Staff Functions

Reservists aren’t part-timers – Why the TWS fails to generate a Future Ready Workforce

By James Price August 12, 2021

A note from The Cove Team: For those not familiar with the Total Workforce System, you can read up on it here. Also, as part of our due diligence, we contacted the Future Ready Workforce team in AHQ. Director General Army People Capability has provided his response to the article at the bottom. 

Let’s compare for a minute, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Total Workforce System (TWS) with our civilian counterparts. We have three ‘Active Reserve’ and two ‘Permanent Forces’ Service Categories (SERCATs). In contrast to the normatively accepted and legally enshrined civilian categories of employment, we seem to be missing something rather significant.

Part-time forces

As one of Australia’s largest employers this is a peculiar omission, and one made even stranger by the emerging interpretation of the 'One Army Mindset' that prompts us to refer to Reservists as part-timers. Let’s be clear – they’re not. Reservists engage in casual employment, generating the contingent capability of the 'Mindset'. Any contrary argument on civilian standards would likely end up befuddled before the Fair Work Ombudsman, unable to explain how employees without superannuation, guaranteed periods of employment, leave entitlements, and non-pro-rated pay receive even one of the relevant legal protections.

The part-time soldier is fundamentally distinct from both a full-time and reserve soldier, both in itself and by comparison to civilian equivalents. Specifically the part-time soldier:

  • Has the availability to support a significantly higher service commitment and obligation than a reserve soldier, but less than a full-time soldier. Often available for 2 or more days per week, and during standard working hours.
  • Is generally also employed part-time or casually as a civilian, and may be undertaking study, parenting commitments, or voluntarily less work.
  • Contributes to permanent force capabilities, generally embedded within an Australian Regular Army (ARA)/Joint unit or headquarters.

Whereas, the reserve soldier:

  • Provides substantially lower service commitment and obligation, often around 10% of their full-time peers (e.g. 1 Tuesday night per week).
  • Is generally employed full-time as a civilian, with their Defence reserve service forming a voluntary commitment in their spare time, similar in nature to service in a State Emergency Service or Rural Fire Service equivalent.
  • Generally contributes to a separate, reserve force capability in 2nd Division, exercised strategically as a contingent capability.

Thus, the reserve soldier construct fails to meet the standards of part-time employment, and much better satisfies the contingent capability of the 'One Army Mindset'.

But ignoring this, and given Defence is not bound by vexatious civilian regulations, why – in practical terms – can’t we merge these two employment constructs and utilise SERCATs 3-5 to categorise and remunerate part-time employees in Defence?

Quite simply, these SERCATs provide an exceptionally poor Future Ready Value Proposition for part-time employees. This proposition was designed to be “competitive in the labour market … and attract talent through … training, job flexibility, competitive salaries, and support.”[1] Whilst SERCAT 3-5 remuneration may provide that for casual employees, it is entirely insufficient for part-time patterns of work for the following reasons:

  • Insufficient flexibility. A member who can work 11 hours one day and 5 the next will be paid for a day and a half of work, despite working more than two days by an hourly standard. Where this is a regular weekly commitment (e.g. Wednesday and half of Thursday), that’s a loss of 26 days of pay each year, more than $5,000 on a E02’s salary. The lack of flexibility is severely uncompetitive – with pay as low as $16.88/hour (below minimum wage), it can’t compete with civilian counterparts and creates a disincentive for flexible work hours.
  • Uncompetitive salary package. Not only does pay vary due to the inflexibility of the system, but it is also approximately 15% lower than the ARA equivalent even with taxation considered. Further, SERCATs 3-5 offer none of the ancillary benefits a part-time employee would find in their civilian counterparts. There is no leave, no superannuation (an added 17.5% to the base wage), and no guarantee of employment. Those seeking part-time employment need these benefits because unlike casual employees, Defence work forms a significant component of their overall income. Consequently, part-time employees often either reject the ADF or are quickly poached by our civilian partners (BGIS, Raytheon, THALES, APS, etc).
  • Insufficient support. Where most Reservists, the casual employees, are in reserve units, under distinct formation headquarters (e.g. those in 2nd Division), the units that tend to require part-time patterns of employment are often ARA, as prescribed in the Total Workforce Model. Primarily, this means that part-time soldiers are subject to ARA readiness and deployment requirements, without receiving either the remuneration or support to do so. Even basic readiness support, e.g. a will from Defence Legal, is unavailable, and the medical support required to maintain deployability is equally absent. For a request of more than 10 wills, Defence Legal quoted in excess of two weeks’ notice required. Recent Defence Assistance to the Civil Community tasks have had much shorter lead times, and this is a significant impediment to mobilising a force with part-time components, especially for overseas operations.

