The experience of part-time members balancing their civilian and military careers presents a critical issue: influencing the potential of the Total Workforce System of the Australian Army. Part-time members can often find themselves bargaining or parlaying between demands of military service and other entities such as families or civilian workplaces (Griffith and Ben Ari 2020). A subsequent concern may be that they feel average at two jobs instead of excelling in one. At an organisational level, poor work standards can lead to consequences in terms of impact on capability. Equally, supposing synergies can be found and encouraged, there is great potential in attracting and retaining vital talent (Department of Defence 2021, UK MOD 2011). This short article seeks to explore the challenges within this issue for the Australian Army.
A key issue for part-time members is the challenge of concurrently building up two careers – completing training and development in both simultaneously. A study conducted within the US Army found that part-time members who have full-time civilian careers were disadvantaged against their military and civilian full-time peers (Aiken 2020). This was due to their restricted availability to complete further academic study across the two fields. Subsequently, some of the most valuable talent in the part-time force may feel pressure to cut ties with the military to make space for civilian training and qualifications.
This tension between the part-time members’ military training and their civilian careers is a pivotal issue to overcome. The UK's extensive FR2020 review of their reserve force structure made strong recommendations regarding civilian skills recognition and better online training to address this issue (UK MOD 2011). The Army should see any opportunity to recognise prior learning in civilian skills and experience as a more efficient use of time and resources. Some practical options could be shorter ‘conversion courses’ to recognise civilian skills and perhaps even reduce time in rank requirements where leadership experience exists.
The other important consideration to address is the military skill level of part-time members – who work hard to meet full-time military standards. Credibility and professional mastery remain contentious issues for the part-time force. An armed force can tend to look upon the part-time component with ambivalence or suspicion, with doubts regarding their level of professionalism (Lomsky Feder et al. 2008). It is essential to respect part-time members' investment in developing professional mastery and find creative ways to reduce this gap.
One way forward to help improve this is to increase the tailoring of training to fit the part-time members' employment styles. This could include delivering modularised online training where possible and more training through simulation and synthetic environments (UK MOD 2011). A positive development in this space is the increasing delivery of theory components in promotion courses via ADELE(U). The COVID pandemic has somewhat accelerated online training; however, access to simulation technology for the part-time force remains a gap. WTSS facility use remains limited to the occasional and overbooked Tuesday nights, conducting an AIRN and RP3A shoots.
Another critical issue facing reservists is the personal challenges of moving between civilian and military careers, particularly the lack of understanding and support from civilian employers and work colleagues. For many civilians, the concept of armed institutions tasked with violence on behalf of the state may be a confronting concept. Many organisations are happy to stay at arms-length from deep engagement in this topic, subsequently limiting their understanding and any overt support (Higate et al. 2021, Lomsky Feder et al. 2008). Most civilian organisations are desperate to find ways to fund training for their people and do not realise that the Department of Defence will happily do this for them. Unfortunately, without knowledge of the training and skills offered, employers only see the downside of frequent time off and lost output. Much more needs to be done to help improve understanding of the synergies of part-time military service for civilian employers. However, doing this must recognise the concerns employers may have for overtly supporting military activity.
To make the most of our part-time workforce, we need to understand and address the tensions in their individual experiences. The part-time force requires improved recognition of civilian gained experience and conversion to military qualifications, greater use of modular online training and simulation, and increased efforts to emphasise what military training offers civilian employers. Addressing these friction points will better support the potential synergies offered and see retention lead to an increased value of the part-time force in our organisation.