Defence can only achieve an intellectual edge if its members are consistently engaged and curious. Ongoing professional development is crucial in growing a workforce that has the ability to shape, deter and respond. Although the importance of continuous learning has been identified in The Australian Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) Continuum 2.0, the 2020 Air Force Strategy (AFSTRAT) and the 7th edition Air Power Manual, the wider workforce has not yet formally adopted this model. Due to minimal tracking of professional development outside of formal courses, Defence is underutilising and under supporting a significant and diverse set of skills and knowledge. To enable independent and ongoing professional development, a positive learning culture should be encouraged and maintained.
The learning culture in Defence does not actively encourage ongoing professional development. When someone says professional development, what comes to mind? If you’re like me, the first thought is ‘courses’. Even as a self-proclaimed lover of learning, when it comes to professional development in an ADF context, I tend to regard it as a chore. Compulsory professional development programs such as Program Wirraway are an important part of the training continuum. However, many of us have or will do our few weeks of courses for the year then data dump it once we’ve finished. Our learning begins when we receive the joining instructions and ends on the last day of course. Even for programs that I have voluntarily signed up for, I often contain my learning within the duration of the course. This is not a critique of the programs themselves—I actually find many courses to be extremely useful and interesting. However, I have noticed that my attitude towards professional development has caused me to limit my own learning and curiosity. I don’t think I am alone in this attitude. Line of Effort 4 in AFSTRAT stresses the importance of achieving a “culture that values education, relationship-management, and strategic acumen”. In reality the learning culture in Defence as a whole has not fully embraced the concept of ongoing professional development.
The road to ongoing learning
To enable the workforce to adopt ongoing professional development, Defence needs to recognise and support independent learning. Directed learning is often provided more prominence and recognition than self-directed professional development. It is not fully appreciated that professional development can occur in regular activities such as following current events or mentoring. As a result, articles are read, podcasts are listened to and people are mentored but the experience is not often questioned, expanded upon or shared on a larger scale. Some opportunities such as the AF063 Royal Australian Air Force Career Development Plan provide the option to self-report abilities, experiences and capability enhancing skillsets. Instances such as these do enable the organisation to appreciate professional development, however they do not necessarily result in active reflection and learning. This form of reporting can often occur months after the activity and members can be inclined to pass over more commonplace professional development undertakings. The potential of seemingly ordinary activities is currently untapped, resulting in an enormous loss of capability. The Air and Space Power Centre’s “Consume-Contest-Contribute-Collaborate” model allows individuals to follow through with the potential of their learning. If the model was utilised for independent professional development, it can empower us to extend ourselves and push our learning to the next level. We need a platform that encourages the application of the information we already have, in order to contextualise it in the constantly evolving strategic environment.
Currently, Defence struggles to maintain an intellectual edge by under appreciating the intellectual diversity of its members. For example, a member who is passionate about the environment and pursues learning opportunities outside of their role has the potential to apply that knowledge to sustainable solutions for Defence. This member demonstrates they are motivated to develop, knowledgeable and has shown curiosity and initiative. Unless the member participates in a program that is formally recognised in Defence, their skill is generally isolated and not utilised. It would be like buying a smartphone and only using it to make calls and send messages. Although we seek to recruit talented people with a range of skills, we tend to sort them into a specialisation and forget that people are multifaceted. Formal courses cannot possibly encompass the breadth of knowledge, or achieve the pace at which we need to evolve. A professional development solution needs to allow us the flexibility to build on our own interest and make them strategically relevant. Additionally, we need to recognise that innovation opportunities are stifled because learning communities for interests outside of job roles are limited.
The first step in enacting an ongoing professional development system and culture is tracking and supporting independent learning. A potential solution is a professional development tracking and learning hub. Think of a mixture between social media and Strava but for professional development. This may take the form of a website or app where users can upload professional development tasks onto their own profile. A professional currency point system is an option to provide a recommended standard. Such a system may assign points to types of tasks such listening to a podcast, writing a book review or replying to a forum post. The value of each task may follow the “Consume-Contest-Contribute-Collaborate” model to account for more time and effort-consuming tasks. This would also encourage people to take the next step along the model and engage deeper with their learning. Defence will be able to realise the intellectual diversity of its workforce and encourage genuine and ongoing learning. Learning communities of likeminded thinkers can be formed regardless of Service, specialisation or location. There is potential to extend this tool to reporting and career management, however it is important to acknowledge that providing external incentives to motivate professional development may cause disingenuous reporting. This may in turn damage the learning culture.
All hope is not lost for ongoing professional development. If we can empower the workforce to contextualise our own interests and pursuits in the strategic environment, we have a shot at encouraging ongoing learning. A tracking tool may be the first step in recognising the intellectual diversity of our people. The learning hub will then enable learning communities to grow by connecting users with similar interests. The culture will have the chance to evolve so that ongoing professional development can become ingrained. Finally, the incorporation of the “Consume-Contest-Contribute-Collaborate” model aims to encourage users to take the next step in expanding and sharing their experience. Only then can Defence maximise and reap the benefits of the capability that is our people.
Royal Australian Air Force (2020) Air Force strategy. https://www.airforce.gov.au/our-mission/air-force-strategy
Department of Defence (2022) The Australian Joint Professional Military Education Continuum 2.0. https://theforge.defence.gov.au/jpme-continuum-0
Strava Inc. (2022). Features for athletes, made by athletes. https://www.strava.com/features