A competitive value proposition attracts, retains, and incentivises employees. For a majority of Reservists, posted to 2nd Division, the Tuesday night a week and occasional weekend each month is a casual commitment, a community role that provides a nice bonus to and not a necessary component of their income. Whilst sufficient for casual work, the remuneration of SERCAT 3-5 fails to provide the greater compensation part-time employees rely on and leaves command without the necessary support to force generate this workforce.

Some may suggest the fact that almost all Reservists are providing casual employment without concern indicates there is no issue here; yet to the contrary, it’s indicative of a significant, but hidden issue – the reason few people are affected by a lack of part-time support is that Defence provides so unattractive a value proposition that it has not attracted or retained those employees in the first place. The small minority providing casual service do so out of a sense of community spirit and have the great (and rare) fortune of family support or a high-paying job that allows them to do so. Part-time workers provide diversity, flexibility, and highly scalable commitment – something our civilian counterparts have recognised for more than four decades – and Defence’s inability to attract them is a serious blow to capability across the board.

What are the solutions?

A sensible individual might point to SERCAT 6, which provides pro-rated remuneration and benefits equivalent to SERCAT 7, as the ADF’s part-time model. Yet a quick search on the Management, Analysis and Reporting Solution (MARS), revealing a grand total of 342 SERCAT 6 personnel (0.57% of the SERCAT 7 workforce as at 15 May 21) and its position as one of the ‘Permanent Forces’ reveals a clear lack of desire to use it as such. Further, SERCAT 6 is highly inflexible for command, requiring vacant ARA Army Position Numbers (APNs). These are generally filled by SERCAT 7 staff, and thus when members are deployed, on maternity leave, or otherwise absent, there is no scope to use SERCAT 6 to fulfil these positions, and instead uncertain SERCAT 7 or Serve Option (SERVOP) C reinforcement demands (REODEMS) are the only option. SERCAT 6 – for now at least – remains merely a renamed flexible work agreement and untapped source of capability.

Revitalising SERCAT 6

Yet this does not have to be true going forward. Two issues currently appear to prevent SERCAT 6 from being utilised as a part-time workforce package. First, a lack of command knowledge/will, particularly at the unit level. The TWS was introduced in 2017 – relatively recently – and from all accounts did not appear to have been accompanied by a comprehensive training package for commanders. Indeed, SERCAT 5 & 7 commanders are often unaware of the specificities of employment outside of their own SERCAT, which already poses challenges when employing members of the other within their remit. There appears even less knowledge about SERCAT 6, or the process needed to employ personnel in this category. Without such, sub-unit and unit level commanders are not able to identify niches best filled by part-time employees, nor illustrate to their commanders how they could best make use of them. At a formation level, there has seemingly been little intent to direct SERCAT 6 employment, or even conduct scoping activities for relevant niches, which indicates either a lack of awareness or will to utilise part-timers.

Second, there is a clear lack of willingness within the broader HR and employee management space in Defence to on-board SERCAT 6 employees. Defence Force Recruiting (DFR) does not advertise part-time employment. They make little reference to shared work agreements (SERVOP D) and fail to convey the value proposition of SERCAT 6 to attract new members. This is likely in part because Career Management Agency has displayed a clear lack of will to accept diverse training, experience, or qualifications for SERCAT 6 applicants. One cannot enter Defence as SERCAT 6, and nor can they transfer directly from SERCAT 3-5. Rather, all personnel are required first to transfer through SERCAT 7 and resultantly must achieve the full-time qualification standard or have it waived. Yet this is clearly unreasonable. First, most individuals looking to work part-time with Defence do so because they are unwilling or unable to commit to full-time employment and lack the time to complete SERCAT 7 Initial Employment Training / First Appointment Course (FAC) training. Indeed, this is because many of them have similar civilian jobs, experience, and qualifications. Defence appears unwilling to recognise this, but it is unclear why a civilian with a Master’s in Logistics Management and five years’ experience in the industry isn’t at least as (and likely far more) qualified than a SERCAT 7 logistics officer who has completed the full-time FAC and Logistics Officer Basic Course. It is unclear why SERCAT 5 courses are not able to provide sufficient Defence-specific knowledge for part-time SERCAT 6 employees, who generally have comparable civilian experience and are supported by full-time peers.

Consequently, if SERCAT 6 is to be used to generate the part-time element of Defence’s Future Ready Workforce, two things are required. First, a substantial education campaign and command engagement, to both identify and fill positions that can be most effectively serviced by part-time employees. Second, an ADF level directive to either allow direct transfer to SERCAT 6 without SERCAT 7 courses and qualifications, or a much higher willingness to waive those requirements, alongside an increased recruitment campaign through DFR.

