Two birds with one stone: Can Professional Military Education better support a future Army?By Richard Morgan May 28, 2019
“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”
Professional Military Education (PME) is a relatively new concept in the Australian Army that was introduced through the recent Ryan Review 2016. PME, broadly, is the equivalent of Professional Development (PD) carried out within the civilian world. PME is in its infancy and as such there are a few teething issues.
My personal experience indicates that the integration of recent PME assignments has been vague and lacks the necessary structure and direction in order for it to be realistic, relevant, and achievable. The broad scope and often discretionary nature of PME in the Australian Army has often resulted in a dismissive and cavalier approach which has seen what should be an effective and relatable goal fall short of its intended purpose.
How should we, as an Army, be utilising PME in a more useful and productive manner? This article seeks to identify and improve unit PME goals and opportunities. It will also aim to clarify how PME goals must have a clear focus on developing and extending an individual soldier’s professional mastery, whilst enhancing unit level operations. The answer to these two goals can be achieved with one 'PME stone'.
The main points of this article will discuss PME requirements, what should count as PME from a soldier’s standpoint and some options for commanders as PME evolves.
What is PME?
Professional Military Education (PME) refers to the professional training, development and schooling of military personnel. Its purpose is to foster leadership in military service members, through the fusing of system policies, training programs and education within the vision of achieving the Army’s goals and operational framework.
The aim of PME should be to further an individual’s professional mastery and provide support to increasing Army’s wider professional capacity. In order to achieve this, PME needs to be a synchronising mechanism for personnel policy, management and ongoing learning. This could be achieved by implementing policies and guidelines that ensures PME has consistent and unified requirements, whilst ensuring it’s professionally relevant and accountable.
The majority of a soldier's and officer's career will be entrenched in development training, specialist training and promotion courses. In conjunction with this, soldiers are also provided the opportunity to participate in voluntary additional study opportunities. PME would be an additional tool to increasing solders human capacity in a field of their professional mastery.
There must be continuity among the architects of change so that consistency of effort is brought to bear during this process. Collective training is generally strong, but there is weakness in doctrine and education and a value imbalance between all three.
The Ryan Review
The Ryan Review was undertaken in 2016 by Brigadier Mick Ryan (now Major General, Commander Australian Defence College). The purpose of this review was to establish and gain an appreciation of the current strengths and weaknesses of Army’s approach to education, training and doctrine, and to then propose suggestions to Army of how we might rectify the challenges identified.
The Ryan Review has suggested PME is currently suited to an officer centric model, it provides a possible model that could be considered for the warrant officer and senior non-commissioned officer (SNCO) ranks. However, to ensure this model works, The Ryan Review suggests that the Army requires a PME component that develops the ‘formal education’ component of subalterns up to the required level of ‘professional expert’. Without this foundation, it is not possible to execute a self-management professional development program.
Due to the recommendations of The Ryan Review not yet being fully adopted, or maybe misinterpreted, current PME requirements and activities have proved irrelevant to unit capabilities and soldiers' professional mastery. As a result, soldiers have expressed disillusionment with PME. Potentially PME could be great tool in the military’s arsenal although it needs to have its own specific guidelines that mirror and enhance these goals.
The Ryan Review needed to go a step further. It needed to relate PME to Army best practice, and provide specific guidance of what PME requirements need to look like across the Army as a whole. The Australian Army needs direct examples of PME specific activities, PME guidelines, and templates of evidence based portfolios. These then need to be linked directly to and correlated with unit capabilities or tasks. The Ryan Review suggestions were a great start in the process of developing PME standards across the Australian Army, although unfortunately more effective instructions are required in order for PME to be realistic, relevant and achievable.
Current PME requirements
Currently, PME requirements vary across units although the majority have integrated the following standards. SNCO’s and above are required each year to produce a book review of 500 words, off a suggested book list, and a 1000-2000-word (depending on rank) essay based upon any military subject a soldier wishes to explore. These are to be undertaken in the soldier’s own time and they are usually given a generous six month period in order to complete this task.
Currently this requirement is solely based on a soldier's self-learning ability and is not assessed or reviewed by superiors in most units. These reviews are therefore not recorded on soldiers PARs (or as part of PMKeyS) and thus not considered as a beneficial or desirable task to enhance a soldier’s portfolio.
Honestly, in my opinion this is not PME: this is a waste of time and most pay off this task as it has little to no bearing on their career development and adds nothing to the improvements or the functioning of that individual’s unit or the Army as a whole.
PME could be a great asset if developed and implemented correctly. It can provide accountability to units and individual military personnel. It can support and maintain soldiers continued human capacity, military expertise and competence throughout a soldier’s career. Specific instructions should be given to clarify the responsibilities and expectations of both individual soldiers and thier units in regards to PME. This then should be used in conjunction with mandatory PME standards that are realistic, measurable, accountable, and, most importantly, relevant to that specific unit and a soldier’s current position.
Guidelines for PME
The development of specific guidelines should be generated in order to explain the types of activities that qualify as relevant PME activities. This is essential to help guide and clarify units' responsibilities in regards to the PME processes and unify PME throughout the entire Army. Individual soldiers will also require advice and guidance in regards to establishing and maintaining an appropriate PME portfolio for accountability and provide proof of achievements.
