|Recruit bonanza for ADF as military seen as safe haven
Cameron Stewart and Paige Taylor
January 06, 2009
Article from: The Australian
THE Australian Defence Force is poised for a recruitment bonanza in the coming months as rising unemployment and economic uncertainty scare school leavers away from the private sector.
It is hoped that an influx of recruits will signal the end of what has been one of the most prolonged and damaging recruitment crises in the history of the ADF.
The latest Defence enlistment figures, obtained by The Australian, offer the first tentative signs that the economic slowdown is luring more young people to sign up to a life in the military.
ADF job applications jumped by almost 20 per cent over the three months to December 1 compared with the same period 12 months earlier. The RAAF led the way with a 27 per cent increase in applications, followed by the navy with 22 per cent and the army with 15 per cent.
Overall, the ADF received 6136 applications in the three months, compared with 5197 in the same period in 2007.
The military traditionally recruits strongly during economic downturns, and with economists predicting unemployment could rise through this year from its current 4.4 per cent towards 8per cent, the ADF will be seen by many as an employment safe haven.
While Defence says it is too early to say conclusively that the latest strong rise in applications is linked to the economic downturn, it expects to see even greater interest from potential recruits in the next few months.
"Over time, the ADF could expect to recruit high-quality applicants and retain those already serving for longer periods," a Defence spokesman told The Australian when asked about the impact of the downturn.
"The ADF's peak recruitment period is in the early months of the calendar year, particularly in relation to recent school leavers and others joining the workforce."
Defence hopes that the sudden downturn in the resources sector will reduce competition for skilled technicians who have shunned the ADF in recent years in favour of better-paid jobs with mining companies. The skills shortage has hit the navy and air force hardest, undermining their operational effectiveness and forcing them to curtail training activities.
"Defence continues to face skill shortages in a number of employment groups across the three services, in particular trade, engineering and health categories," a spokesman said.
"The challenges Defence face include attracting these professional, technical and trade recruits and keeping them, as skilled and experienced members, for longer periods."
Grant Nelson, 20, is among those seeking the security of a career in the military. While several of his schoolfriends in Perth have been lured by high wages to the state's remote mines, the trainee airfield defence guard said yesterday he was happy with his decision to join the RAAF.
Mr Nelson recently completed 8 1/2 weeks of basic training and will next month be posted to an airfield defence squadron for advanced training in tactics, weapon systems, communications equipment, combat survival, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence, marksmanship and field engineering.
He conceded he could probably earn more driving trucks at a mine, but his new job was more appealing because it was challenging and offered security.
"I've got friends who do it, but working fly-in, fly-out at the mines, it's not for me," he said.
"You have got to do something that you enjoy, and I can see myself doing this into the future. It's a career, not a job, and they do look after you."
Defence has recently offered large financial bonuses to ADF personnel with specific skills to prevent them being poached by the private sector.
Submariners now receive a $60,000 bonus and some general service sailors receive $24,000 extra if they sign on for a further 18 months, while air force plumbers, carpenters and electricians receive $20,000 extra if they sign on for a further two years.
The crisis was particularly acute in the submarine fleet, with up to half the RAN's six Collins class boats unable to be deployed because of staffing shortages.
The early signs are that the bonuses have helped improve retention levels.
The ADF says its separation rate - the rate at which people leave the military - has fallen and is now near the target of 10per cent a year.
"Recruitment inquiries are also on the increase," a spokesman said.
"This will ultimately reflect greater numbers of applications and greater numbers of entries."
Lieutenant Danny Syrett, a recruitment officer with the RAN, said he had not yet seen a rush of recruits from the mining sector, but he fielded recent queries from some within the industry who were quietly contemplating getting out.
"I've spoken to engineers in particular who are thinking about what it would be like to do something different," he said