An alternate way forward

However, there are certainly some legitimate concerns that might be raised from the expansion of SERCAT 6, in particular with the willingness to accept lower ADF-specific course and qualification requirements in this part-time workforce. There is also value in maintaining a service category for ex-SERCAT 7 members who are temporarily unable to provide full-time service. Although this would likely be best fulfilled through a service option, given SERVOPs are designed to temporarily provide alternative patterns of service within a normative SERCAT (e.g. SERVOP C, providing continuous full-time service in SERCAT 3-5), it should be acknowledged that the workforce review instead chose to implement a whole new SERCAT (6), and likely had distinct reasoning for this.

Accordingly, Defence could instead choose to implement a new SERCAT for part-time employees (perhaps 5.5), to fill this gap. This would maintain SERCAT 6 as a part-time employment option for personnel with SERCAT 7 qualifications, whilst also providing an opportunity to employ part-time personnel with competitive civilian experience. In constructing SERCAT 5.5, the remuneration and benefits would need to be directly equivalent to SERCAT 6 (to maintain competitiveness), but SERCAT 5.5 would allow direct recruitment and transfer from other SERCATs and require a lower level of Defence specific qualification. This would allow it to exploit extant SERCAT 3-5 courses and recognise civilian qualifications, reducing the barrier to employment in various roles. It is far easier to take five weeks off civilian work for Kapooka than it is to take three months.

In sum

At present, I would be inclined to recommend an expansion of the use of SERCAT 6, which seems perfectly designed for part-time employment in Defence, with competitive (and legally satisfactory) remuneration and benefits. This could involve the creation of a new SERVOP (P - Part-time) within SERCAT 7 to mitigate some of the issues outlined above, although this is by no means necessary. It would require the creation of SERCAT 6-P APNs, and a substantial education package to ensure command is aware of how to use this vital capability. However, significantly more research, review, and consultation are necessary to explore alternate solutions and the merits of the two proposed solutions before one could be properly recommended.

These solutions are significant undertakings, and I am by no means deluded that this article provides either sufficient research or detail in its proposals to justify pursuing one in and of itself. Yet this is a conversation we must have. In a world of enormous and increasing strategic complexity, where the efficient use of our middling power resources generates our most vital strategic asset, an outdated system of managing and attracting diverse employees is not sufficient. Generating the Future Ready Workforce requires a proper conception of all three employment types, and the provision of unique, tailored value propositions in the service categories of each.

As the gig economy provides a potential fourth model of employment, with civilian labour markets and laws rapidly adapting in response, the inability of Defence to support even three models increasingly denotes our human resource management as a broken relic of the past.


Response from BRIG Matthew Patching, Director General Army People Capability, AHQ:

"Harnessing skills and expertise across the Total Workforce System is fundamental to generating ADF capability into the future. Incomplete or unhelpful policies and processes constrain us. That’s why the Future Ready Workforce (FRW) team is encouraged by the growing conversation about what Army needs to be future ready. The author is living and breathing the Total Workforce System by providing valuable input into how it impacts them and how the system could improve. The FRW team wants to hear more diverse perspectives - the contest of ideas uncovers innovation in all parts of our ADF.

We value your opinion and lived experience. Come work with us and help solve Army’s workforce challenges. Or join us for the Value Proposition workshop (7/8 September, Canberra/virtual), the FRW Regional Roadshow (Sep-Dec 21) or the FRW Symposium next year (Q2 2022).”


End Notes

[1] DCA, 2021. Future Ready Workforce. [online] Army Intranet Site. Available at: <http://drnet/Army/DCA/FRW/Pages/Future-Ready-Workforce.aspx> [Accessed 9 June 2021].



James Price


Lieutenant James Price is currently posted to 1st Joint Movements Unit as a Troop Commander, and is leading the 1JMU Total Workforce Review. Previously posted to 9th Force Support Battalion, Lieutenant Price has experience commanding full-time, part-time and reserve personnel. He is a student of finance and law, with a keen interest in the contribution of logistics and resource management to the conduct of war.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


The program is here Interesting speakers incl Minister & Shadow Ministers for Defence MAJGEN David Thomae, Commander 2nd Division MAJGEN Natasha Fox, Head People Capability BRIG Langford, Director General Future Land Warfare BRIG Michael Bond, Director General Reserves – Army and more One topic is 19. 1550 - 1605 Initiatives being undertaken and proposed to enhance the Army Reserve.

The lived experience of our Army Team is driving change across the Army People Capability System. James, thank you for your insights and potential solutions, it would be great to see you in Sep to explore these further. SERCAT 6 (perm part-time) & SERCAT 3/5 & SERVOP C exist to provide flexibility to our people. SERCAT 6 is an option available to all ADF pers and we (the FRW Team) are currently exploring ways for SERCAT 3/5 to shift directly to SERCAT 6, rather than going via SERCAT 7. Additionally , Army is exploring how SERCAT 4 can create greater flexibility for the TWS.

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