Project Suakin – Delivering the ADF Total Workforce Model

Commodore Grant Ferguson RANR
Director General Suakin

Why do we need an ADF Total Workforce Model? 

Australia faces a substantial skills shortage. Our demographics are such that over the next decade, the number of people leaving employment will be much higher than the number of people joining the workforce, creating strong competition for those remaining, especially those in the 18-30 age bracket. The ADF is confronted by the reality of the nation’s demographics; we face a significant challenge in attracting and retaining the people we need to deliver the capability the ADF needs to provide now and into the future.

Against this changing employment landscape, serving ADF members have indicated the need for workforce reform. Research undertaken by Project Suakin in 2011 and feedback from over 10,000 ADF personnel, has revealed that Permanent/Regular members want to realise a greater work-life balance with more choice in the ways in which they can serve. Reservists are looking for greater opportunity to make a contribution to ADF capability, together with certainty and stability in their service arrangements.

If the ADF is to be competitive in a very tight labour market, vying for the services of people who expect or even demand certainty, stability and flexibility; things need to change. In fundamental terms the ADF Total Workforce Model (TWM), developed by Project Suakin on behalf of the Services, is required to enable the generation and sustainment of people capability, the bedrock of Defence capability.


The ADF TWM at a Glance

The ADF TWM (Figure 1) is a tri–Service framework that re-defines ways of serving in the Navy, Army and Air Force. The TWM is comprised of a number of elements however; the core of the model is the Service Spectrum. The Spectrum is made up of seven Service Categories (SERCATs) and two Service Options (SERVOPs).



Service Categories

SERCATs group members according to their approved service arrangements, conditions of service and obligation to serve. In early July 2016 all ADF members were allocated to a SERCAT. SERCATs are recorded in PMKeyS. Members can use PMKeyS Self Service to identify the SERCAT to which they have been allocated. 

SERCAT 1 is a Defence APS category:

SERCAT 1: While not an ADF Service Category, SERCAT 1 has been included to recognise the direct contribution to capability made by Defence APS employees. APS members will be allocated to SERCAT 1 when they are 'force assigned' to an ADF operation.

SERCATs 2-5 are the Reserve categories:

SERCAT 2: Those in SERCAT 2 have no obligation to serve beyond call out; they represent the latent capability of the ADF Reserves.

SERCAT 3: SERCAT 3 is a 'hybrid' category. It comprises Reserve members who:

  1. are rendering service to meet a specified tasking, often of an emergent or unforeseen nature, and on a relatively short term basis. That period of service is usually within a financial year, though not necessarily; or
  2. have indicated a willingness to render service and have been identified by their career management agency (CMA) as members who possess skills and experience that could be needed from time to time; to undertake tasks at comparatively short notice. With the appropriate sponsorship they are able to retain security clearances, ID cards and access to the DRN or other systems as required. This makes them 'employable' quickly when circumstances dictate.

Those in SERCAT 3 are liable for call out.

SERCAT 4: Reservists in SERCAT 4 are required to be ready and available for service at short notice. The length of that notice will be determined by each Service. They may be subject to more stringent requirements than other Reservists, such as higher standards of medical and physical fitness. They are liable for call out and can be 'called for'.

SERCAT 5: Service in SERCAT 5 is characterised by certainty and stability in terms of the number of days of service to be rendered and the pattern of that service. Service in SERCAT 5 is usually longer term, and often spans financial years. The intent of SERCAT 5 is to provide individual members with stability of tenure, avoiding the vagaries of the financial/budgetary processes that have traditionally made it difficult for individuals to plan their lives around their military service and for their commanders to plan to deliver directed capability outputs. SERCAT 5 is underpinned by a commitment by the Reservist to render the days allocated, with a commensurate commitment by the Service to provide certainty and stability.

SERCATs 6 and 7 are the Permanent/Regular categories:

SERCAT 7: Those in this Service Category are members of the permanent force rendering continuous full-time service. In designing and implementing the TWM, there has been no intent to turn the ADF into a ‘part-time’ force, or more correctly a force comprised of a very large number of members serving less than full-time. Therefore the overwhelming majority of Permanent/Regular members have been and will continue to be allocated to SERCAT 7.

SERCAT 6: However, in acknowledgement of the need for greater workforce flexibility and organisational agility SERCAT 6 has been developed. It is new and innovative, providing Permanent/Regular members with greater access to flexibility in meeting their service obligations. Changes to the Defence Act 1903, which became effective on 1 July 2016, enable the Service Chiefs to determine when a member will attend for duty to meet their individual service obligation while retaining an inherent continuous full-time service liability. SERCAT 6 extends the patterns of less than full-time service beyond the ‘days per fortnight’ option available under current part-time leave without pay arrangements. In the future, with the Service's capability needs and the needs of the individual member in mind, the pattern of service to be rendered could take any form, but most commonly; days per fortnight, weeks per month or months per year. 


