By Claire Harris and originally published in the Australian Industry and Defence Network Quarterly Newsletter, Issue 2 2022. Thank you to Amanda McCue for reviewing the article.

The Australian Government is investing $270 billion in Australia’s defence capability over the next ten years.

Defence capability includes products, services and technology that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) needs to conduct its operations today and in the future. For example, vehicles and equipment, Artificial Intelligence technology and robotics and the people.

Growing Australian’s defence capability and supporting industry means more Australian workers with trade, technical and science and technology skills as well as various other management and operational skills.

Defence is supporting a number of initiatives to grow this workforce. There is also demand for more Defence employees. In the short term (to 2024), the Navy, Army and Air Force will all grow their workforce. In the longer term, the Government has committed to grow the ADF by 18,500 uniformed personnel by 2040.

Workforce wellbeing + families

At the recent Defence People Symposium, Minister for Defence Personnel The Hon Matt Keogh MP told the audience that the most important sovereign capability is people.

Good employers know that they need to create supportive and attractive workplaces and cultures that enable employees to thrive. This is good for their workforce as well as their organisation achieving their desired outcomes.

In the current ‘war for talent’, employers that come up wanting are being left behind for more forward-thinking, flexible and inclusive workplaces. So, workplaces in all sectors are facing very real ‘human problems’ as they plan their teams for the future.

And this current and growing workforce is likely to have families. Family members are crucial stakeholders in the employment arrangements in the household.

In short: Defence and defence industry need to consider families when recruiting.

Military families; untapped potential

ADF families, specifically, may move with postings every 2–3 years and spend frequent and/or lengthy time apart due to ADF training and operations. This can wreak havoc on lifestyles and wellbeing as family members can experience disrupted careers, training and employment, and in the case of partners, high caregiving workloads, as a result.

The effects on working age family members can be cumulative, and patchy job histories, workload restrictions (or flexibility requirements), or bias from regional employers against employing ADF partners or family members can affect future employment and financial security.

At the same time, family members build valuable skills from their experiences, and are more likely to be highly educated and more likely ‘security safe’, which can add value to defence industry workplaces all over Australia.

The availability of ADF family members as employees can be a strategic benefit to Defence and defence industry companies. Because families are relocating to Defence installations around Australia, Defence and industry can benefit from this mobile but strategically located workforce and save on recruiting, onboarding and training costs.

A further benefit is that several of these installations are in regional and remote areas where finding suitably qualified candidates can be a challenge for employers and bearing the full cost of relocating employees can be expensive.

Image of robotics engineer operating robot-aided CNC machine

Robotics engineer operating robot aided CNC (computer numerical control) machine in robotics research facility. CNC manufacturing is often used in Defence industry, for example, to manufacture aerospace parts.

Diversity opportunities

Diverse and inclusive workplaces are good for business. More inclusive organisations benefit from more talent, better solutions to challenging problems and enhanced innovation. Inclusive, supportive culture also means that team members are better listeners and more open to new ideas, which is also attractive to new talent.

In the 2019 report, Growing the defence industry workforce: Attracting and retaining women with critical skills and trades, by Rapid Context, the authors noted that with the many big projects (such as Naval Shipbuilding Plan, which is estimated to create up to 15,000 direct and indirect jobs) a focus on attracting and retaining a diverse workforce is now even more crucial.

Their analysis of the top 20 defence industry companies showed that less than 1 in 5 defence industry employees are women (compared to a national average of 1 in 2), and less than 1 in 7 defence industry managers are women.

Worryingly, their research showed that women are leaving their roles in defence industry companies at disproportionately high rates when compared to their male counterparts. Has this changed post-COVID?

In conclusion, the authors said: “Establishing and maintaining an attractive workplace culture that embraces diversity and is truly inclusive can be difficult. Effective culture change is predicated on commitment from leadership and takes time. But the potential rewards are great, both in terms of an organisation’s bottom line, and its alignment with contemporary community values. For defence industry in particular, this will be a crucial step to ensure that it can take advantage of the growth opportunities before it, to innovate, and to meet Australia’s capability requirements.”

Innovation, policy and capability

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update says: “Australia’s defence policy must be agile and adaptive”. Part of ensuring that Australia has a willing and able military force is considering the aspects of capability that influence this readiness. This includes things like technology, infrastructure and services and the people in the ADF and in industry who are contributing their passions, expertise and skills.

The Defence Capability Policy Framework emphasises that “capabilities are more effective if used in combinations that support each other. Each capability involves effectively combining our people, major systems and other Fundamental Inputs to Capability.”

People and Industry are both Fundamental Inputs to Capability, Deliberations about how Australia’s Defence Force will function in future will need to include families. In addition to their potential influence on capability one could argue it is also the ethical thing to do for the wellbeing of the military community.

Going a step further to consider the value of considering veterans, families of veterans and current-serving ADF members, Gwen Cherne, the Veteran Family Advocate of Australia said that industry will be missing out if they don’t engage effectively.

“Not engaging with families is doing a disservice to the entire Defence, veteran and Defence industry community,” said Ms Cherne.

“We have made great strides to increase the focus on families over the last five years, but there is still more to do to proactively engage with and better inform families about services, support and job opportunities. We are missing a key piece of the puzzle if industry isn’t engaging with families – especially when it comes to capability and service design and delivery,” she said.


Family statistics

Australian Census 2021

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Census 2021, there are 5.5 million (5,552,973) couple families. In these families, 53% have children living with them and 47% do not have children living with them (Figure 1). Of the households around Australia, family households make up 70.5%, lone households 25.6% and group households 3.9% (Figure 2).

