Employment in a Defence-related industry or with a Defence service provider is an obvious career option for Defence personnel looking for a job outside the ADF. Surprisingly, the very changes in Defence culture since the emergence of outsourcing in the 1990s make a seamless transition into civilian Defence industries more problematic. Taking off the uniform on Friday and pulling on the contractor’s garb on Monday may not be as easy as it once was.
The advice from industry HR officers is to use the ADF resettlement system to get trade and other competencies mapped, and make plans years before separation.
Defence members will most likely need some form of gap training to transition into the civilian marketplace, and these problems will likely be exacerbated in the technical trades. The rise of outsourcing has removed many of the former competencies from Defence-owned engineering tasks. For example, the Air Force now conducts only flight-line level maintenance while deeper maintenance such as the overhaul of engines is outsourced.
Beyond Defence, an F/A-18 expert does not become an Airbus 330 expert overnight, and it is getting more difficult for ADF personnel to transfer their technical skills immediately. Formal civilian equivalent engineering training is now considered imperative.
Industry still wants skilled people coming out of the military because they are talented people who have commensurate skills, but they need to plan from a technical skills standpoint to minimise the amount of ‘gap’ training needed.
ADF personnel also face competition from within the now evolved Defence service providers, with more companies now training their own apprentices. The result is that ADF members leaving the military are not only competing with other ex-Defence personnel for employment but also with staff who have progressed within the company.
Companies may also have a policy of promoting from within first, and that is understandable, but this practice makes it harder for relatively senior ADF personnel to obtain equivalent level positions in industry. Senior ADF personnel such as warrant officers and flight sergeants who are managers of personnel may have to take a couple of steps downwards, and that may not be what they want to do.
That said, Defence service providers still want people who can successfully negotiate the change from Defence to civilian work culture. Understandably, Defence has to foster a workplace that is sympathetic to the many demands placed on its people. The ready supply of health facilities, an environment that places a high priority on the welfare of families as well as the systematic development of the careers of its people can lead to a level of dependence. Everyday things such as Mess culture just evaporate when you get out.
The need to use resettlement assistance and resources wisely is paramount. Prior planning is critical. Seeking guidance from resettlement and career counsellors can help.
The bottom line is that anyone wanting a career within the Defence Industry sector should not assume a direct passage into the job of choice. They need to do their homework: talk to industry HR managers about the qualifications and experience they are looking for in particular job sectors, then take steps to improve where it is needed and reinforce or upgrade skills you already have.