Chief of Army address to the Defence Force Recruiting Training Program
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The Army needs people. We’re about 1,000 short. The Army needs the most talented people you can find. It needs people with the potential to succeed. Some will be job ready – they’re easy decisions to make. Some will have potential, but need training - diamonds in the rough, like a distinguished former RSM-A, who was functionally illiterate on enlistment.
These are the people I want you to find. To find them I need you to have an open mind.
I need the switch to be set to “recruit” rather than “reject”. I want you to look for opportunities to enable our citizens to join their Army. I don’t want potential filtered out. I don’t want you to look for reasons to exclude. I want you to look for reasons to include.
These are the people that we will train and I am confident in our training.
We’ve been training soldiers for more than 100 years; and we’re good at it. I back our training units to make soldiers of the candidates you find.
You will be aware that I am setting bold targets for the participation of women and Indigenous Australians in the Army.
My aim is that women will make up 25% of the Army. I want the Army to benefit from the talent of all our citizens, not the half that are men. In some trades women may become the majority, in others they might never be more than a very small minority. For example, I am not seeking to press gang women into joining the infantry. The quota for women in infantry is: only those women who voluntarily declare an interest in joining the corps.
We know that women make up 51% of the population. We know that women are obtaining impressive grades at high school. We know that more women are attending and graduating from university, and winning high awards for their studies. We need these women to want to join the Army and I need you to help them on their journey.
I also want the Army to have a ‘declared’ Indigenous participation rate of 5%. As you may know, only about half our people choose to declare their ethnicity. That is their right, which I respect. So let’s be clear, I want 5% declared of the total Army to be from our Indigenous peoples. This probably means we may actually get somewhere between 7.5% to 10%, because the additional 2.5% to 5% will be undeclared.
For far too long, Army has accepted the government’s target of 2.7% to 3% Indigenous participation as an option not an order.
Given that in 1917, the Army was Australia’s first Indigenous equal opportunity employer, I have no intention of forgetting their service and sacrifice over the last 115 years.
Of all the services, the Army surely has something to offer that our Indigenous peoples want – connection with the land, pride in team and purpose, and education and training for the future.
In both cases, women and Indigenous, I need more, and you are on the front line in the war for talent.
Why do I need more?
Ultimately, Army needs a diverse, inclusive work force, reflecting the broadest range of knowledge, talents and perspectives that can be harnessed to ensure that this small, modern force is and remains the world’s best in the most competitive of environments: war.
War may involve close combat and cyber combat, humanitarian assistance and hostage rescue, negotiation and networking, breaking and building. Not all of these requirements are obvious strengths of white, anglo saxon, young men, whose service I truly value; but not exclusively.
I cannot create a fully diverse and inclusive work force overnight. It takes time and needs a focus of effort.
Many studies show that workplaces that have more women also become more culturally and linguistically diverse. In a nation that has been created by people from more than two hundred national and ethnic backgrounds, and with 28% of Australians born overseas, getting more women is my first point of focus, to gain access not only to more of the talent from that half of the population, but also to start to gain access to Australia’s growing culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community.
My second point of focus is our Indigenous peoples – those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander heritage. Why?
Firstly, because it’s an order not an option, given by the government we serve. Secondly, because Indigenous peoples have served with distinction in all the wars our nation has fought, and unsurprisingly, they are as good at soldiering as any, given equal training and opportunity.
What is very surprising, and I consider a debt unpaid, is that for many years that service was freely given to a country of which they were not recognised as citizens. That is true service.
Thirdly, because, in almost every major operational or defence cooperation setting in which Australians have or continue to serve, Indigenous force capacity building has been a significant feature of our efforts – Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Vietnam, Malaya, Korea. Surely training our own people, often from backgrounds of severe disadvantage, is in our Army’s direct interest as a consistent core function of our operational service?
And finally, I want to focus on Indigenous recruiting because it’s the right thing to do, as our institutional contribution, to wider whole of nation efforts to lift Indigenous participation.
And as I said previously, I think we have a great product to sell.
I know there are many quotas, targets, priorities and requirements to deal with every day. I understand that bandwidth is often a problem. Everyone wants something from you. That is why I have narrowed the beam to two targets. Please remember your Chief wants more women and more Indigenous peoples in our Army.
I know diversity is something of a catch cry these days. Get me more women and Indigenous and we’ll be further enriched by the diversity of perspective and insight they offer.
The other essential element for building a successful Army is inclusion. If people feel valued – regardless of background – it leads to increased commitment and productivity, enhanced work relationships, and the recruitment and retention of the best the country has to offer.
Inclusion is a fancy name for teamwork – an Army value – everyone in the team working together using the full suite of strengths of the members of the team.
We are stronger if we leverage our diverse workforces’ outlooks, backgrounds, languages, cultural sensitivities, knowledge and insight. This gives us an advantage in comparison to other militaries and over our adversaries.
And of course, inclusive organisations with workforce diversity are usually more creative and better at problem solving than homogenous groups, because people with diverse backgrounds bring different perspectives to the table.
When we are diverse and inclusive, we position ourselves to be more agile and innovative, making better decisions and outsmarting our adversary. A diverse and inclusive team is a winning team.
What do I want from potential candidates?
I want someone who has four characteristics:
1: committed to Army’s values;
2: motivated to serve our nation;
3: mentally and physically healthy for deployment, and hence employment as a soldier; and
4: the mental capacity to be trained and the physicality to be conditioned.
When I say that I want someone who is motivated I don’t mean that they need to be the fittest person. Or the person with the longest history of team sport participation. Or the person who can regurgitate Defence Jobs website data on Army and its trades. Not all of our past, current or future officers are private school prefects. I wasn’t.
I want the person who wants to join Army to serve our nation and I want the person who wants to do a certain job that Army happens to offer. I want both types of person. And, I want you to get them for me.
From now on, when you’re questioning an applicant’s motivation to join, I want you to stop and question your motivation instead. What is your motivation to get that person for Army? An Army is the sum of its people, and each day I want you to find me people that are different to the ones you found yesterday.
I want people that I can build – not break. I am prepared to invest time, effort and resources to bring those that currently do not make our entry standards up to the required level. Unfortunately, Australians as a population, are not as fit as they used to be, but they are the only population eligible to joint the Australian Army.
We can’t keep staring at the diminishing proportion of the nation that passes our basic physical entry tests and think it’ll all be OK. I have instructed my staff to examine all of our processes. We are looking at all aspects of our recruiting, training and retention system. We are removing unnecessary barriers and asking why we have certain rules in place.
The message to Australians from the Army is clear. We want you to serve, and we will help you get to the standard necessary to serve your nation. If people do not meet the entry standards but you believe they have the potential we need, use the current waiver system.
Let me decide the risk I am prepared to take. That’s my job. You are not the gatekeepers. You are the door openers.
A word on standards. The standards required to serve as a Private (Proficient) in the Australian Army will not change. The path to get there may vary, as it has many times in our Army’s history. Some of you may remember the Army swim test, heaves and 5km run; all now changed but the need for fit Australians remains.
You know the Army provides an environment in which Australians of all backgrounds can thrive and fulfil their potential.
I want you to prioritise women and Indigenous candidates because they are my recruiting priorities.
This will require an understanding of culture and gender norms. For example, direct eye contact by an applicant to an authority figure like you may be considered offensive in some Indigenous cultures. People tell me men buy and women shop. Who so ever walks through your door, work to their norms and find the talent for our Army.
Good luck – your service is vital to the future of our Army and our nation.