Army Reserve Recruiting and Retention

Brigadier Michael Arnold CSC ADC PhD
Assistant Commander – Second Division


The Reserve is critical to Army’s ability to sustain its current ADF operational commitments as well as its ability to undertake and sustain new ones. As a matter of routine it provides soldiers to most of the ADF’s operations, and plays a major ongoing role in Operation Resolute - ADF’s support to Australia’s border protection.

The 2nd Division (2 Div) is required to provide Army with three Reinforcing Battle Groups (RBG), each comprising more than 800 soldiers.  Each RBG is generated by two Reserve Brigades that are paired in a supporting / supported relationship with the full-time Combat Brigades to which the RBG is assigned. They must be capable of seamless integration with their supported Combat Brigade, as an ambitious modernisation Army program is rolled out. The program includes new armoured vehicles; digital combat communications and battle management systems (BMS); a new soldier ensemble to name but a few of the updated and new capabilities that the Reserve must come to grips with. The program equates to fundamental overhaul − in essence, Army is moving from an analogue to a digital force and it is extremely challenging.

The Army Reserve (ARes) needs smart officers and soldiers who can give more time than ever before, and who are capable of overcoming the challenges of increasingly complex technology and a wider range of missions and tasks; including Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Response – both domestically and overseas; stabilisation missions within regional nations, counter-insurgency; and conventional or more likely, hybrid form of war. This is a terrific challenge for our people and to date they have responded magnificently. But we have some major and immediate problems with recruitment and retention.


Recruiting and Retention - Current Situation

The Reserve component of the Army has experienced steady decline from a high in FY11/12 of nearly 16,500 falling to just 13,500 in FY14/15. In addition, the Reserve is becoming older, which in turn has a capability impact and may adversely impact our appeal to younger people. 2 Div is currently only 9,300 strong, almost 3,000 persons short of the 12,200 or so members required to sustainably undertake the tasks required of it.

The Chief of Army’s (CA) current Recruiting Priorities are increasing gender diversification and indigenous representation with targets of 25 and five per cent respectively of the total force.,  Significant work has been done in these areas and the Reserve has an important part to play in delivering both.  This is not about political correctness; rather it is about sustaining capability in an increasingly competitive labour market. Women have and continue to demonstrate they can do everything Army asks of them including being members of the combat arms. Our indigenous soldiers play a major role across the entire force and a critical role in Australia’s border protection to our north. The Reserve is generally doing better than the Regular Army but with female and indigenous participation at 14.1 per cent and 2.3 per cent respectively, it still has some way to go.


Key analysis

To stabilise the Army Reserve at around 13,500, based on average inflows and outflows, we need at least 1,750 members to complete the Reserve Recruit Training Course (RRTC). This figure includes General Enlistees (GE) and Officer Enlistees (OE) undertaking the First Appointment Course (FAC), Regional Force Surveillance Line (RFSL), Direct Entry Officers (DEO) and Specialist Service Officers (SSO).

Last financial year’s outflow was 3,100, which equates to about 23% of the Army Reserve’s total strength.  Another way to put this is that a soldier stays in the service for 4.5 years on average. Inflow to the Reserve (less ab-initio or recruits) was 1,155, which comprised: 

  • 650 Australian Regular Army (ARA) to ARes transferees;
  • 475 Standby Reserve (SR) to ARes transferees; and
  • 30 Re-enlistments.

The Army Recruit Training Centre (ARTC) at Kapooka currently has an Reserve capacity  shortfall of more than 300 recruits per annum. And of course, not all of those who attend will graduate. Experience has shown that the Reserve can reasonably expect to achieve a percentage success rate in the low nineties. FY15/16’s GE target achievement of 1,018 GE represents an 87 per cent success rate. This figure is some way short of the 1750 march outs required to stabilise the force at around 13,500; and a long way short of the numbers required for the Reserve to grow to a level where it can sustainably fulfil its current, and likely future capability requirements.  So what do we do to increase recruit training throughput?


Recruiting Initiatives

CA sees increasing the size of the Reserve as one of his key priorities, and has directed Commander 2nd Division to arrest the decline and design a strategy for growth commensurate with his (CA’s) capability requirements.  Major General Porter established a Workforce Management Team in 2015 which is headed by Brigadier Phillip Bridie, who presented an initial plan in late 2015. This nominated some quick-win initiatives which were rapidly implemented.  Colonel Brain Cox has been engaged on a full-time basis and is working on a detailed plan to stabilise the Reserve, and eventually, enable regrowth that will be presented to the CA’s Senior Advisory Committee (CASAC), of which Commander 2 Div is a member, in October 2016 for sign-off. 

