The Air Force Strategy (AFSTRAT) (Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), 2020a) outlines five lines of effort (LOEs) that provide actionable strategic direction, which is to be implemented by command and understood by all. LOE 2 is ‘develop a skilled and intelligent workforce’, which works interdependently with the remaining four to achieve the Air Force mission – ‘to prepare air and space power in order to enable the joint force in peace and war’ (RAAF, 2021a). Chief of Air Force (CAF) further emphasised LOE 2 in the CAF Intent Update, where ‘workforce prioritisation’ is identified as an area of focus. CAF stated a need for a workforce that is ‘responsive to the rapidly changing demands of an uncertain world’ (RAAF, 2021b, p. 1). To achieve this, the RAAF will need innovative, adaptable, and resilient personnel with the ability to think critically at every level.
Accordingly, this paper proposes a scheme whereby enlisted aviators could enrol at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) without having to commission. The paper will first discuss the tertiary education options for enlisted aviators and their limitations. Next, the paper will discuss the value of an enlisted ADFA entry scheme and will argue how the proposal is strategically aligned with AFSTRAT. Lastly, the paper will be summarised in the form of a conclusion.
Available Tertiary Education Options
The available options for enlisted aviators seeking tertiary education are excellent; however, they are not without their limitations. The options have been broken down into three sub-categories which include commissioning pathways, professional education schemes, and Warrant Officer (WOFF) professional development opportunities. While the author is confident that most tertiary education options have been identified, it is acknowledged that lesser-known options may be available.
The following three options normally require participants to specialise in a commissioned category of service after finishing their studies. This distinction makes them in-fact commissioning pathways with education serving as a step in the process.
Enlisted Ranks Access to the Academy Scheme
Under this scheme, enlisted aviators can enrol to study in one of the ADFA – University of New South Wales Canberra courses. Selected members are appointed as commissioned officers and complete Initial Officer Training the year prior to commencing their studies (RAAF, 2018).
Civil Schooling Scheme
The Civil Schooling Scheme (CSS) gives students the flexibility of studying recognised courses at approved universities, or similar tertiary institutions. It should be noted that the CSS is generally used by members who have been deemed suitable for the commissioned ranks, however this is not always the case. Other members can use the CSS to grow skills identified to meet Air Force capability requirements (RAAF, 2018).
Lipshut Family Bursary Scholarship
This scholarship was established by Mr Sonnie Lipshut in 2000. Its purpose is to provide outstanding aviators of the rank of Corporal and below the opportunity to complete full-time tertiary studies – with a view to commission. The application process requests that personnel detail their career aspirations with respect to obtaining a commission. While award of this scholarship and subsequent completion of studies does not guarantee a commission, it is intended to encourage this desire (RAAF, 2021c).
Professional Education Schemes
These schemes are available for enlisted aviators to pursue tertiary education without having to commission. While they are outstanding opportunities, they do possess some limitations.
Defence Assisted Study Scheme
The Defence Assisted Study Scheme (DASS) is a fantastic scheme offering financial support for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel undertaking approved studies. DASS allows for the chain of command to approve ‘work release’, granting a member study time in business hours (capped at 45 hours per subject and not more than 180 per year). Additionally, it also provides leave that can be granted for attending scheduled exams (Department of Defence, 2013). Other comparable options exist for specific employment groups, such as the Logistics Education Advancement Program (RAAF, 2021d).
While this is an incredible option that many aviators have used to great advantage, it does, however, require a member to complete most of their studies in their own time. This requires a careful balance between study, work, and personal obligations. For members in high tempo musterings such as Air Movements, Loadmaster, or the technical workforce, DASS is difficult to take advantage of. These musterings frequently conduct short notice tasking, shift work, and require their own study commitment to develop effective levels of technical mastery. Members will eventually rotate into roles that provide greater stability, but this may not happen for many years, resulting in missed opportunities for both the members and the organisation.
The ADFA-Postgraduate scheme is very similar to DASS. The studies, however, are at a post graduate level, presenting additional challenges to those outlined above, both in difficulty and entry (Department of Defence, 2021). Studies at a Masters level require the applicant to already have obtained a Bachelor’s degree in the majority of circumstances (University of New South Wales, 2021).
Warrant Officer Professional Development Opportunities
WOFFs uniquely act as the conduit between the enlisted workforce and command. WOFFs have a range of responsibilities; however, none is more important than advocating on behalf of the enlisted workforce. Therefore, Air Force WOFFs are provided with two professional development opportunities that are usually reserved for the commissioned ranks (RAAF, 2020c), including:
- Australian Command and Staff Course (post graduate degree) – up to two Air Force WOFFs per year
- Capability Technology and Management Program (post graduate degree) – one Air Force WOFF per year
The limitation of these professional development opportunities is obvious; consideration is only given to those who have reached the rank of WOFF. Furthermore, with only three positions available to Air Force WOFFs per year, selection is highly competitive.
Summary of Limitations
The tertiary education options available for enlisted aviators are broad and offer a range of opportunities. Despite this, many enlisted aviators simply love what they do, and although pathways to commission are a great career choice for some, it may not be the solution to career progression and/or satisfaction for all. To quote Air Command WOFF Ken Robertson – ‘removing talented personnel from the enlisted ranks doesn’t always equate to a better outcome either for the member or the organisation’ (Robertson, 2021, as cited in Turnbull, 2021, p. 1). WOFF professional development opportunities provide an alternative, but they simply come too late in the careers of many aviators. Furthermore, they are targeted selections for those who demonstrate the potential to influence and contribute to strategic effects within the joint environment (RAAF, 2020a). The professional education schemes remain the best course of action for enlisted aviators seeking tertiary education, without needing to commission. However, for many aviators—particularly those early in their career—it can be an impractical option.
