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 situation within the Australian Defence Force. But times change and that employment premise has changed markedly, with frequent job and career changes becoming the norm as individuals seek various paths, and jobs, along the way to achieving their career, family and life goals.
Factors contributing to this change of attitude cannot be categorized neatly into the Baby Boomer, Generation X and Y stereotypes but rather to a combination of different attitudes towards work that aim to achieve a balance between lifestyle and career. Technological advances changing the nature of work can also influence career paths, as do the higher aspirations of employees for career advancement and remuneration. As the Australian population ages the reduction in the number of people actively seeking new positions is adding competition in the marketplace, especially in professions preferring younger employees, which is encouraging more of a migratory attitude to employment. Generation Y, and younger, actively seek changes in employment to achieve career goals.
Even though the global economic downturn has increased unemployment in countries such as the United States, Australia’s unemployment remains at historical lows, so people entering the workforce and those in work are now in greater demand than ever before – especially skilled people. This can be seen in the resources industries but also in related industries, especially those using advanced technologies. 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.
Changing one’s main career was often a mid working life decision following promotions within the one organisation, but that has also changed. Research shows a distinct change from age-related models toward more individually triggered career changes.
The Australian Defence Force is certainly not insulated from these career motivations, and it has identified recruitment and retention of skilled people as a critical factor in meeting its 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, but this means 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 choice while in the Services, and when they finally separate. Those who leave career development and educational preparation until a year or two before they leave the ADF are at a distinct advantage over those who have been proactive in the preceding years.
Consider these two case studies:
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 doing the required Service promotion courses and he achieves a high level of respect in his rank/roles. 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, spending most of his career in field regiments and staff positions. After a few years in the Army he realises that career advancement would enable choices in the direction of his Army career. So in addition to mandatory Service courses he begins external study with a view to tertiary qualifications, completing these studies in two years. 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, continuing post-graduate studies and gains his Masters in Business Administration – again, helped financially by the Army. 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 has moved beyond traditional thinking of ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’ to 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.
A worthwhile objective would be to evolve HR policy that allows for several careers within the Defence sector encompassing the Defence forces, Defence industry, the Defence civilian workforce and the Defence Reserves – with the opportunity to move between these workforces as career aspirations dictate. The aim would be to increase the number of experienced people being retained within the Defence sector – military and allied-military.
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 need to 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).
In adopting this holistic approach to transition management, people may 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 needs 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, only its frequency can be slowed, 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.