The 2nd Lieutenant – a necessary development pathway for Part-time officersBy Doug Laidlaw December 11, 2019
The Australian Army operates as a total force, integrating personnel from a range of Service Categories (SERCATs) in order to generate the capabilities required to win the land battle as part of joint force. The re-introduction of the rank of 2nd Lieutenant for General Service Officers (GSO), whose ab initio training is the Part-Time Officer Commissioning Course (PTOCC), will enable superior alignment of Foundation Workforce capabilities across the total force and create a cogent framework for the conditions-based development of part-time junior officers.
The All-Corps generalist Lieutenant (part-time)
The role of the part-time generalist Lieutenant - as described in the All Corps Employment Specifications - differs substantially from that of the full-time generalist Lieutenant.
Practically, there is a significant difference in the quantity of training that can be provided during a little over 100 training days of the PTOCC, and full-time attendance over 18 months at the Royal Military College – Duntroon. This is explained in the Employment Specifications, which note that ‘as the generalist Lieutenant is the first appointment as an officer, they are prepared for their employment exclusively through Army training and education’(i), and are therefore not able to draw on their experience as is the case for more senior ranks.
Current policy notes that officers who successfully complete an Officer Commissioning Course will normally be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (ii). However, policy also provides that ‘at the direction of the delegate, an applicant may be appointed as a 2nd Lieutenant’. The points to note are: firstly, that the rank of 2nd Lieutenant is extant; and secondly, that appointment to that rank is a matter of policy, that is to say it is something within the control of Army.
The current problem is that SERCAT5 junior officers are advancing too quickly to be afforded an effective foundation during their early Regimental career. Anecdotally, this is demonstrated by limited on-the-job experience leading soldiers, planning and executing training and conducting necessary personnel management and administration.
A starting point is to consider the graduate of the PTOCC. Whilst the ideal set of skills of a fully effective Lieutenant are detailed in the Employment Specifications (iii), there can be no doubt that upon commissioning, a SERCAT5 officer will have had neither the training nor experience to be at that standard. Indeed, the recent history of the PTOCC saw a substantial modification of the course in 2017 as a result of continued unacceptably high failure rates during Training Block 5 (iv). As a result, recent graduates are more competent tactically than was previously the case, however they carry into service a knowledge gap.
In the broader sense, the part-time generalist Lieutenant is appointed to command at platoon or troop level. Compared to their full-time counterpart, they have less training and awareness of:
- the functions of command and the management of the organisation
- planning tactical actions which integrate capabilities from a combat brigade
- planning at combat team level in support of a brigade plan
- integrating joint capabilities
- planning collective training
- implementing individual and collective training
With the requirement for a part-time Lieutenant to complete their Regimental Officers Basic Course (ROBC) and the All Corp Captains’ Course (ACCC) during their three or four years as a Lieutenant, it is possible for part-time Lieutenants to spend the majority of their block-periods of service on course, with limited or no long periods in the field in which experiential learning may ameliorate some of knowledge gaps between them and their full- time counterpart.
Compounding that issue, the Force Generation Cycle (FCG) means that the likelihood of participating in significant collective training activities is affected by where a junior officer’s Brigade is in the FCG upon taking up their first appointment.
The functions of the generalist Lieutenant form the foundation for all officers. Reduced experience as a Lieutenant lessens the scaffolding on which an officer builds their professional competence.
Training and experiential learning
Although not formally captured, Army implicitly relies on the fact that most generalist part- time officers from senior Captain onward are in management or executive positions in their civilian employment. This provides them with both formal and experiential learning in leadership, management, organisational planning and personnel development that is broadly the equivalent of their full-time counterparts. They additionally bring to Army a range of skills and experience that are not natively developed within Army.
The individual training provided to part-time and full-time generalist Captains and Majors is far more aligned than for Lieutenants. This is possible because the ACCC and the All Corps Majors’ Course are relatively short and are thus able to be modularised in such a fashion that part-time officers can attain similar competencies. Whilst the majority of the part-time officers have less practical experience in the field than full-time officers, the common competencies provide a framework on which they can build knowledge and understanding. However as noted above, the divergence between the Part-Time and Full-Time Commissioning Courses is significant and there is no formal process to manage that ongoing gap for the part-time Lieutenant.
The challenge for Army in developing and utilising the part-time Lieutenant, is that they have substantially less military education than their full-time counterparts, limited opportunity for experiential learning in the field due to competing course requirements, and generally limited leadership experience in their civilian career at that stage.
A practical approach
A practical approach to recognising the difference in training and education between full-time and part-time Lieutenants, which also would provide the opportunity to remediate some of that differential, is the re-introduction of the rank of 2nd Lieutenant for part-time officers, with promotion to Lieutenant dependent on the attainment of a number of competencies and participation in specified activities.
Those competencies and specified activities would include the ROBC, participation in field exercises, directed in-barracks tasks and possibly an element of on-line learning.
Whilst many options may present as to how such “on the job training” might be tracked, consideration ought be given to empowering and holding Commanding Officers accountable for the development of their junior officers, in a similar manner to how a Commanding Officer is able to substantively promote a soldier to Lance Corporal or Corporal if they are appropriately qualified and the Commanding Officer assesses that they are suitable. Rather than simply a fixed period of time in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant (v), a Commanding Officer would make the recommendation (if not in fact the determination) to promote the officer on the basis of them achieving the list of competencies and specified activities as well as their performance.
Implementation of this model would not entirely remediate the differential in training and education between the part-time and full-time Lieutenant; however, it would more closely align their abilities. This enhanced level of training would better enable the part-time Lieutenant to achieve their required operational capability within the generally longer notice period of reserve units and create a stronger foundation upon which to build the training and education of part-time officers as they progress through their careers.
This article was co-authored Scott Denner.
(i) Employment Specifications All Corp, Part One, Chapter Two, Annex A
(ii) Employment Specification All Corp, Part Two, Chapter Three, Annex I
(iii) Army Standing Instruction (Personnel), Part Four, Chapter 2, Paragraph 53
(iv) The reforms to the PTOCC addressed the failure rate which was almost exclusively due to a lack of field and tactical ability. The reform involved reducing non-field training wherever possible in favour of more field training.
(v) The minimum time in rank for a SERCAT5 Lieutenant is either three or four years, depending upon Corp. Employment Specification All Corp, Part 2, Chapter 2, Annex C, Appendix 3.