Service Options

SERVOPs provide the Services with a means of grouping members from one or a number of SERCATs who provide capabilities where a differentiated arrangement is required (e.g. lower medical standards, higher rates of pay) that modifies or varies the ‘standard’ conditions applicable to the SERCAT to which the member has been allocated. A SERVOP is used in conjunction with a SERCAT. SERVOPs are recorded in PMKeyS. PMKeyS Self Service can be used to identify a member’s SERVOP if a SERVOP is applicable. 

At this time two SERVOPs have been identified and incorporated in the TWM. However, as capability needs change, each of the Services is empowered to propose the creation of additional SERVOPs. Conversely SERVOPs can be retired when no longer needed.

SERVOP C: The first of the two existing SERVOPs is SERVOP C (Continuous Full-time Service (CFTS) by a member of the Reserves); readers will be very familiar with this form of service. CFTS is able to be used in conjunction with Reserve SERCATs 3, 4 or 5.

SERVOP D: The other Service Option is SERVOP D (Dual Employment); it does not replace the traditional reserve service model. SERVOP D has been specifically designed to facilitate a ‘dual employment’ arrangement that enables Defence and industry to work in partnership to share the high value/in-demand skills and experience of certain members. SERVOP D creates an environment where high value skills in short supply are able to be accessed, built and retained across both Defence and industry. It’s a brand new way of doing business; rather than competing directly for scarce human resources, the ADF and industry partners can work together to share those resources, and to build greater capacity and capability. Members in SERVOP D render service in the ADF and (alternately) work for a civilian employer under a formal shared ‘dual employment’ arrangement. This service option can apply to Permanent/Regular members in SERCAT 6 or Reserve members in SERCAT 5.


What does all this mean for Reserve members?

The TWM has been designed to provide more options for rendering service to all ADF members and greater organisational agility and assured people capability for Defence. The Reserve Service Categories have been designed to enhance the ability for Reservists to contribute to Defence’s capability outcomes and to provide individuals with a greater sense of ‘choice’ and ‘control’ over how and when they render service.

As detailed earlier, SERCAT 3 has extended the traditional notion of short to medium term Reserve service by enabling members to indicate a willingness to serve. With the agreement of the relevant CMA, Reservists could be held in a pool managed by the CMAs and called upon as the Services’ capability needs dictate.

Evidence indicates SERCAT 5 in particular is a competitive service arrangement that can be used as a tool to retain experienced, skilled Permanent/Regular members in the Reserve who might otherwise separate from the ADF, as well as engaging ab-initio Reservists with much needed skills and experience who want more certainty in their service arrangements.

Significantly, the TWM enables greater integration of the Reserves with the Permanent/Regular force, and the advent of SERCAT 6 brings with it new or increased opportunities for Reservists. Reservists in SERCATs 3-5 may be engaged to maintain directed levels of capability while permanent members are serving other than full-time in SERCAT 6, or while SERCAT 6 or 7 members are away from their unit undertaking training, on exercise or deployments, or to provide additional capability as required.

While the Services’ capability needs will ultimately dictate numbers in SERCAT 6, there will be greater opportunity than in the past for Permanent/Regular members to access flexible service arrangements. That in turn provides greater opportunity for Reservists to support their permanent colleagues and also support commanders in delivering directed capability outputs.

The improved certainty and stability of service in SERCAT 5 and increased opportunities for service generally, provide the added opportunity of lifting the profile and reputation of Reservists both individually and collectively. Harnessing the knowledge and diverse experiences of Reserve members will also help to create high performing teams. Providing a unique opportunity for Reservists to apply their special and highly sought after skills to fill capability needs, SERCAT 5 enables Reservists to highlight their expertise, as well as increase their access to career and skill development opportunities. Dependent upon the way in which the individual Services choose to manage those in SERCAT 3, there is an opportunity to afford Reservists in this category access to career advancement and skill development beyond that provided in the past.



Greater use of the Reserve through innovative application of the TWM provides the ADF with added confidence around its ability to quickly respond to capability demands. Working arrangements like those available to those in SERCATs 3-5 allow members to maintain their relationship with the ADF and make an enduring contribution to capability.

Providing more options and enhancing the sense of ‘choice’ and ‘control’ for both Reservists and Permanent/Regular members over how and when they render service and the type of work that they do, can improve satisfaction as well as the relative attractiveness of the ADF as an organisation in which to build a longer-term career.

Service in the Reserve SERCATs can be a vehicle for changing perceptions that full-time Permanent/Regular ‘members-for-life’ are the norm in the ADF, and Defence can be seen as a more flexible and competitive employer; an employer of choice.

These are all important contributors to the ADF’s ability to attract and retain the people it needs to meet its future capability demands in a challenging workforce environment.

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