Recruitment for the Future
The Australian government’s intent to increase the defence workforce to 100,000 personnel by 2040 affects the Army’s future force structure, capability, and training. Yet, before the implications of this target can be properly considered, the issue of recruitment must be addressed. The changing threat within the Indo-Pacific, and the lack of 10-year warning time, means that recruitment for the future is more important than ever.
From the impacts of COVID-19 to ongoing natural disasters, there has been a change to the normalised tasks undertaken by the ADF. Particularly for the Army, achieving recruitment targets in the next 10 years is key to generating the specific land power capabilities needed to meet future security challenges, both at home and abroad. Retention of the current force, while integrating new platforms, is an enduring challenge. This Land Power Forum Post will examine two ideas relevant to the future of recruitment that support the transformation of land power. First, there are concurrency pressures on the Army to maintain current capabilities while generating future capabilities. Consideration must therefore be given to the Army’s ability to develop niche capabilities (such as cyber) while recruiting from a limited talent pool. Second, this Post considers concepts that require further examination to meet Army’s recruitment challenge: such as leveraging civilian qualifications, competitive employment, and fostering a sense of service. Recruitment for the future requires thinking outside the box. In this light, this Post offers a primer for discussion on recruiting to transform land power beyond 2022.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
Recruitment for the future needs to consider integrating and investing in specific talent pools to maximise the number of suitable recruits. In this effort, Army’s contribution to the ADF needs to be emphasised within all recruitment campaigns. The primary role of the ADF is to defend Australia and its national interests, promote security and stability in the world, and to support the Australian community as directed by the Government. Army provides the bulk of the land power required to deliver these effects both domestically and globally. The requirement to sustain concurrent combat, disaster relief and humanitarian operations is not likely to subside in the future. Meeting the associated capability demands remains a challenge that Army needs to continue to address. After all, today’s new recruits will fulfil diverse roles in the submarine task force, cyber and information warfare capabilities, and land-based strike capabilities.
While the Australian government has forecast recruitment targets to 2040, concurrency pressures are unlikely to cease in the next two decades. For Army, the priority roles for the future workforce are in cyber and land-based strike capabilities. These professional fields require motivated individuals who are already skilled when recruited, or are ready for training. In the cyber domain, Army is already at a disadvantage due to Australia’s lagging cyber sector. Australia’s sovereign cyber workforce is growing slowly. With low awareness of Army’s cyber capabilities within Australian society, Army’s cyber talent pool is drawn to more mature markets in banking, IT services and larger international companies including overseas. Compounding this challenge, the educational and vocational aspects of Army’s cyber career pathways remain unclear. Does the Army truly need a deployable cyber capability, or is this better achieved through a reach back capability?
While this Post is too short to answer these questions, they remain points for consideration in the current narrative on Australia’s sovereign cyber capability and its implication for Army’s ability to recruit from the cyber talent pool. How can there be an effective recruitment campaign in a talent pool that is already exhausted?
Turning to the issue of land-strike capabilities, the introduction into service of Self-propelled Artillery Hanwha K9 and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) highlights that training and retention will remain a key workforce challenge for Army. LAND 400 Phase 3 seeks to introduce around 450 IFVs with an associated demand for qualified drivers and maintainers. Similarly, the introduction of the new Self-propelled Artillery platform and IFVs requires further training among the existing workforce. This capability will necessitate maintenance of two platforms (current and future) until the new platform reaches full operational capability. Difficulties in initial platform introduction are likely to see similar negative media attention and reporting as that which accompanied the introduction of the Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle in 2021.
The demands associated with the introduction to Army of sophisticated capability platforms are unlikely to be resolved at the recruitment level. However, effective recruitment – combined with expectation management from recruitment to training - could aid in solving the problem. Development of a retention and recruitment task force would be a step in the right direction. The future of recruitment should also encapsulate Army’s needs to conduct training on current and future platforms while maintaining a deployable capability to meet core warfighting and other functions.
