As I write this, the military landscape is rapidly changing with new submarine deals, withdrawals from Afghanistan, and always new surprises and challenges from COVID-19. The environment is always evolving, applying the thinking from the previous day or year are now obsolete as we continue to fight new fronts and challenges we did not know existed a month ago. For myself, they haven’t changed in twelve months – and they won’t for the next decade – the new fight is for data and understanding its impact (before it happens). My background comes from the Joint Fires Team (Artillery) from amphibious to motorised and as always, stomping to objective; but a change in circumstances and situation led to the new fight: building the technical uplift and capability of soldiers.
The focus of this isn’t in the transition of skills in the ADF, but on learning to lead. There are plenty of lessons I have learned from my time in Artillery, predominately from the mistakes made and actions I took to improve myself and the team. But the steepest and most valuable learning curve experienced thus far has been in Army Headquarters – from the stand up of the automation learning program, the data analytics uplift and currently in motion – the MakerSpace program.
Remote learning places extra stress and workload on the teacher, an issue that can be appreciated by anyone in education. Each step and measurement of the student’s progress, attention, and comprehension of the material is doubled whilst working remotely. From working on BluePrism automation to teaching fresh soldiers the foundations of data analytics in Wodonga; being in a classroom and being able to connect and communicate in a shared space is of critical value. As the ADF evolves with more remote learning and training, we should be cognisant of the pressure on training staff and the quality of training.
This leads to data, the one resource everyone in the military and government is calling for; the need for more data to enhance decision making, understanding of features and events – both present and future – and the tools to gather data and transform it into intelligence. We are beginning to see other countries scramble for control in this space, the companies investing in chip production, security, and algorithms that can create that leading edge against the competitors. The Army in Motion covers this well; investing in the future ready is critical, but also in soldiers from the bottom up, generating solutions for the now and present needs. This comes down to identifying key traits and skills that exist in our workforce but are either not recognised or not empowered fully. Over my short time in this space, I have seen the rapid appreciation of commanders and decision makers who identify these skills and do their best to enable them. It is at a grassroots level where weighing up the need for a soldier to be out-field, or stay in barracks and build an automation, or follow through on a concept and build a new tool. As leaders, both junior and senior, speed and removal of these blockers is critical, not just to the projects, but as an investment in our soldiers and their careers.
As I am currently working in the Australian Army Research Centre, I am lucky enough to be exposed to this type of environment of leaders and enablers. The main project that I have been involved in this year has been the MakerSpace program, an environment without worn rank for soldiers to develop new skills and think outside the box. The focus is on creativity, and deliverables do not fall into a linear structure of formative, summative, satisfactory or excellence. It allows soldiers to think beyond 'a square peg in a round hole' and provide a completely new solution or thinking to legacy systems and problems. It is disruptive – taking the military experience and work ethics of a team and applying those fresh perspectives we are seeing from larger tech companies and militaries who are providing new solutions and advancing their capabilities at an alarming rate. Soldiers that did not see themselves as developers or designers are now creating new solutions and delivering new, sovereign capabilities across defence, whilst balancing their BaU and continuing their work – in some cases retaining members where they would have returned to the civilian work environment.
As an organisation, we are getting better at identifying the needs of the new age, but we are not acting or investing fast enough in our workforce. There is a steep learning curve ahead, with some exceptionally long hours ahead to meet these deadlines. As a workforce, the drive and tenacity of our soldiers is exceptional – we simply need to enable them.