Defence Force Recruiting (DFR). The Division has engaged with DFR to generate and implement initiatives designed to increase recruiting target achievement. These initiatives are beginning to bite and indications are that they will help us achieve stabilisation. DFR’s target for this year (FY16/17) is about 2,050 and if this is achieved, approximately 1,780 persons will have to attend RRTC.  Also, a new marketing campaign, which promises to be better tailored to support our needs, will commence in 2017. 

Medical Standards/ Fitness Training. Medical standards J2.2 is the minimum required for operational deployment yet Recruits must be at the very highest standard - J1.  A common-sense re-alignment of the recruit standard to the operational deployment minimum standard has occurred. There is also an acceptance that fitness levels in the general population are in decline and that Defence needs a remediation strategy that may include physical training of prospective recruits prior to their enlistment. 

Enhanced Direct To Unit. 2 Div is back in the business of recruiting, as noted above, and we are much more pro-active in our partnership with DFR. To capitalise on this, 2 Div has established Brigade Induction Companies (BICs), for the management of trainees; and Brigade Recruiting Centres (BRCs), to coordinate recruiting across the Brigade area and liaise directly with DFR. The aim is to directly manage recruits and trainees through the recruitment and initial training processes. These efforts will be underpinned by new recruiting Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that will address Recruiting target management, use of social media and the planning of recruiting activities at the unit level. 

ARA and SR transfers to the ARes. The transfer of ARA members to the ARes has significant benefits in the retention of valuable and long-developed skill sets in Army, as do trained SR members who decide to become active again.  There has been a great deal of success in transferring full-time and former full-time members to the Reserve. However, the process has been problematic in that in contains a number of barriers of our own making. Work is being done to remove these and to target those with critically required skill sets. There is also the prospect of a bonus system to make transfer of those ARA personnel with critical skill sets to the ARes more attractive.

 Officer Selection Boards (OSBs). A much more flexible approach to ARes OSBs is bearing good results. Essentially, we have more boards, when and where we want them with greater ARes participation. More importantly there is a change in attitude with regards to accepting risk. In essence, the board has become less of a gatekeeper and allows more candidates through. The risk in relation to their suitability has been transferred to the training establishment. In addition, the offers to candidates for a place on the Officer First Appointment Course (FAC) will take a week or so rather than the months that it currently does.

Foxtrot Coy. One course of action being considered to increase recruit training capacity is to raise a training organisation to augment ARTC Kapooka. ‘Foxtrot Coy’ could give the Reserve the mechanism to surge recruit training when required to achieve the numbers needed. It would give us the flexibility to better use the November to February period, which is highly desired by both ourselves and the ARA.   This course of action is being developed for the October CASAC. 

Army, with considerable input from 2nd Division, would set up a training company that will use the ARTC training program and will be subject to its oversight.  The proposal has a flexible organisation that delivers recruit training platoons under a company structure, with each platoon able to train up to 60 recruits, thus four platoon sessions could deliver an extra 240 recruits. Courses could be conducted at Singleton, Holsworthy or Puckapunyal.


Results to Date

Across each category of enlistee there has been significant growth from FY14/15 to FY15/16. GE have increased from 818 in FY14/15 to 934 in the last FY (15/16), whereas OE have increased from 94 to 108; and SSOs have increased from six to 16. This year’s targets are significantly higher than last year’s but are realistic and, if achieved, will represent significant improvement.


Reserve Retention

The perennial challenge for Reservists is balancing family, career and Army. Army is demanding more from its Reserve officers and soldiers in terms of commitment, particularly to individual and collective training. New capabilities being developed by Army, mentioned previously, require additional training for all of Army’s members including the Reserve. This is challenging enough for the ARA let alone for the Part Time force. On the up side, there is little doubt that the pay-off for this extra commitment – the prospect of operational service and participation in major exercises - is supremely attractive to Reservists. The challenge is to find ways that our people can be suitably qualified to undertake these opportunities in ways that enable them to balance Army, family and civilian career commitments.

Our biggest retention problem is at the trainee level i.e. those persons who have completed recruit training and need to do their initial employment training. We also have significant problems with retaining Lieutenants and generating Senior Non Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) and Captains and Majors. A key issue is the number of courses required to qualify in rank and trade. Throw in additional courses related to new capabilities such as digital radio and BMS; and additional collective training activities related to the RBG and the problem becomes very challenging. What are the answers?

2 Div Transformation. 2 Div’s Transformation Project seeks to provide a framework for the development of solutions to these problems. It incorporates a number of complex issues and lines of effort that link to developing the right Divisional structure to generate optimum Reserve capability; and is underpinned by fundamental changes in workforce culture, commitment, parading expectations and the demographic realignment of 2 Div to better enable capability achievement.

