The nature of work/life aspirations have changed, with frequent job and career changes becoming the norm as individuals seek different paths, and jobs, along the way to achieving new career and life goals.
In the old days, well not that long ago, people entering the workforce thought in terms of a main career, staying with one company and gaining promotions along the way, only changing jobs when significant events encouraged a change – and that was certainly the case within the Australian Defence Force.
Factors contributing to changing work/life attitudes cannot only be categorised into Baby Boomer, Generation X and Y stereotypes but rather a combination of different attitudes that aim to achieve a balance between lifestyle and career.
Technological advances have changed the nature of work, as do the higher aspirations of employees for career advancement and remuneration. Generation Y, and younger, actively seek changes in employment to achieve career goals.
With many jobs within the Defence Forces having a strong technological base the prospects for soldiers, sailors and airmen/airwomen when they do leave the ADF are bright – provided their skills and experience align with civilian requirements.
The Australian Defence Force is certainly not insulated from these career motivations, and has identified recruitment and retention of skilled people as a critical factor in meeting strategic capability development goals.
With the ADF actively competing in the human resource marketplace, Defence Force personnel now have more options to their career path than ever before; and they need to make more decisions about their career directions to meet their current and future work/lifestyle objectives. It means that ADF personnel need to be more proactive in their careers within the Defence Force to enable choices while in the Services, and when they finally separate.
ADF Member A joined as a 20-year-old recruit, entering the Army as a gunner, spending most of his career in field regiments and staff positions. He progresses through the ranks to senior NCO level but he doesn’t undertake any civilian-related training or further his academic qualifications. He decides to separate from the Army as a warrant officer after 22 years because of family commitments.
ADF Member B also joined as a 20-year-old recruit, entering the Army as an infantry soldier. After a few years in the Army he realises that career advancement would enable choices in his Army career.
In addition to mandatory Service courses he begins external study with a view to tertiary qualifications, completing these studies. At age 25 with five years service and corporal rank he is accepted into university to study engineering. As he is undertaking studies that are complementary to his Army job he is given financial assistance to continue his studies.
In his second year he applies for a commission and is successful. After completing officer training he focuses on his degree and obtains a Bachelor in Engineering at age 30. He embarks on a new career as an Army officer. He progresses through the officer ranks and reaches lieutenant colonel rank at age 42, and decides to embark on a new career in the civilian sector.
Both men entered the Army on equal terms and had equal opportunities during their Army careers. The questions are: which ADF member progressed his military career best, will find transition into a career in civilian industry easier, has choices as to his future, and is able to negotiate a job/remuneration package that provides rewards for relevant experience and qualifications? Not only that, which member has more options during his Service career to change to an equivalent civilian occupation should he decide to do so?
Work and Lifestyle
From a work/lifestyle perspective the challenge for the ADF in recruiting and retaining people through a more holistic approach: providing a career path that doesn’t necessarily lock people into a Defence Force career, recognising that career change is inevitable, and may be frequent.
Understanding why there is a need for transition is important to anyone’s decision-making process. An explanation for transition can be found in the six life roles (relationships with self and with work, friends, community, partner and family).
Life roles go through cycles of initiation, adaptation, reassessment, and reconciliation – and an individual could be at a different stage in each role simultaneously. Any conflict between two or more of these role cycles could spur the process of career change.
An additional factor is that career change has become more socially acceptable, as personal fulfilment is more highly valued.
Career decision-making is therefore seen as a series of continuous choices across one’s life span, not a once-and-for-all event. Thus, careers may be viewed as a sequence of life roles, with changes triggered by factors ranging from the ‘anticipated’ (marriage and children) to the ‘unanticipated’ (illness, divorce or layoff) and to ‘non-events’ (marriage or a promotion that did not occur).
People also seek change if their original aspirations are not met, conflict with other life roles, or changes to the career itself. Longer life expectancy, changing views of retirement, and economic necessity are other factors.
These new ways of looking at life/career cycles and the transition process suggest new approaches for those contemplating career change. The search for a new career involves not only matching the person to the work, but also fitting the ‘occupational career’ into the ‘life career’.
People contemplating transition should assess themselves (their personal response to change), their situation (changes in roles, relationships, routines, assumptions), their support structure (does it exist and will it be disrupted by transition), and strategies (taking action to change the situation, change its meaning, or change oneself).
People may also need to consider: psychological, marital, and family counselling; assessing interests, values, obtaining detailed information about career options; learning about educational and training opportunities; and identifying and overcoming resource barriers such as financial and family needs.
It is this consideration of all factors, not just immediate pressures, that maximizes the prospects of successful transition through the phases in one’s life. Change is inevitable, so a clear awareness of goals is vital in managing that change.
A significant difficulty in decision-making about career transition is making distinctions between jobs, work, and careers; and recognizing that transitions are an inevitable part of life and a continual challenge to redefining one’s self.