Career choices – plan to stay, but also plan to go


In any industry, including the Defence Forces, there’s always a vexed question for employers: what if I train them and they go… but what if I don’t train them and they decide to stay? Similarly, Defence personnel need to ask themselves: what if I plan to go and I stay… but what if I plan to stay, and I have to go? The former case enables individuals more choices, as they have planned for the inevitable but are also well prepared for the present. The latter may find an unplanned transition confronting and have a poor outcome.

The training and retention of key staff is paramount in most organisations. For the employer it means better productivity leading to improved profitability, and for the employee it can mean greater rewards for longer productive service, plus greater opportunities for advancement and remuneration.

There’s little doubt that those who make the most of their current career while planning and preparing for their next career are inevitably the most successful.

Deciding to leave the Defence Forces is clearly a major step in anyone’s life, but one that is also clearly inevitable. This can either be a natural, seamless progression to a new career or retirement, or it can be fraught with frustration and disappointment. By committing to that inevitable separation long before it’s time to go, and by planning to go on your own terms, the transition can be both rewarding and beginning a new lease of life. The sooner this process begins the sooner you will have the options to stay, or to go on to bigger and better things.

One of the greatest challenges facing Defence personnel is to transition to civilian employment at a level equal to or better than their relative position within the Armed Forces.

For example, the tank commander or the armoured vehicle driver may not find a directly equivalent civilian position, but that should not preclude securing a job that is equal in skill level and standing to their military job. Both soldiers have training in electronics; they manage a highly complex weapons system; they possess man management training; and they think globally in military tactics. The aim, therefore, would be to use this high level of military training as a base for supplementary training to bridge the gap between military and civilian industry qualifications.

In a way, this means managing two careers: your current Defence Force career and your intended post-Service career. Obviously, this gives you options when leaving the Services but it also enhances your career while serving in the ADF.

It’s not unusual for soldiers, sailors and airmen/airwomen who take on extra study and work experience to find success in rank and career progression while in the Services, then separate from the Defence Forces and immediately be recruited by a civilian employer. People with qualifications and experience that are transferable to the civilian sector are a valuable ‘commodity’.

Even if the idea of managing two careers is a little confronting there is help available through a combination of Defence websites, unit training and resettlement officers, along with civilian organisations specialising in career management services. It’s certainly in the Defence Forces’ interests to support any individual’s education and training ambitions as this, in turn, increases the skill level of the organization as a whole.

Before embarking on this path to an eventual new career, lifestyle and financial goals some self-analysis of your situation may help to show the way ahead, not only when you are seriously contemplating discharge or resignation but also in the initial stages of planning for the future with your feet firmly planted in the Defence Forces.

Immediate and Future Circumstances

An analysis of your immediate circumstances may clear your mind as to your current position: why you are leaving, and how well prepared you are to leave the relative security of a job and a lifestyle that you may have experienced for a number of years. Searching questions can also reveal what needs to be done urgently and what can be done as time progresses. Typical questions leading to reappraisal of the situation or a specific course of action include:
– Why are you seeking discharge, and are temporary circumstances forcing an earlier than ideal separation?
– Will you be seeking re-employment, and what are the prospects for a new career?

Somewhere to live and work is obviously a major consideration and one that may have the greatest impact on your post-Service lifestyle, so you may need to consider:
– Why you have decided or plan to settle in a particular area, and does that suit your family?
– What are the employment opportunities for you/your partner/your children in this area?
– What are the demands of your family in the areas of education and lifestyle pursuits?

Your financial situation is another major factor in successfully transitioning to civilian life and one that often receives less attention than it deserves. You may need to know:
– What exactly are your present and future financial positions in terms of assets, cash resources and borrowings?
– How much money will you need to live, and will your new net income meet those costs?
– Will tax erode your pension entitlements, and have you investigated minimising tax?
– Will you work full-time, part-time or undertake volunteer work, and how does this impact on your take-home pay?

Personality Assessment

Job opportunities in the civilian sector are very different from the potentially combat-related duties experienced in the military and, as such, may require a different approach to interaction both at the employee and management levels.

Within the military an authoritative and single-minded attitude fits with potentially life-threatening activities undertaken, but a more conciliatory and cooperative attitude may be required in a civilian job. This can lead to confusion and frustration for ex-military people when trying to ‘fit in’ within the new organization, as what worked well in the military may not go over well in a civilian workforce.

A degree of self-analysis may raise some human resources issues that need to be considered in preparation for that civilian job:
– What type of person are you, and do you have the personality, tolerance, relationship and skills to ‘fit in’?
– Are you seeking a position of responsibility, and are you prepared to take on that position?
– Are you ambitious, are you prepared to take on the associated workload and responsibility?
– How well do you cope with competition, and do you have the skills to succeed?
– What is your attitude to seniority and your acceptance of what may be either a higher or lower position than you held in the military?

Employment Potential

Of critical importance, especially to those not entitled to long-term Military Super entitlements, may be gaining employment commensurate with existing remuneration. Many people, including military personnel, think of their remuneration in terms of base salary rather than taking into account benefits such as Service Allowance and generous employer contributions into Military Super

Have you critically assessed your prospective net income in a new career, taking into account how Service-related benefits such as Service allowance, subsidised married quarter rent, subsidised home loan and other benefits add monetary value to your remuneration package?

Have you compared the long-term benefits of Military Super entitlements with that offered in civilian employment. This can be an important consideration for those planning to separate without long term entitlements.

Do you intend to continue in your current type of employment, and what changes are needed to prepare you for the civilian equivalent of your current job?

Do you hope to change the nature of your employment, and have you completed training required to be competitive?

What skills do you have, and how can those skills be translated into civilian qualifications? Skills obtained through Service training courses and employment are often ‘undersold’ by Defence Force personnel. You may need to seek assistance in expressing your Service skills in civilian terms.

Market Evaluation

Many military jobs have a link to civilian job types, but many are in highly specialised areas such as communications, air transport and avionics. In deciding when to leave the Defence Force a critical assessment of your qualifications may include the following:
– Is there a broad ‘market’ for your skills, particularly in the area in which you wish to live, and will this impact on that decision?
– Do you need to expand your skills and transform those skills into more of a civilian industry context, and is further education and training necessary to achieve this goal.
– Is your current military position too specialised for the civilian job market, and do you need to undertake additional or bridging training to redress that situation.

What use can you make of friends, newspapers, the public service, or people you know in the job market in gauging the demand for your skills and experience?


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