DRSC – Supporting Reservist’s Availability for ADF Service

Introduction

The Defence Reserves Support Council was formed by Government over 20 years ago to support the ADF in encouraging high quality people to serve the country as Reservists (the part-time workforce). The DRSC is a national, state and regional network of Councils established to keep close links with Employers, Reservists and the community.

A lot has happened over that time and the DRSC National Executive felt it was time to look at what we do, how we do it, whether it is effective and should either the DRSC or the work we do change.

The Relationship Triangle

At the heart of everything we should be doing is what we call “the relationship triangle” – the relationships between Reservists (part time workforce), Employers and the Services. Without structured, routine and consistent engagement between the three parties it is not possible to support the service of the part time workforce in a meaningful way. The key questions we posed are: What are the issues facing the part time workforce, Employers and the Services?  What would an effective tripartite relationship look like?  And, should the DRSC play a role?

DRSC’s role

The DRSC’s current role is very broad without a specific focus on Reservists and the actual Employers of Reservists. In fact, specific data on actual Employers of Reservists has never been collected until recently through ForceNet. Without this information it is very difficult to understand and meet the expectations of either the part time workforce, Employers or the Services. We simply don’t know enough about the issues they face and the critical interdependencies that impact an individual’s ability and willingness to serve.

This is not to say that the past focus of community engagement by the DRSC is not important and hasn’t been effective, it is. We have over 3000 Supportive Employers around the country and we have good relationships with many local service bases and Reservists.

But we don’t have a structured, routine and consistent method and process for identifying and understanding the issues experienced in the relationship triangle and then being able to determine what really matters and how we work together to address agreed issues. 

We felt that as we look to the future, the DRSC should have agreed measures of success which relate to knowledge of the DRSC; Defence’s support of DRSC at strategic and operational levels; impactful Employer and Reservist engagement; evidence of improved relationships between employers and their Reservist employees.

So, we embarked on an important task.  With the leadership and support of a team of Reservists, we went out and asked about 150 Employers, Reservists and Service leaders what their real issues are and how they impact on Reservist service.  We knew our approach was not scientific but we also knew that it would be sufficiently representative of issues that we could help answer our questions.

Let’s face it – a lot of work has been done on this by the individual Services. Navy, Army and Airforce have worked hard to understand and address key issues which impact part time service, enabled by the incredible work of Project Suakin. Of course, in talking to people we were acutely aware that the three Services have different requirements of their part time workforce. Army has the largest ab-initio part-time workforce, Navy Reservists are predominantly ex-permanent Navy and Airforce is somewhere in between.  This means that a single approach to understand the relationship triangle will fail.

Top issues and perceptions

With the above in mind, the top issues and perceptions identified are:

Reservists’ Issues

  • Meaningful work
  • Certainty of allocation of Reserve days
  • Increasing Defence bureaucracy
  • Career management and progression
  • Communication of employment opportunities
  • Lack of understanding of commitment by Reservists and their families
  • Increasing demands placed on Reservists
  • Lack of mentoring
  • Inflexibility regarding deployment lengths

Employers’ Issues

  • Lack of understanding of their Reservist employees’ ADF work
  • Lack of understanding of benefits Reservists bring to their organisations
  • Lack of awareness of their legal obligations regarding employing Reservists
  • Lack of awareness of Employer Support Payment Scheme
  • Frustration at needing to reschedule rosters due to requests for Reserve leave (often at short notice)

Defence Issues – full-time ADF members who manage Reservists

  • Perception that Reservists, including those on CFTS, are not subject to the obligations of full-time members
  • View that Reservists can ‘vote with their feet’
  • Reservists have high attrition rates
  • Many full-time ADF members managing Reservists have no experience of employment outside ADF
  • Constraints on workforce capability due to reduction / inflexibility in allocation of Reserve day salaries

As our team of Reservists talked to fellow Reservists, Employers and the Services it became apparent that there is a critical communication and information sharing vacuum.

At its simplest, the part time workforce’s ability to serve is impacted by not knowing how to obtain certain information, not knowing how to ask a question (or to whom), not getting responses when they do ask questions, not always feeling valued and sometimes mismatches between their expectations and those of the Services.

Equally there is an information vacuum for actual Employers of Reservists much of which relates to a lack of awareness or a lack of understanding. That’s not a surprise. To date it has been a hit or miss exercise in engaging with actual Employers of Reservists. Excellent work has been done by Army’s 2nd Division in modernising training to develop a professional part-time workforce. Even so, there are also still obvious frustrations over rescheduling civilian rosters due to changing Reservist leave requests.

Likewise with the Services. There are some misperceptions at the middle levels. Leadership is where it begins and ends. Over time, we know that’s how the part-time workforce is made to feel as valued as the full-time workforce, just like at Coles or BHP where part-time, casual and full-time employees all contribute to the organisation’s objectives. 

Conclusion

So, what does this all mean for the DRSC and Reserves and Youth Division? What we do know at the outset is that we must be clear about what we don’t do. The DRSC does not manage Reservists – this is the job of the Services. But the information and communication vacuum is real and needs to be addressed. That is what we are exploring with key stakeholders. There is much to learn from the United Kingdom on this as well. The UK has introduced and supported structured engagement and communication within the relationship triangle for several years with sustained improvements. We are excited by the difference that can be made.  Watch this space!


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