How to win the war on talent in defence
January 29, 2021
January 29, 2021
Picture the scene, it could be any army, navy or air force recruiting centre, almost anywhere in the world. Another bright, tech-savvy school-leaver walks through the door.
They’re interested in finding out about exciting career paths, the prospect of doing work that matters and the chance to learn new skills in the armed forces – including in areas like cyber defence, human+machine frontline technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and more. They’re energised by these opportunities and that’s why they are thinking about joining up.
But will this initial excitement be justified and sustained by the career experience that lies ahead? And what do defence organisations need to do to keep them motivated and engaged in the coming years?
The defence industry today is not alone facing these questions. Up to now, career paths have been relatively fixed, mapped out according to individual aptitudes and competencies. Talent management approaches have typically been built around the needs of the organisation, rather than the people joining it, and skills are refined and developed according to the demands of each career path.
However, people have such a wide choice of careers in different industries, defence has an opportunity to find new ways to attract talent – and, once it’s succeeded in doing so, retain and develop that talent.
The way forward? Broadening the skillsets of their people to create the workforce of the future. In an increasingly volatile and unpredictable environment, defence organisations need to be ready to pivot rapidly to confront new, often unexpected threats. That means continuously equipping their people with new skills so that, supported by technology, they’re ready for whatever comes next.
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Keeping people fulfilled and motivated
Reskilling has another vital benefit. It helps to ensure that defence talent remains fulfilled. People who sign up want to make a difference. Whether that’s countering national security threats or helping to combat the impacts of a pandemic, they’re motivated by more than salaries.
While defence organisations pay their people well, as publicly owned and funded organisations they cannot hope to match the financial rewards on offer to new joiners from major private sector players like high-tech and financial services companies. But they can offer other attractions instead. Most importantly, through a clear brand purpose and a commitment to reskilling their people they can continue to give defence employees the same exciting opportunities they joined up for in the first place.
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A career in defence is like no other. It’s one that fuses an individual’s career, family, friends and education with their commitment to protecting their country in everything they do.
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All of this is within the grasp of defence organisations. The opportunities the industry offers to people are vast, exciting and important. A career in defence is like no other. It’s one that fuses an individual’s career, family, friends and education with their commitment to protecting their country in everything they do.
What’s needed is an approach that capitalises on the inherent strengths and purpose of defence, while offering continuous reskilling and highly attractive career options built around specific aspirations and family circumstances, where possible breaking down silos between roles and empowering people to map out their own trajectories.
COVID-19 has created an opportunity to reinvent defence careers. As some other job options go into a temporary lull, a surge in applications to join the armed forces has meant that defence is pushing against an open door when it comes to attracting the best and brightest new talent.
At the same time, COVID-19 has accelerated the existing momentum towards pervasive use of digital technologies. Even before the pandemic, strategic defence reviews in the US, Japan, France, UK and more had underlined that digital innovation is now the key to competitive advantage in defence, as in so many other areas of society and business. The pandemic has now redoubled the momentum.
So for defence organisations, the capability to deliver their mission depends on their ability to understand the skills they already have, the skills they need for the future, and the skills they will need to bring in. Helping their people to develop and refine these tech and innovation skills is more important than ever. It’s become mission-critical.
This will require both a new mindset within defence and making available the kinds of digital tools that today’s young talent takes for granted. Instead of often paper-based, orders-driven working environments, refreshed people-centred experiences will help to keep people engaged and their careers in defence heading in the direction they want them to go.
What does all this mean in terms of recruiting, retaining and developing talent? In my forthcoming blogs I’ll zero in on the key issues that defence organisations need to focus on. Meantime, I would love to hear how you see changes in your recruitment process. Let’s get in touch.
The views and opinions expressed in this document are meant to stimulate thought and discussion. As each business has unique requirements and objectives, these ideas should not be viewed as professional advice with respect to the business.
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