Infographic descripting Family types: Couples with children make up 43.7 per cent of all families, Couples with no children make up 38.8% of all families, and Lone parent families make up 15.9% of all families. (Source: ABS 2021:

Figure 1. Family types: Couples with children make up 43.7 per cent of all families, Couples with no children make up 38.8% of all families, and Lone parent families make up 15.9% of all families. (Source: ABS 2021:

Infographic of Figure 2. Three household types. Family households 70.5%, lone households 25.6% and group households 3.9%. (Source: ABS 2021,

Figure 2. Three household types. Family households 70.5%, lone households 25.6% and group households 3.9%. (Source: ABS 2021,


Defence Census

According the Defence Census (2019) the majority of employees are in relationships:

  • Permanent ADF: 66% are married or in a relationship. (38% are married. In 2019, almost 35% had at least one child living with them.
  • ADF Reserve: 74% are married or in a relationship. (57% are married.)
  • Defence APS: 63% are married or in a relationship. (50% are married.)

The partners and families of defence support the workforce, and often take on greater responsibilities ‘on the home front’ and in the community. And most families want/need to be dual income.

A focus on military families at the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference

Given the focus on expanding defence and defence industry, it was encouraging to see military families featured at the recent Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2022 Conference. This conference, in June 2022, aimed to prompt attendees and organisations to imagine “a future where putting families at the centre drives the work of researchers, policy makers, and service providers.”

The Defence Family Advocate of Australia, Sandi Laaksonen-Sherrin, said that the organisation was proud to support the conference.

“We wanted to put Australian Defence Force (ADF) families in the spotlight there, and want to keep the focus on the needs and different perspectives of the Defence community,” she said.

“Insights from policymakers, practitioners and researchers can help spark innovation and positive impact for Defence families. This is important because happy, stable families lead to high performance and Defence capability. There are no excuses for not considering families in policy and practice. It makes sense from the business and social perspectives alike.

“Investment in supporting current serving ADF families from the start of their loved one’s military service generates more benefits than a largely reactive strategy post-service. It means healthier, happier families, including longer serving, better performing ADF members.

“Families are natural support networks, but under stress need to be more supported. Families cannot and should not have to manage all stressors alone. But by helping families, policymakers and leaders can reduce stress and maximise resilience in their people,” said Mrs Laaksonen-Sherrin.

A number of researchers and practitioners employed across government, university and private enterprise participated in the military family focused sessions at the conference. A quick snapshot of some of the sessions is provided here. More about the sessions is available on the AIFS Conference program.

This event was a positive step in highlighting the experiences of military and veteran families as well as the importance of families and support networks as a central wellbeing pillar. Greater focus by Defence and defence industry on people and their families will ensure goals for sovereign capability will be achieved.

The sessions specifically about military service and family life were:

Military focused ePosters included:

  • How are Defence families engaged as stakeholders and innovators? Stakeholder engagement and innovation: outlines initial findings about how a range of military interested organisations are engaging with stakeholders, in particular partners and families. This eposter presents some of the initial results from the industry first, independent survey. Author: Claire Harris, Innovate Communicate. Contributors: Dr Amy Johnson, Central Queensland University; Beck Rayner, Military Life; Amanda McCue, Career Swag.
  • Supporting wellbeing by putting Defence families at the centre: A high-level view. A focus on wellbeing: explores how the military way of life presents particular challenges to families. The authors asked: Is the focus on building selfreliance and resilience appropriate? How can we celebrate the initiatives that are working? How can we also address the systemic issues that surround families? Authors: Claire Harris, Innovate Communicate; Beck Rayner, Military Life; Dr Amy Johnson, Central Queensland University; Amanda McCue, Career Swag.
  • Work on the homefront and the frontline: The Defence family juggle. Juggling ‘all the things’ and being a Defence family: explores the links between employment and wellbeing, along with growing demands and desires for both partners to engage in paid work for financial and fulfilment reasons, and the economic benefits of supporting women in work, increases the pressure on Defence organisations to have workplace and family support arrangements in place that support dual working families. The poster also highlights key attributes of the ‘challenges’ of juggling ‘all the things’ and provides a case study (Cowork Coplay) plus recommendations. Authors: Dr. Amy Johnson, Central Queensland University; Amanda McCue, Career Swag; Claire Harris, Innovate Communicate; Beck Rayner, Military Life.
  • Career support for Defence families, abstract and eposter by Amanda McCue with supporting handout and information provided on her website. This work outlines the widespread benefits of supporting ADF family careers; discuss what a quality career development system for ADF partners would look like (drawing on components outlined in the National Careers Institute background paper); and discuss target areas for attention, including awareness of and access to career support, the quality of career development services, ADF family input into design of policies and services, employer engagement and systemic career constraints. It also shares key points from the inaugural International Military Spouse Employment Summit that took place in November 2021.
  • Meaningful connection essential in supporting the wellbeing of contemporary Australian Defence Force families, eposter by Beck Rayner with supporting handout information provided on her website. This work shows the critical value from social connection. Based on her own experience, journalist and ADF partner, Rebecca Rayner recognised the need for increased social connections and set about creating the Military Life (ML) support community. This poster shares some of the changes that have taken place in Defence family policy, community, services and lifestyle and how this has impacted social connection; relevant research on the importance of sharing meaningful connection with other people. It also shares insights and what Rebecca believes is essential for supporting wellbeing.

References and further reading: