In previous blogs, I’ve looked at the big changes underway in how, where and why people work, and what these changes mean for defence organisations – particularly so at a time when they’re under such intense pressure to be future-ready.

A key message? Increasingly, what matters is getting the job done, not the location, specific hours, digital or physical way work takes place.

For defence organisations, new hybrid models – blending virtualised working with people coming together physically when needed – provide transformational opportunities to attract the talent and new skills that are in such high demand.

The good news? There’s a direct route into a massive, as yet untapped talent pool that would dearly love to take advantage of these new hybrid working models.

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I’m talking about “hidden workers, the millions of people that want to work and possess many of the skills that defence organisations need. It’s an incredibly diverse group of people. But they all have one thing in common: they want an opportunity to work, or work more.

So how can defence organisations start to access this talent pool? Along with addressing some fundamental issues, like over-focusing on candidates’ fitness if not specifically required for the job, there are other areas that could be remedied. From job descriptions to overly automated application processes and inflexibility over office attendance, it’s time to look at recruitment through a new lens.

Spotlight on the hidden workers

Before drilling down into new approaches that defence organisations can consider adopting, let’s take a closer look at this group that we refer to as ‘hidden workers’.

We estimate that some 27 million people fall into this category in the US alone (around a quarter of them holding higher education degrees). Encompassing people working one or more part-time jobs but wanting to work full time, people unemployed for a long time, and people currently not working or actively seeking employment but able to work under the right circumstances, it’s an incredibly rich source of talent spanning caregivers, persons with disabilities, and people who did not receive a traditional education.

Each individual’s story will be unique. But, at the core, our research shows that they tend to fall into one of three employment narratives. They’re either “missing hours”, working one or more part-time jobs but wanting to work full-time; “missing from work”, unemployed for a long time but still seeking employment; or third “missing from the workforce”, currently not working/not actively seeking employment, but could be working under the right circumstances.

Time for a change of mindset

So what’s getting in the way of these people finding (more) work? Across every industry, there’s a common issue: rigid recruitment processes that are designed to screen candidates out. 

My colleague, Hannah McMahon, intelligent operations leader at Accenture, and I believe it’s time for organisations to offer a recruitment experience that meets the needs of each and every individual candidate.  It needs to be a more “human” experience in which everyone can feel included – no matter the reason why they haven’t been considered for a role in the past.

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We've seen the last two stages of recruitment evolution pass by – this next stage will show how to put the human back into recruitment – systems and processes need to evolve, show the value individuals bring in a way that works for all involved

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In defence, where national security is the overriding concern, it’s understandable that screening processes should be more stringent than most. But in many instances, they’re limiting access to the skills defence organisations need – and access to jobs for people that desperately want them. 

What’s needed is a new mindset that can find ways to screen suitable candidates in, rather than excluding them.

Let’s take a minute to consider what that means. Whether it’s parents looking for a way back into the workforce after maternity or paternity leave, veterans, military spouses, people with physical disabilities, or candidates who’d be brilliant in a particular role but are alienated by the whole application/interview process, it’s up to defence organisations to rethink the candidate experience from their perspective.

Tailoring candidate experiences

Of course, a lot of work has gone into creating wonderful candidate experiences and great results are being achieved. The next step: tailoring these candidate experiences to the particular talent community that’s being targeted. 

One great example? The whole physical side of defence. Traditionally, recruits to armed forces around the world have had to pass various fitness tests before being admitted. In many countries, they still do – regardless of the role they’ll be occupying within the service.

This limits access to desperately needed specialist skills, in cyber defence for example, where fitness is not a prerequisite for getting the job done well. 

Right now, there’s a mismatched dynamic. There are so many areas where defence organisations need to attract new skills. And so many people that match these requirements but, for whatever reason, are being screened out. What’s needed is a mechanism for bringing them together.

Turning the focus on inclusion

Like I said at the start, part of this comes down to adopting a new mindset – taking a fresh look at recruitment processes and reimagining them to do away with the structural barriers excluding hidden workers.

Bringing hidden workers into employment provides a real boost. Our research shows that organisations hiring hidden workers benefit from improved potential, performance and employee engagement. 

Across all sectors, organisations that hire hidden workers are 36% less likely to face talent and skills shortages than organisations that don’t hire hidden workers. And they outperform their peers on six key criteria: attitude and work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement, attendance and innovation.

The future of work for defence organisations is taking shape – hybrid, tech-enabled and experience-led. And we believe that hidden workers have a vital part to play. It’s an issue I feel really strong about. And I’d love to hear your views. Meanwhile, thanks for reading.

Marni Poropat

Director – Consulting, Public Service, Australia and New Zealand