The Australian Army is required to continually respond and evolve to the threats presented to the Australian people and their interests. These threats commonly have characteristics captured under the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) framework.
A key tenet critical for achieving this advantage is the ability to recruit, train, and retain the critical skills and human capital which underpins the ADF’s ability to counter adversaries. This paper will present recommendations for the evolution of the ADF’s strategic recruiting and retention initiatives in line with the evolving environment.
The Department of Defence
The Department of Defence
Challenging our existing recruitment strategies
The following section describes the challenges facing the ADF’s recruitment strategies utilising the political, economic, social and technological (PEST) framework which provides a macro environmental analysis of the key challenges facing the organisation as it seeks to face the battlefield of tomorrow.
The Defence Strategic Update
As part of this strategy, Defence will seek to achieve advantage over the adversary through capabilities such as ‘long range strike, cyber and area denial’
The recruitment and retention of personnel to meet the challenges outlined within The Defence Strategic Update
The National Skills Commission
Whilst the ADF – and Army in particular – have a pool of qualified professionals currently within these areas, these skillsets are portable. Gary Becker, cited in Boris Groysberg et al.
These labour economic factors are also challenged by the ability for firms in Industry to provide potentially superior value propositions to those presented by the ADF. Whilst Defence identifies the employment of flexible work initiatives and the Total Workforce System to enable greater flexibility to the workforce, the organisation has been slow to respond to industry practices.
A key challenge for the ADF is the ability to develop and understand a competitive positioning strategy, which Boudreau and Ramstad
Potential methods for delivering meaningful value propositions to future service members and those who currently serve, is through the targeting and addressing of the intrinsic motivators of the workforce. Strategic workforce reporting and analysis (2022) indicates that separations within the previous 12 months across some segments such as captains has increased by 20% when compared to the previous three years. This presents significant challenges for Army and its future, particularly if these trends continue and the labour market remains highly contested.
Socio-cultural – Changing demographics of our workforce
As the ADF looks forwards to the future, we must consider the change in demographics and generation of the incoming workforce. As part of the strategy identified in Abernethy
The increased workforce participation of Gen Z also requires the organisation to evolve and adapt. Stahl
As a result of the adapting and changing attitudes to work, the ADF must also evolve and seek to align with the future workforce. Failure to do so may see increasing workforce supply pressures and an inability to counter our future threats. These ideals are reinforced in Deloitte (2021) which describes the future of work as being one which requires flexibility; however, ethics are likely to be unbending for the future generation.
The ADF recruiting measures are responding to the need for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce as part of the Pathway to Change initiative; however, it must continue to ensure that the organisation evolves with the needs of incoming generations in order to progress and remain capable of responding to threats.
Changes in technological sectors such as cyber security and ICT continue to evolve in our operating environment. As outlined in Department of Defence
Investments in systems such as cyber and joint command, control and communications systems also ensure that the future workforce will be required to become literate and proficient in the use of potentially complex technologies. This requirement further supports the need to ensure that technically astute and competent personnel are recruited and retained to maintain an advantage over a potential adversary.
The development of these skillsets and expertise will seldom be available at the previously targeted population within the Australian population, and thus requires innovative and adaptive means of recruiting for these critical skills.
In light of the challenges identified within this paper, the following two recommendations seek to address elements of the PEST analysis conducted.
Increasing the recruitment pool to include industry qualified personnel: This initiative will seek to ensure that the ADF can hold integral capabilities within areas such as cyber, engineering, and intelligence. Recruitment needs to ensure that members’ technical skillsets and progression are remunerated accordingly and enable unique propositions to be provided to candidates which align with not only extrinsic, but also intrinsic motivators.
Strategies like this have been applied to the recruitment of specialist medical professionals within the ADF, and this along with the Australian Army’s pilot of the specialist soldier scheme provide examples of progress towards addressing some gaps. Aspects of these schemes may be scaled up to ensure that technical streamed soldiers or officers may also serve and provide effective capability where gaps currently exist. These methods may also provide an improved incentive to the newer generation of soldier, sailor, or aviator to be seen within the ADF.
Whilst challenges such as ensuring organisational fit and suitability must be considered and factored, failure to appropriately target appropriate talent pools may result in the organisation missing opportunities to develop and grow key capabilities.
Revising the current soldier and officer career continuum: This initiative would seek to alter the current methodologies which see soldiers or officers needing to meet key career milestones prior to progressing. Examples of this include completing troop command, staff officer, training and sub-unit command appointments for officers.
Whilst opportunities exist for the deviation from the Command, Lead and Manage (CLM) pathway for army officers, the completion of sub-unit command is the key milestone to achieve prior to enabling specialisation into other streams (typically not achieved until approx. 10-12 years of service). As previously discussed, elements of the workforce such as captains are transitioning from SERCAT 7, prior to having the option to deviate from the CLM pathway.
This prescriptive model provides officers with structure and a definitive plan for those who desire; however, fails to enable the broadening of experiences or skills which may be beneficial for the future force. Opportunities must be provided for officers to achieve broader experiences prior to completing sub-unit command, or must have alternative pathways in the event that sub-unit command is not the desired milestone or measure of success.
Alternate means for addressing potential hollowness as a result of officers electing out of sub-unit command may be the elevating of high performing captains into these roles as part of their development should they demonstrate the potential, and as a consequence, providing high performing lieutenants with opportunities to perform junior captain roles to enable their own advancement.
Through enabling officers to pursue mutually beneficial interests whilst part of the organisation, retention may be improved along with providing members with improved intrinsic motivators to remain in service. This will particularly become a challenge which needs to be addressed as a greater proportion of Gen Z enters the ADF.