reduce training timeframes, it needs to prioritise the competencies that will enable soldiers to become appropriately skilled for short-notice deployment. This would require a shift in the current competency model.
Course panelling presents a further issue for reservists, as panelling dates for courses often do not occur until long after listed panelling date. This makes it difficult for personnel to plan as there is uncertainty over whether they are going to attend a course. Most Reserve career courses are run through the university regiments; however, human resource support predominantly comes from personnel within Reserve units. If these training support requests are not filled, it will impact the number of trainees that can attend and, in some cases, results in the cancelling of the course altogether.
There are numerous second and third order effects when this happens. Reserve soldiers are required to make arrangements to attend training, such as taking leave from an employer, arranging backfill, and deferring studies and family care. When soldiers are not able to be panelled or informed about panelling with no notice, it may not be possible for them to make these same arrangements to attend a course in the future. All these effects are detrimental to personnel and to Army as units are left without qualified soldiers who are left unable to provide capability to Army, and personnel become reluctant to commit to Army activities.
These limitations could be overcome by allowing units to run these courses, with the assistance of their formation and local university regiment. This would support the improvement of communication and scheduling, so that soldiers are given maximum opportunity to attend career courses. Additionally, allowing flexible training schedules would also be beneficial. For example, a two-week training block does not have to be conducted in two weeks. A course could be conducted over multiple Tuesday nights and weekends. This would reduce the time commitment burden for soldiers, enabling them to be flexible to their training needs as well as their other commitments.
Preparing the workforce for deployment requires more than just training. Readiness requirements are made up of governance activities that ensure personnel are deployable. Heavy governance requirements impact the readiness and deployment of personnel and affect retention. The Army Reserve is a part-time workforce but with full-time governance, and personnel have limited resources and availability to complete these activities.
Throughout the training year, the list of mandatory courses and training that must be completed increases at the expense of training soldiers for operations. When this occurs, the focus shifts on ensuring governance requirements are completed and not on training soldiers. This impacts soldier retention as governance activities do not generate the same engagement as training and skill development. As reservists have less available time and thus less opportunity to complete training, it is important to mediate governance requirements to ensure it does not disproportionately occupy reservist time.
Additional governance requirements, such as medicals, impact personnel readiness. Reservists are increasingly having to complete these actions in their own time and at their own expense. Army has standards applicable to the entire workforce regardless of service category and while these expectations are important, the organisation cannot shift the liability onto individuals without residual effects such as discontentment for personnel having to complete governance tasks in their own time and expense, and a reduction in reservists available to deploy.
Army must facilitate and assist personnel in meeting the standards by providing resources and opportunities specifically for reservists, for example by providing vaccination services on Tuesday nights. In addition to the individual impacts of excessive governance, training is also impacted. For example, while regulations to the conduct of range practices and the use of heavy vehicles are necessary for safety, they are restrictive and have significant impacts in the preparation of the Reserve capability. This again causes issues as there is limited time available for staff to complete these actions. Army would benefit by streamlining governance requirements. At the unit level, deploying heavy vehicles and conducting of live-fire range practices should be a straightforward and simple process.
Reserve personnel have a commitment to render effective service and provide capability to Army. Effective service is categorised as 20 days per financial year, usually spread over Tuesday nights, one weekend a month and a two-week block of service, such as an exercise or course. However, as a volunteer force, Army cannot obligate soldiers to consistently meet these commitments, nor dictate what effective service looks like, such as whether reservists are deployed on domestic operations or attending selective Tuesday night training. This means that while reservists may meet their attendance commitment, they are not necessarily providing Army with capability.
Recent domestic operations, and now the DSR, highlight that Army needs more from its Reserve workforce than simply a two-week block of service per year. To increase capability, Army should consider paths to encourage an increased time commitment from reservists, or alternatively consider how effective service requirements could be refined to be more conducive to Army’s deployment and training needs. However, there are complications with rapid deployment of Reserve personnel. Deploying of a volunteer workforce is contingent on each person’s availability from civilian obligations and on the reservist self-selecting for the operation. This limits the pool of personnel that Army can draw on and impacts the organisation in supporting domestic operations. Army needs to find ways to further incentivise people to volunteer for service, particularly if personnel have already met their effective service allocation for the year.
Effective incentives could include financial, recognition, additional training resources, or reduction in governance. Additionally, Army must be clearer on what it needs from Reserve personnel and how they are expected to deploy and for how long. This could be achieved by improving communication, providing clear notices to move or deployment order and timings that facilitate renegotiation of civilian obligations.
Lastly, the infrastructure that supports training and deployment requires improvement. In the evolving security and technological environment that Defence operates in, many Reserve depots are not fit for purpose, lacking current security controls, storage, and ICT equipment. Improving infrastructure will support effective training and deployment of reserve units by providing the resources and equipment needed by soldiers.
In addition, it will enable Army to meet the requirements of the northern base network as outlined in the DSR. An example of where Defence is fixing this issue is the construction of a multi-user depot at Tweed Heads. Enhancing infrastructure enables units to store the equipment they need to train and deploy. Further, these types of facilities can provide C2 nodes for domestic operations which will be essential as part of the northern base framework. This initiative should be expanded to the Reserve depots across the country.
The DSR makes clear what the requirements of the Reserve force are. However, Army needs to continue to improve the employability and deployability of its Reserve workforce to make sure it has the personnel ready to meet operational requirements and support the intent of the review. Army has started to make the necessary changes to make the workforce more agile, such as through infrastructure initiatives, but more is required. Army needs to continue to provide support opportunities for reservists to develop and ensure it is not solely reliant on an individual’s dedication for soldier retention. A pragmatic approach to reducing overtraining, streamlining governance requirements, and delivering clear expectations of what Army needs from its reserve workforce will provide a flexible workforce able to meet the contingencies of current domestic operations.