Would you like more from LTCOL Brendan Robinson? His talk on 'Defence Engineering and Senior Technician Recognition Agreement (DESTRA) for Army' is self enrollable via CASG Eng & Tech ADELE hub (only available on the DPN).

“Much like the Ryan Review’s goal to improve decision-making superiority in the Army through investment in professional military education and professional discussion portals like The Cove, Army should consider a similar investment in the technical and intellectual superiority of its technical workforce.”
With Skill and Fighting

In the context of rapidly advancing technology and the insatiable need for STEM professionals to deliver and maintain it in military service, many Australian military commentators[1] have raised concerns about the declining skillset of the Australian Defence Force engineering and technical workforce[2].

Neil Greet suggests the decline began in the late 1980s when privatisation and outsourcing came into vogue[3] affecting both the military and the Australian Public Service. Most recently, Brigadier Mick Scott wrote about the “spiral of capability erosion” affecting Army’s civil engineers. His options to remediate it for engineers of the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) included development of a career model, ongoing education and training, and greater opportunity to practice professionally. Captain James McLean echoed similar recommendations for Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) land engineers.

Fundamentally, these concerns reflect how an organisation perceives and values its professionals.[4] Then Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, acknowledged this value in his 2020 Army in Motion – Command Statement:

“Our people understand their context and exercise sound judgement. We do the right thing. We train and operate in ways that are safe, secure and environmentally responsible. We learn and adapt, and uphold our professional obligations to deliver what the nation expects. Ethical leadership ties this all together and enables our teams to succeed.”

For all the concerns raised above, reversing the skillset decline in Army’s Professional Technical Workforce is not beyond us – but it depends as much on the individual to practice their profession as it does on the organisation to support them. From an organisation perspective, a number of developments have occurred or are underway to address some of these concerns. These include:

  • Army participation in the Defence Engineering and Senior Technician Recognition Agreement (DESTRA). This agreement funds Engineers Australia membership and credentialing of eligible[5] personnel into both Leadership and Management and Technical Areas of Practice (AoP)[6] and provides access to continuing professional development (CPD) activities.
  • Development of a career management model for RAEME land engineering officers.
  • Revision of engineer recruitment targets at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
  • The provision of Army and Defence infrastructure project examples and visiting lecturers for civil engineering subjects at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
  • Use of the Senior Technical Officer review component in the new ADF joint performance appraisal report (from 2024) to comment on the technical skills and guide the technical development of RAEME engineering officers.
  • An Army Technical Workforce program which includes an online seminar series.

To be successful, there is an obligation on the individual to:

Developing the necessary skills and experience of our ADF professional technical workforce will take time and personal investment; but it is achievable. To those that are interested and invested, the goal of this article is to offer a way forward.

Over the coming months, The Cove will promote complementary Army-focussed technical ‘PME’ delivered via the Defence Protected Network to those interested. The first session will outline what DESTRA is and how to participate. Subsequent sessions on Innovation and the Land Materiel Safety Manual, Special Operations Advanced Manufacturing Cell, and the 3rd Brigade’s Industry Secondment program are planned.

An invitation to present is extended to those officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers who wish to pass on their experience and knowledge via this forum.

"… the responsibility for professional development between periods in formal programs rests with the individual officer. This is inherent in the nature of the military officer’s calling. It is inherent because the body of knowledge which constitutes the art and science of war is not only broad and deep but is also dynamic.”
– MAJ Paul Van Ripper USMC, 1982 with thanks to @WarIntheFuture for the quote