There are staffing shortfalls across our organisation. We've all heard that the Total Workforce System (TWS) can help mitigate those shortfalls by employing staff from multiple different Service Categories (SERCATs) and Services. Even at The Cove we've got SERCAT 3 and 5 members to work on projects and help make up for vacancies. It's been a really handy way of solving the staffing shortfall problem for us. In this article are some key facts about the TWS for you to better understand the options available to you and your subordinates.

What is the TWS?

The ADF TWS was implemented in 2016. It aims to provide Defence with the flexibility and agility it needs to meet current and future workforce demands. The TWS acknowledges that people are the ADF’s most valuable asset, and to attract and retain the right people, Defence needs a contemporary, flexible and agile workforce environment.

How does it work?

The TWS allows people to easily transition through the SERCATs throughout their life as needed. It aims to break the mindset of ‘all in, or out’ and offer people options to serve part time if they’re unable to serve full time. It also aims to reduce barriers for people to return to full time service after periods of part time service. This has wide reaching positive implications for individuals and the organisation as it encourages people to serve in whichever way they can throughout their lifetime.

Service spectrum

As detailed in the diagram, and explained in further detail below, there are seven SERCATs and three Service Options (SERVOPs).

Service Spectrum

  • SERCAT 1 – For force assigned APS staff.
  • SERCAT 2 – Inactive reservists. They do not render service.
  • SERCAT 3 – Reservists who are able to serve in a part time capacity. Their service days are allocated and approved by financial year (generally up to 100 days) and they may serve in part days. For example: a clerk may be able to work half a day each week running PMKeyS reports for a battalion. They may complete this work after hours at night from their home. This same clerk may be able to provide one full day per fortnight instead, on their rostered day off in their civilian employment. In this instance the clerk may parade during regular unit hours to assist with administrative tasks in the unit orderly room. Another example may be a Sergeant providing service as an Observer Trainer for three weeks on Exercise Talisman Sabre. SERCAT 3 service is generally irregular and aims to fill short term gaps in the workforce, although it should be noted that this type of service can be ongoing. 
  • SERCAT 4 – High readiness reserve elements such as special forces or contingency elements.
  • SERCAT 5 Reservists who are able to serve in a part time capacity and have the availability to provide regular service to a unit. An example would be a Transport Corporal parading at their unit every Tuesday night and occasionally participating in unit training and exercises. This SERCAT provides a regular pattern of service with the benefit of being posted to a unit.
  • SERCAT 6 – This SERCAT is a permanent force category for individuals who are unable to work full time. They receive all of the same conditions of service as SERCAT 7 (including superannuation) but are paid for the component of the working week they are able to complete. An example is someone returning from parental leave and working three days a week to allow them to care for their child the remainder of the week. In this case they would be paid a salary that is three fifths of a full time salary. 
  • SERVOP C – This SERVOP is for SERCAT 3-5 who are rendering full time service for a set period of time. For example: A SERCAT 3-5 Captain is employed in an operations cell for a period of 6 months on a continuous full time contract to cover a period of vacancy.
  • SERVOP D – This SERVOP is for SERCAT 5-6 who are working for a civilian employer and Defence under a shared arrangement.
  • SERVOP G – This is designated for individuals participating in the ADF Gap Year program. These individuals provide service for 12 months.

Why is the TWS important to you?

If the ADF needs to grow, one of the ways we can do so is by growing the TWS. Having people transition to part time service is far better than having them no longer rendering service. It is up to leaders to manage people across the SERCATs rather than out of the organisation. A large part of this involves educating your staff on what is available to them. Many soldiers and officers considering leaving Defence don’t fully understand the flexible Service options available to them.


ForceNet provides a central repository to keep people from all SERCATs and Services up to date with what’s happening in the ADF. It also allows units to advertise their vacant positions so part time members can find roles they may be suited to. This is an easy way to find part time roles to continue serving.

Here are some articles on the TWS

Case study - The Cove team

The Cove has positions for five SERCAT 7 staff. In 2022, only two of those positions were made available for the full year, one is departing on leave after four months and the final two were seconded to other parts of HQ FORCOMD. For The Cove to continue operating our website, Cove+ and creating new content, we've leaned heavily on SERCAT 3. The way we went about this was:

  • Place an ad on ForceNet
  • Find a suitable candidate for the role through job applications
  • Raise an AE959 - ADF Reserve Service Day Allocation Form, signed by 1 one-star and CMA
  • Employ the reservist usully within two weeks.

The Cove team now has seven SERCAT 3 reservists complementing the SERCAT 7 staff. SERCAT 3 is a great option for headquarters because of the flexibility afforded by them remaining a relatively free agent. Reservists in The Cove team are based in various locations including Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Singapore. In addition, one is a Navy reservist. Across these seven staff, who are doing between 30 and 60 days this Financial Year, The Cove can retain its required output with less SERCAT 7 staff.

Further information

For further information DPN users can type the following search terms into the DPN homepage search function.

  • ADF Total Workforce System Information Page
  • Total Workforce System User Guide