Rethinking recruitment – individual to the collective
Defence Force Recruiting (DFR) generates recruitment campaigns targeting specific sectors of the workforce. One Army example is focused women, known colloquially as the ‘do what you love’ campaign. While this idea is unique, arguably it sends a lifestyle message to potential recruits rather than targeting the specific capabilities that the ADF needs. Since DFR started this campaign, has its messaging towards more individualised notions of service actually delivered the recruitment dividend it intended to achieve? The appeal of this campaign is that it targets the individual and invites potential recruits to consider ‘how will Army benefit me?’ rather than ‘how can I contribute to Army?’
To an extent, there is a need to inspire a young generation by changing the narrative of recruitment to one that speaks to individual aspirations. Although this approach may be necessary in a competitive employment environment, the focus of Army recruitment should nevertheless also foster a sense of mateship, belonging, and service. As highlighted by the Chief of Army’s Accelerated Warfare concept, readiness to defend Australia’s national interest should be reflected in all aspects of service life. It follows that these same themes need to be integrated into recruitment, and instilled in the thinking of everyday Australians when they consider security of the region and the Army’s contribution to it.
It has been observed that global politics, rather than domestic or government policies, has the most significant influence on the success of military recruitment campaigns. Consequently, for Army to improve recruitment outcomes, DFR campaigns need to reflect the pacing security threats that exist within our region, the lack of a 10-year warning time, and to present a narrative to the target audience that emphasises a whole of nation responsibility for the country’s security. As a similar example, Australia’s presence in the Southwest Pacific will continue to require a whole-of-government approach. Rather than emphasising the individual benefits of service, recruitment efforts should reflect on the need for readiness to defend Australia’s sovereignty and national interests.
For the future
It is time for Army to more effectively leverage existing skills within the workforce, to pursue increased retention through competitive employment, and to re-shape the recruitment narrative towards a sense of service. Considerations that may contribute to the achievement of these outcomes include:
- Better recognition of civilian qualifications. Within the Army, civilian qualifications of current members are often not recognised or leveraged. This situation needs to be remedied to achieve a force multiplier effect. Specifically, it will positively influence two workforce needs: enhancing members’ sense of gainful employment thus contributing to retention, and addressing the gap between recruitment and the generation of land power.
- The establishment of a recruitment and retention task force. Such a task force could generate competitive employment methods directed towards the retention and recruitment of military personnel with the skills necessary to meet Army’s capability needs now, and into the future. This is not a short-term task. Rather it is an enduring task that will change the way Australians approach cyber as an education and employment pathway within Defence.
- A new narrative around military service. Compounding the benefit of delivering a viable educational and career pathway, fostering a sense of service is a recruitment tool used more effectively by other militaries. Amplifying this sense of service within the ADF, along with improved competitive employment strategies, will assist in developing an Army workforce that is ready and able to meet the challenges of military service.
What does it mean to serve in the military of the future? This concept needs to be explored in depth to achieve recruitment targets and to meet the goals set by the Australian Government for 2040. The challenges the Army face in the next 10 years is compounded by the need to maintain a fighting force whilst generating the future force. This concurrency should be a key consideration for the future of recruitment. Further, recruitment should seek to build on the readiness to defend Australia’s national interests and leverage the sense of service. The establishment of a retention and recruitment task force should consider leveraging civilian qualifications, competitive employment strategies through integrating education and vocational sectors and changing the narrative of recruitment to one of service. In acknowledging the lack of a 10-year warning time, effective recruitment for the future has never been more important than now.
This article is an entry in the 2022 AARC Short Writing Competition, 'Transforming Land Power'.
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 “Do what you love.” Perhaps the campaign is appealing to women that would not have considered the Army in the first instance. However, for the recruitment of the future, the ADF need to do more than grasp the attention of a specific group to meet the recruitment targets.
 Peter Balint, Submission for Legal and Constitutional References Committee: Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy (Canberra: Department of the Senate, 2019), https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=178fd17a-fb65-4d07-8e69-8cf49659d204&subId=670668.
 Max Margulies, “Patrons And Personnel: The Determinants Of Military Recruitment Policies,” (PhD diss, University of Pennsylvania, 2018), https://repository.upenn.edu/edissertations/2980/.
 Peter Balint, Submission for Legal and Constitutional References Committee: Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy.
The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.
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