The Value of an Enlisted ADFA Entry Scheme
Historically, commissioned officers have been associated with greater social status and higher education. While the former is no longer the case, the latter is still prevalent today. The Defence Strategic Update (Department of Defence, 2020) details that Australia is at the centre of a complex strategic environment and military modernisation is occurring faster than predicted. In response, CAF has directed an ‘investment in people’, and request that members ‘responsibly challenge the status quo, think innovatively and nurture relationships of influence’ (RAAF, 2020a, p. 27). An entry scheme where enlisted aviator’s complete studies at the ADFA will strengthen this investment and help to ensure the right people remain in the right jobs. Moreover, it will support the growth of the future Senior Enlisted Leadership Team (SELT) and enhance the effectiveness of the AFSTRAT.
It’s important that all initiatives pursued by the Air Force have strategic alignment – the process of linking a system to the organisations strategy (Carbery & Cross, 2015). The Air Force Workforce Plan 2021 – 2026 (AFWP) (RAAF, 2021e) provides the context for future Air Force workforce needs. The AFWP stipulates that the Air Force seeks personnel who are curious, inclusive and have the critical thinking skills needed to contribute to joint strategic effects. All these attributes can be fostered at the ADFA, particularly given it is a joint military environment. The following sections discuss how higher education within the enlisted workforce will directly facilitate each LOE detailed in the AFSTRAT.
LOE 1: Delivering Air and Space Power as Part of the Joint Force
This LOE is strengthened through effective implementation of the other four (RAAF, 2020a). The Air Force, like any organisation is simply a series of interconnected systems working in unison to achieve a given mission (Hubbard et al., 2019). What keeps these systems running, however, is the people operating within them. Instead of viewing the ADFA as a steppingstone to a commission, the Air Force, and broader ADF, should simply view it as an investment in people, irrespective of rank. An enlisted ADFA entry scheme would provide eligible aviators an opportunity to gain tertiary education, without disrupting technical mastery development. Additionally, it will keep passionate aviators in the jobs they love, allowing them to focus on what they do best - delivering air and space power as part of the joint force.
LOE 2: Develop a Skilled and Intelligent Workforce
Command has been directed to give greater emphasis to ongoing learning and development. This emphasis needs to be given to the full spectrum of air power practitioners – officer and enlisted - fostering the evolution and depth of the future Air Force SELT. Linkages must also be made between an individual’s education and their career development (RAAF, 2020a). For example, Airman Aviation candidates may complete a Bachelor of Aviation (Management), developing a sophisticated understanding of Human Factors (University of New South Wales, n.d.). This could offer a range of benefits within tactical flying squadrons and directorates such as the Defence Flight Safety Bureau.
The proposed scheme would also help improve resilience, which, as Cherry (2020) comments, is improved by education, constructive feedback and problem-solving. Universities not only teach critical thinking skills, but also encourage critical reflection. Improved resilience is a worthy investment, particularly for those enlisted aviators entering musterings with frequent training and assessment evolutions (RAAF, 2020a).
LOE 3: Deepening Relationships and Strengthening Engagement
While this LOE’s intent is predominantly focused on international relationships (RAAF, 2020a), these interpersonal skills initially form through interactions in the training environment. Furthermore, joint postings are limited in some musterings, denying enlisted aviators the opportunity for tri-service engagement, which fosters multi-domain curiosity and understanding. The ADFA presents an opportunity to share these experiences with enlisted aviators.
LOE 4: Evolving Air Force Culture
The Air Force seeks a culture that is reflective of Australian society. Since 2000 the percentage of Australians who hold a degree has nearly doubled, increasing by 14.1 per cent (Hughes, 2022). This growth is evidence that Australians have never been hungrier for tertiary education, and this includes the enlisted workforce. While tactical excellence is important, intellectual diversity is recognised as a core tenant to achieving maximum strategic effects (RAAF, 2020a).
LOE 5: Agile and Coherent Governance
Through this LOE, leaders at all levels are empowered to remove unnecessary administration and bureaucracy (RAAF, 2020a). Often enlisted personnel are closest to the actual problem but are perhaps less equipped in knowing how to solve it. The Air Force is increasingly relying on written forms of communication to initiate any tangible and lasting change. Essay writing is one of the best ways to consciously develop these skills. With improved literacy skills, enlisted aviators will be better able to articulate their concerns and draft procedures and/or guidance used at the tactical level.
Before implementing the proposed scheme, it would be necessary to determine the educational needs of enlisted aviators not seeking to commission. A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) would need to be conducted to determine what courses of study are appropriate for the enlisted workforce.
This paper has proposed the concept of enlisted aviators completing studies at the ADFA. The paper first discussed the available tertiary education options and broke them down into three distinct categories. Next, the paper discussed the value of an enlisted ADFA entry scheme and argued how the proposal is strategically aligned with AFSTRAT. The paper then recognised a need for a TNA to support effective implementation.
This paper demonstrates that you don’t always need a new idea; sometimes you just need to broaden the scope of an old one.
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