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.

Albert Palazzo (2021) describes the evolution of the battlespace, characterised by the reordering of global balance of power, technological change, and competition for finite resources. One of the key strategic consequences of this for an army in motion is the requirement to ensure that it can maintain a competitive advantage over potential threats which may be faced across multiple domains (Australian Army, 2020).

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 (2020) describes the need to build upon the intellectual edge of the workforce for tomorrow. As part of this strategy, key workforce initiatives have been implemented; most notably, the Total Workforce System which has enabled some flexibility for current members of the permanent and reserve force components.

The Department of Defence (2020) highlights the need to grow capabilities in the areas of intelligence, cyber, engineering, and specialist skills – an evolution in skills required of our workforce and an assessed pivot point in our strategy as defined by John Boudreau and Peter Ramstad (2007).

Challenging our existing recruitment strategies

Mark Abernethy (2018), citing the Head of People Capability, identified that recruitment strategies for the ADF have been centred around targeting of the 18 – 24 year old demographic. A strategy which is heavily focused on this method requires an understanding of the ever-changing attitudes and values of this generation of candidates and will be discussed further.

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.

Political factors

The Defence Strategic Update (2020) describes the three strategic objectives for the defence planning as being to shape, deter and respond. Within the deter elements of this strategy is the requirement to develop new capabilities which must hold the adversary from a distance.

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’ (Department of Defence, 2020). The increased focus on developing capabilities to support the achievement of Defence’s objectives presents both opportunities and risks for the ADF’s approach to human resource management (HRM) – particularly as technological skills and aptitude will be required to support operations across multiple domains.  

Economic factors

The recruitment and retention of personnel to meet the challenges outlined within The Defence Strategic Update (2020) and Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy (2020) will face numerous economic challenges, particularly in the competition for qualified personnel within the targeted areas of growth.

The National Skills Commission (2021) identifies several skillsets as part of the Skills Priority List for Australia. In particular, fields such as engineering, ICT security and intelligence are areas which Australia faces national shortages in qualified personnel. Coupled with this, these professions have a strong future demand which means that Defence will continually need to compete with other firms for a relatively finite talent pool.

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. (2008), identify portability as general human capital which has potential to be moved to more than a single employer. The development of new sovereign capabilities is commonly outsourced to defence Industry, which will likely remain a major market competitor for the skillsets necessary for facing the future adversary.

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 (2007) describe as the unique value proposition that is delivered to the marketplace. The ability to develop and understand this value proposition is further complicated by the demographic in the employment pool for which the ADF recruits (Abernethy, 2018).

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 (2018), the future workforce will see an increase in Gen Z workforce participation with a projected 27% of the Australian workforce being part of this generation by 2025 (Stahl, 2021).

The increased workforce participation of Gen Z also requires the organisation to evolve and adapt. Stahl (2021) highlights that Gen Z has been observed to place an increase in the importance of ethics and values driven work, which aligns with the morals and beliefs of this generation. These values and beliefs must have alignment with the organisations which they choose to support and grow with.

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 (2020), there is an increasing need to ensure that the technology enterprise can meet the future demands of the ADF.

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.