Skill shortage threatens defence
- From: The Australian
- December 06, 2010
THE Australian Defence Force is maintaining its high operational tempo despite having so few personnel available in some key roles that at times there is a risk of "mission failure".
The global economic downturn has helped stabilise staffing -- so successfully that the ADF has a larger head count than its budget allows -- but there remain 20 "critical or perilous employment categories" across the services. Internal Defence briefings obtained by The Australian under freedom of information laws show this figure is down from 32 categories late last year, but still high enough to warrant attention.
The navy, according to a May briefing note, has 17 critical categories, the army has two critical categories, and the air force one.
Critical employment categories "severely limit the range of strategic and operational options available" and are elevated to a perilous rating if the shortages mean "the possibility of mission failure at the strategic or operational level has been raised".
A year ago, the navy had 20 critical categories -- of which three were perilous -- while the army had 11 critical categories and the air force one.
Defence is refusing to detail the personnel most in demand -- those under the most pressure due to the operational tempo -- saying it would threaten national security and defence preparedness.
Defence has been unable to clarify whether it still has employment categories deemed perilous, but shortages in the navy have restricted efforts in the past, and some air force specialists are known to be feeling the strain of repeated Afghanistan missions.
Defence no longer fears the mining boom will lure away personnel, however.
It has been running an Economic Resurgency Project, looking at the previous mining boom to predict any impact on recruitment and retention. A departmental spokesperson confirmed the boom was "not likely to have a significant impact on overall defence workforce outcomes".
Resources sector recruitment is forecast to peak this financial year, with growth slowing over the next five years.
ADF recruitment and retention outcomes remain strong, suggesting the pull from the resources sector has been limited.
"The ADF trains its workforce, with very few lateral entrants.
"Given many of the workforce pressures in the resources sector relate to skilled personnel, potential future impacts would most likely be" in retention of ADF specialist staff, and relatively less in recruitment.
A May briefing note for the Chiefs of Service Committee noted the improvement in critical categories but urged "caution in claiming victory". "It is likely that some of the pressures that resulted in these categories being critical still remain."