Balance matters as Navy shapes future workforce

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), LSIS Nina Fogliani (photographer)

Topic(s): Recruitment, Strategy

Reviewing Officer, Director General Navy People Commodore Michele Miller, RAN, inspects graduating members of General Entry 351 Taylor Division on the Recruit School Parade Ground, HMAS Cerberus, Victoria. (photo: LSIS Nina Fogliani)
Reviewing Officer, Director General Navy People Commodore Michele Miller, RAN, inspects graduating members of General Entry 351 Taylor Division on the Recruit School Parade Ground, HMAS Cerberus, Victoria.

The Royal Australian Navy is confronting workforce innovation head on, encouraging people to balance their work and home lives, by negotiating their own work routines.
 
Flexible work arrangements are being increasingly used as part of broader efforts to transform Navy into a more inclusive, satisfying and flexible organisation.
 
There are just over 14,000 members in the Navy, and it takes one year to train a marine technician sailor and two years for a Maritime Warfare Officer but often a Navy member will leave after only about seven years in service. 

The subsequent workplace churn is disruptive, and the capability loss is real. The competitive nature of the Australian labour market has increased the challenge for Navy even further because it is more difficult to recruit replacements.
 
Keeping well trained and motivated people is therefore essential to maintaining Navy’s capability.
 
As the Director General of Navy People branch, Commodore Michele Miller has the task of generating understanding in Navy people that flexible arrangements might provide a working life option they have been looking for.
 
It might also help in generating acceptance in Navy supervisors that such arrangements are acceptable and important for capability delivery. 

Commodore Miller said encouraging Navy members to think differently about their working life was challenging, especially when there may be few known examples around of what can be done.
 
“Change of this kind is never easy, but Navy is about to undergo the most significant increase in capability since the Second World War,” she said.
 
With that growth will come major workforce challenges to keep up with both increasing numbers of people needed and increasing experience.
 
“We will need skilled people in the right places and in the right numbers. We came to the conclusion that we can’t use our traditional workplace practices and expect to keep up with both Navy’s needs and the expectations of our people.”
 
While bespoke work patterns are increasingly becoming just another way of doing business, Commodore Miller said the time had come to expand thinking.
 
“While family will be a key consideration for some, arrangements are open to everyone,” Commodore Miller said.
 
“Individual priorities can change quickly or over time, and what we are saying is, before you move on, let’s talk.
 
“You and the Navy have invested a lot of time and money into your professional and personal wellbeing so if you want to talk about your future, we can be flexible.”
 
Another key issue is convincing managers that flexibility can help improve their workplace, and are a not necessity an inconvenience.
 
“Shifting our thinking to be about the output of our people, versus counting whether they are present in the workplace, can be a challenge,” Commodore Miller said.
 
“It can actually improve their productivity as the worker reshapes their routine to focus more on specific tasks and deadlines.
 
"Navy traditionally works in small closely-knit teams, so it’s natural for a team leader to not want to change that dynamic. But if we are not flexible, then the person will probably leave anyway, so nobody wins.”
 
Not all positions are suitable for such arrangements but Commodore Miller said in most cases, workplace issues can be managed if there is a will on both sides.
 
“The key to Navy’s workforce success in the future will be flexibility at the workplace level, but also in the bigger picture of career continuums as a part of a total workforce,”
 
“The response so far has been very encouraging but we won’t have properly succeeded until flexibility has become a normal part of Navy’s working culture. 
 
“After all, make-and-mends have been around since Nelson’s time, and what are they if not a Flexible Work Arrangement?”