|Cameron Stewart | September 06, 2008 The Australian
ONE of the navy's most senior commanders has ordered sailors to toughen up, stop whingeing about money, be happier and display more leadership.
The navy is facing its greatest manpower crisis in a generation, but that is no excuse to wallow in misery, according to navy chief engineer Peter Marshall.
In an extraordinary minute addressed to all senior navy engineers, Commodore Marshall chastised his men for their lack of leadership.
"The focus of this letter to the community (of naval engineers) is unashamedly about leadership," he wrote in a navy minute dated April 18 and obtained by The Weekend Australian.
"I do not need to tell you how bad our engineering manning issues are -- suffice to say that most of our categories are categorised as critical with the submarine categories assessed as perilous.
"If we are to address the issue of retention, then we need to significantly improve the standard of leadership from supervisors and leaders at all levels.
(I) hope that these letters present you with an opportunity to lead."
Commodore Marshall, Director-General Navy Systems Branch, also exhorted his senior sailors to stop whingeing about the fact that some specialists in the navy, such as submariners, were getting specific bonuses to help keep them in the service.
"Unless your pay went backwards, then I would prefer you congratulate those who received the bonuses rather than bemoan the fact that they did not come to you -- this is a leadership challenge," he wrote.
"While your salary package is important, you can make the biggest impact on retention by simply leading within your work area; showing your subordinates how to lead, and thereby inspiring them to lead."
Commodore Marshall said sailors needed to be happier about their lives in the navy and show others that they were happy.
"(American) general Colin Powell said 'perpetual optimism is a force multiplier', and I am convinced there is much truth in this statement," he said. "If you don't value and enjoy navy, then why should your subordinates?"
He said senior sailors needed to be aware that the main reason people left an organisation was because of dissatisfaction with their immediate supervisor.
"Together we must all work to lead ourselves out of the situation we currently find ourselves in," he said.
His comments come at a time when the navy has a desperate shortage of qualified technicians, including engineers. It is a shortfall that has left the navy with only three crews for its six Collins Class submarines and skeleton crews for many of its surface ships.
Parliamentary secretary for defence procurement Greg Combet this week warned that the Australian Defence Force faced reduced capability unless the skills crisis was fixed.
Last financial year, the defence industry needed 1700 more skilled workers but could find only 650.
"Over the next decade, it is estimated that we will need a further 18,000 skilled personnel in the Australian defence industry, due to increased demand and an ageing workforce," Mr Combet said. "If this problem is not addressed, the ADF will face reduced capability."
The navy in particular has lost many of its skilled technicians to mining companies in Western Australia because it cannot match the lucrative salary packages offered by the resources sector.
The navy recently offered its submariners a bonus of up to $60,000 if they agreed to stay for an extra 18 months' service.
While defence force recruitment figures have recently improved in some areas, such as infantry recruits for the army, there remains a dire shortage of engineers and other skilled defence specialists.
The Government says it is urgently looking at ways to fix the crisis, which will be addressed in depth in the forthcoming Defence white paper.
Interesting, I must however make the observation that where someone has been forced to work above and beyond for an extended period of time, being told to stop whinging and get on with the job may very well be the final straw for an individual who has pushed along through determination and loyalty alone.