Staff Skills

How can we make the most of our Part-Time workforce?

By Rory McDonald September 20, 2021

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.


Aiken, S.E. 2019, Military Reserve Service Member's Attitudes Towards Using Technology and Their Behavioral Intention to Take Online College Classes, Trident University International.

Department of Defence, 2021, Australian Defence Force Total Workforce System, Department of Defence, viewed 22 Aug 2021, <>

Griffith, J, Ben-Ari, E 2020, Reserve Military Service: A Social Constructionist Perspective, Armed Forces & Society, 1-26

Higate, P, Dawesb, A, Edmunds, T, Jenkingsd, N, Woodward, R, 2021, Militarization, stigma, and resistance: negotiating military reservist identity in the civilian workplace, CRITICAL MILITARY STUDIES, VOL. 7, NO. 2, 173–191

Lomsky-Feder, E, Gazit, N, Ben-Ari, E, 2008, Reserve Soldiers as Transmigrants: Moving between the Civilian and Military Worlds, Armed Forces & Society, Volume 34 Number 4

UK Ministry of Defence, 2011, The Independent Commission to Review the United Kingdom's Reserve Forces, MOD, London.



Rory McDonald


Lieutenant Rory McDonald is currently posted to the 5th/6th Battalion, The Royal Victoria Regiment as a Platoon Commander.  Since commissioning in 2019 Rory has served on OPERATION BUSHFIRE ASSIST and OPERATION COVID-19 ASSIST. In his civilian career Rory is a senior executive at Coles Group. He has a Master of Business Administration and is currently studying a Master of International Relations.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


The author has presented a perspective on reservists in the army, however there are other perspectives. I will present one. The army may also find that it can leverage the civilian skills of reservists in order to deliver the army with additional capability. I present myself as a case in point. I came to the army reserve with multiple university qualifications, including chemical engineering and accountancy. My recruiter offered me the chance to become an officer in the pay corps. I declined, as I already had a desk job. But the recruiter didn't acknowledge my training as a chemical engineer. That's acceptable, as it's a long bow that the army would ever have a need to produce chemicals on an industrial scale. I elected to take the soldier pathway and trained as a combat engineer, starting in 2002. Fast forward to 2019-20, and I am mysteriously approached to see if I would like to apply my civilian chemical engineering skills, particularly in chemistry and scale up of small scale laboratory processes to industrial scale, by a unit in the regular army. It took the army seventeen years to work out that I can provide capability from my civilian skill set, and well above my worn rank. Better late than never. There needs to be a better way - a systematic and formal pathway - for the army to recognise the underlying skill sets that reservists bring, in terms of capability, and work out where and how best to utilise them.

A great article which highlights the cultural differences in the part-time/full-time workforce. The education standards of the author as well as his civilian role exceeds that of his Army rank which is often the case with the Reserves. Army still is unsure how to fully harness the skills/knowledge of Reserve members - such untapped resource. We bring in highly experienced people and make them start at the bottom because they’re not part of Army. Every other organisation attracts the best staff from all sources - Army still has a challenge with the Reserves and how to harness the skills/knowledge developed in the civilian world.

The rise of persistent domestic operations over the last 2 years has brought this conversation to a head. Rory, you make important observations that would enable our people by considering their needs, understanding their desires and capitalising on their skills, knowledge and experience. BRIG Kalms makes a similar observation in his article at to highlight the resident skills and knowledge in senior company executives and how their talent is transferable to a military context. CPL Dutta, your story is one I hear often and is the difference between enjoying one's service or not. Phil rightly challenges Army to address how it harnesses skills and knowledge of Reservists. This may also be the case for Regular Army soldiers who have other qualifications gained before joining or acquired whilst serving. Reserve service is essential as we look to the future. Valuing and recognising our people and the strengths they have is something for all leaders and the organisation to be conscious of. There are many initiatives and trials in play at the moment. I encourage everyone who reads Rory's article to ask their chain of command to learn what our Army is doing. WO1 Murch RSM 2 Div

An ongoing issue that’s had a number of papers written over the years. Worth reading “Paid Volunteers: Experiencing Reserve Service and Resignation” in the Army Journal 2015 … And Google Mark Armstrong who has written a number of papers for this PHD.

A worthy contribution Rory, thank you. Amidst the options being implemented like ADELE, modularisation, blended and distance learning, one potential option appears to be missing: use of SERVOP C. There exists benefits for individual reservists and for Army more widely in using SERVOP C for upskilling. Army is already employing this model for Gap Year and FARO Officer Cadets. SERVOP C mightn't be of benefit for all, particularly those who are in the formative years of the professions. But for new graduates, or qualified tradies, or those of use who are mid-career, SERVOP C could provide a 12 or 24 month window of continued salary plus unlimited opportunities to attend courses and exercises. The individual gets the benefit of professional military training and development opportunities, without risking their paid employment; Army gets a better trained and more professional member in return. Army also has a member employed full time to remediate hollowness and fill TSR, for example. SERVOP C for training alone won't solve all the quandaries we face in training the part time workforce. The emerging toolbox of different training models and systems all provide opportunities. But SERVOP C does provide not just training for reservists, but also provides a pool of members who can be trained, exercised, employed and deployed without the complications of needing to maintain viable civilian employment. Again Rory, thanks for your article.

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