ADF partners have a range of experience and expertise and can bring both occupational skills as well as sought after employability skills such as leadership, innovation, adaptability, communication, interpersonal, cultural awareness and organisational skills, as well as an understanding of and affiliation with Defence. Yet they are an underutilised and relatively untapped talent pool.
ADF partners face a number of challenges balancing their careers with the demands of military life (primarily frequent relocations and ADF member absences from home). A recent survey of ADF families reported that unemployment and underemployment are concerns for this talent pool with higher than national average unemployment and underemployment rates.
ADF partner resumes are often incompatible with traditional recruiting and HR practices – their work histories and resumes often look “patchy” due to changing jobs on relocation, difficulties finding work (the 2011 ADF census found that the average length of time an ADF partner is out of work following a Defence relocation is 5.4 months) or difficulty finding work commensurate with their skills and experience. Additionally, their circumstances may require workplace flexibility not provided by some employers.
Anecdotal evidence also indicates that some employers exhibit conscious or unconscious bias against ADF spouse status. As a result, ADF partners report unemployment, underemployment, being overqualified for positions and difficulties maintaining professional qualifications and advancing their careers.
While frequent relocation is not always looked on favourably by civilian employers, it can be a benefit to defence industry companies – these relocations are made to Defence installations around Australia and thus companies can benefit from filling positions from within the company and save on recruiting, onboarding and training costs.
A further benefit is that several of these installations are in regional and remote areas where finding suitably qualified candidates can be a challenge for employers and bearing the full cost of relocating employees can be expensive.
With an estimated 85 per cent of ADF partners being women, hiring ADF partners can also be a key part of diversity and inclusion efforts. According to a recent report, “despite the many initiatives trialled to increase diversity, the industry continues to have a poor record as an employer of choice for women, narrowing the field of available skilled talent”. Yet as this report outlines, in order for the defence industry to meet the required growth in demand for skilled workers and to foster much-needed innovation, it will need to attract and retain a diverse workforce, including women.
Hiring ADF partners can also further indirectly support Defence capability by offsetting the negative effects of unemployment and underemployment on ADF family health and wellbeing. Just as the defence industry is “the workforce behind the Defence Force”, so too are military spouses a key source of strength and support for Defence, and an integral part of the Defence community. In fact, military spouses have been referred to as the “force behind the force”. Minister for Defence Personnel Darren Chester recently aptly described ADF families as “capability drivers” – therefore improving family readiness can improve military readiness.
Companies can also benefit indirectly from hiring ADF partners. Spousal employment is an important facilitator of a successful transition from the ADF. The UK Centre for Social Justice reports that “spousal employment can be key to ensuring a successful and sustainable transition. From providing stability through a second income, to supporting their partner in seeking work, the role of the spouse can be essential”.
The UK Forces in Mind Trust 2017 transition study found that “the leavers who had ended up with the most choice about their post-service life had working spouses who were willing to give them time to identify what they wanted to do post-transition”.
Defence industry support for ADF partner employment could help facilitate smooth transitions from Defence to civilian life, providing ADF members with the capacity to make informed career choices. Veterans bring valuable skills and end-user product knowledge to defence industry. Having the time and space to make sound post-ADF career choices as well as having a gainfully employed spouse already in the industry may make Defence industry an attractive proposition to skilled veterans.
Employers can reap the benefits of employing ADF partners by tailoring recruitment, onboarding and workplace policies and practices (including flexible work practices) to suit the needs of the ADF partner population.
Last year, Defence Families of Australia (DFA) created a checklist to help employers become “Defence Partner Friendly”. Several companies from the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program have self-identified as “Defence Partner Friendly”, including some from the defence industry.
DFA is in the process of developing a platform that will create mutually beneficial relationships between ADF partner job seekers and employers. Similar platforms exist in the US, UK and Canada, such as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, Hiring our Heroes, the Canadian Military Spousal Employment Network, Recruit for Spouses, and the Forces Families Jobs Platform (due to be launched in September).
Employer partners in these platforms include defence industry leaders such as Lockheed Martin, Leidos and BAE Systems.
Suggestions for how to attract, recruit and retain ADF partners:
- Identify positions that would be a good fit for ADF partners;
- Offer skills training opportunities to ADF partners via grants, scholarships and internships;
- Connect with ADF partners – advertise on platforms that ADF partners frequent and/or be proactive and host career fairs and information sessions for ADF partners;
- Understand the business case for hiring ADF partners and be conscious of and rectify any biases or HR processes that work against Defence partners;
- Offer flexible and remote work opportunities; and
- Offer transfer options to retain the ADF partner wherever possible when they have to relocate due an ADF posting.
Amanda McCue is a career development practitioner who specialises in veteran and military spouse employment and is vice president of the ACT division of the Career Development Association of Australia. Amanda was awarded a 2017 Churchill Fellowship to investigate approaches to military spouse employment in the US, UK and Canada. Her fellowship report has been used to inform recent ADF partner employment discussions and initiatives in Australia.