Reserve Stakeholders. Acceptance by Army of the Reserve as a true part-time, not a casual organisation, will reinforce this transition and help facilitate development of a culture of commitment and understanding from all our stakeholders: the Army, the Soldier, the Family, the Employer and the Community. 

The Employer is a critical additional stakeholder for the Reserves, however, the expectations and concerns of all stakeholders need to be aligned and practically achievable, producing a balanced outcome which previously has not been a primary consideration.

A good example is the five-week Recruit course, while addressing the Army’s training concerns, has placed considerable stress on the members’ other stakeholders - family and employer. Research indicates that employers have significant issues with release of personnel for 35 days.  While 65% of employers are willing to release people from their civilian workplace for three weeks, and 52% for four weeks, only 33% are willing to release them for five weeks. The upshot is that we are seeking to move to a four-week recruit course. But there is more we can do to better utilise time and reduce the time Reservists have to spend doing individual training courses as well as packaging collective training better.


Ab-initio and Trainees

The current ab-initio training continuum is too long. To progress from enlistment to qualified soldier in their various employment categories – infantry, gunners, drivers - let alone signallers and other technical trades, soldiers have to undertake a 35-day course at Kapooka and then at least two 16 day (two week) modules to become trade qualified. On average it takes an individual 26 months to become a qualified soldier. Clearly a better approach is required and two have been identified that will provide significant trainee retention and resource usage benefits:

  • Future Training Continuum: This model, which is under development, will see an individual employable, on average, in 18 months. Trainees will undertake recruit training, which would comprise four weeks residential training, and about four weekends and four Tue nights. This would be followed by Initial Employment Training (IET) comprising two residential Modules, each of nine days, and about eight weekends and 16 Tue nights.
  • Accelerated Training Option (ATO). Under the ATO model recruits complete continuous training from recruit through to completion of IET as well as selected additional training under Reserve Training Salaries over a period of several months.  This has been already successfully trialled by 11 and 13 Brigades and will be implemented more widely across 2 Div in the first half of 2017.  5 and 8 Bdes have been allocated 200 places, while 9 and 13 Bdes have 30 positions each.


Other initiatives

Professional Military Education. Army’s professional military education concept will see a major reduction in residential course time for all of Army. It also aims to empower the individual to take control of their careers; much in the way many civilian professions and trades do. It envisages the use of on-line training packages including podcasts of lectures, virtual tutorials and assessment. Potentially, individuals will be able to complete a wider range of courses in their own time. 

Distributed learning. How do we reduce the residential training burden for our officers and NCO and WOs? There is an Army-wide recognition that both ARA and ARes members spend too much time completing residential courses. This is particularly problematic for Reservists and is a major impediment to retention – members become frustrated that they cannot progress through the ranks and become trade qualified in a reasonable timeframe. It also contributes to the Reserve’s ageing population.

2 Div is running a distributed learning pilot for the All Corps Captains Course (ACCC), which currently comprises a one and a two-week residential module. The new one-week module distributed learning package will be trialled in September 2016. It is modelled on universities’ approach to on-line learning. The students will undertake the course on-line in their home locations. It will include, on-line training tasks, virtual lectures and tutorials and assessment – just like most Australian universities and TAFEs do today. A range of other officer and NCO/WO courses, both career and trade, have been targeted for distributed learning. This initiative offers the prospect of a significant decrease in the quantity of residential training for Reservists, and it is hoped, improve retention while reducing the average age of Reserve members.

Recognition of Prior Learning

This has been talked about throughout my more than 27 years of Reserve service and little has been actually achieved. Army’s senior leadership is keen to make progress in this area. Army’s commanders of its various training centres and establishments have been given direction to make meaningful progress in this area. Time will tell how successful they have been.



Recruiting and retention are fundamental for a vital and strong Reserve that is able to sustainably deliver operational capability to Army. We have experienced a serious decline in numbers in recent years and significant effort will continue to be made to redress this. The preliminary measures outlined above have begun to have an impact in arresting our declining numbers. It is expected the detailed plan that will enable us to stabilise the force and enable sustainable growth should be approved by CA in the coming months.

Retention is another long-term issue that is strongly related to increasing training and course demands. This too is a whole-of-Army issue with 2 Div playing a major role in generating a new training model including piloting the broad use of distributed learning techniques. The aim is to reduce the amount of residential training Reservists have to complete by utilising techniques well established by our universities. These should also improve the overall quality of our professional education training and empower our soldiers and officers to take control of their own careers.

To be sure, recruiting and retention are significant challenges, which will require sustained effort from 2 Div and the broader Army. The measures that we are currently undertaking and those being proposed will enable the Reserve to generate growth and reduce the average age of its membership. In the end, we have no choice but to succeed - our critical role in Australia’s long-term security demands it.

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