The PME standards/ guidelines could look something like the following:
All serving SNCO’s and above must participate in relevant PME activities in accordance to their unit specific goals.
PME activities must be directed towards maintaining and improving competence in a soldier’s current employed position.
PME activities should be continually undertaken throughout the year either within a specified time frames or self-paced initiatives.
In addition to portfolio PME records, PME evidence must be recorded and evaluated on PARs.
Evidence retained in PME portfolios must be retained for a minimum three periods as this would align this with the PAC promotion timeframe.
Individual PME plans and portfolios must be available for audit by the relevant career management agency over that three-year period.
Periodic audits may be conducted to ensure that soldiers and units are successfully undertaking and facilitating PME competencies and are compliant with this standard.
What should classify as PME?
Doctrine, Strategy and Military Culture: Military-Strategic Doctrine Development in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, 1987-2007, outlines that “Although there have been minor definitional variations between countries, it is generally accepted that there are three levels of conflict: tactical, operational and strategic.” The Australian Army could effectively use this construct to help shape the nature of PME requirements to match that of the varied positions held within. This would be greatly beneficial to the unit as a whole and shows a soldier’s capacity to think strategically.
Having clear and varied PME guidelines will allow each unit, regardless of their field of expertise, to adjust PME activities to better suite their needs. Units can then annually align their unit goals with individual soldiers training requirements.
Examples of relevant PME activities could include the following:
Developing detailed handover instructions.
Supervising and mentoring training.
Participation in committees.
completing tertiary and training courses.
Attending conferences, forums, workshops and seminars.
Researching an article which has been published in military media forums such as The Cove.
Completing in-service training programs.
Distance education or online learning that includes support services for soldiers who may need assistance with formal learning education as most soldiers may not have had prior tertiary education (example: Essay writing skills, report writing skills).
Private study – book reviews with a clear relationship to soldier’s current position requirements (for example: reading something like Training at the Speed of Life may offer differing training aspects or techniques and facilitate modern development and conversation within a training unit).
I would like to argue, separate to the above list, that I think SNCO and Warrant Officers should be shaped towards Doctrine and Learning Management Package reviewing, analysis and amendment as part of their PME plans. These members are the “tradesman” of the Army and the hands-on experts within their fields.
I think it is a considerable waste of time assigning a SNCO the task of writing a random essay, on a random topic, when some of the LMPs and doctrine currently utilised in Army are woefully out of date. Leave the academic writing to the academics that Army spends 18 months training before their first appointment and allow the tradesmen to do their jobs.
The above recommendations are activities undertake on a regular basis. PME could document and capture these achievements in a formal and accountable manner.
Individual PME plan
An Individual PME plan should be developed between the soldier and thier commander. This plan should mirror each unit’s specific requirements towards maintaining and improving competence in that soldier’s field of subject matter expertise (SME).
In order to make PME accountable, the Army will need an effective means of recording, evaluating and storing an individual’s PME activities. The first step would be to:
Execute the PME plan and review annually for each individual soldier. Superior and subordinate meetings should take place at the beginning of a soldier's posting allocation and every year onward that they maintain a role in that unit. The annual meeting should be based upon achieving the unit’s goals in conjunction with individual soldier’s career requirements. (See Appendix 2),
Effectively documenting PME activities could also be achieved by developing individual PME Portfolios. PME portfolio guidelines would be required in order for this to be effectively initiated and implemented.
PME activities must be accountable and measurable. This can be provided by the introduction to PME portfolios being assessed in soldiers PARs and considered as a part of promotional standards.
Suggested guidelines for developing a PME portfolio
PME portfolios would contain evidence of all PME activities collated throughout the year. PME portfolios would be a self-directed, self-paced responsibility of an individual solder. This would be a beneficial measuring tool that should be discussed and reviewed at each soldier's PAR. The PME portfolio should also be retained for a minimum of three years (in order to align with PAC) and available for auditing at any time. PME portfolios should contain sufficient evidence to support claims of activities a soldier has completed, and provide tangible evidence of the true scope of an individual soldier’s efforts throughout the year.
Individual PME portfolios should include both unit and individual goals and outcomes as outlined by units for each year. The soldier should then print out the plan with all activities completed that year, with details of activities and evidence provided, and file both in the soldier’s portfolio.
The evidence that could be provided could be records of attainment, awards, attendance certificates, hard copies of written articles (such as essays), meeting minutes, reviewed and amended policies, doctrine, manuals etc.
What better incentive is there to a soldier than by offering a system that rewards productive and forward-thinking soldiers with the opportunity to increase their career profile through PME? If PME standards hold the same weight as that of AIRN Standards, not only can this improve a unit’s effectiveness, but it ensures a higher calibre of military personnel who in turn can shape the Army to continue to be an evolving and competitive military force.
The PME potential is there; we as a military need to mould it to fit military needs. By giving slightly more direction to soldiers and units, this tool could be used to ensure that the most valuable resource within Army, the soldier, is making the most of their time by not only improving their human capacity but improving the unit’s efficiency and ensuring that time is not wasted on irrelevant activities, killing two birds with one PME stone.
Jackson, A. Doctrine, Strategy and Military Culture: Military- Strategic Doctrine Development in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, 1987-2007, 2013
Murray, K. Training at the Speed of Life, Volume One: The definitive Textbook for Military and Law Enforcement Reality Based Training, Armiger Publications, 2004.