The house always wins: how to boost ADF recruitment
11 Jun 2024|

The Australian Defence Force needs bold, creative initiatives to attract and keep enough personnel to reach expansion targets.

Ask Australians in their 20s what matters to them right now, and housing will rank high. The response from Defence should be ‘Well, do we have a deal for you.’

Defence should be making strikingly good housing offers.

There has been a lot of talk about innovative ways to attract the best Australian talent to Defence but not much action. At the Air and Space Power Conference in Canberra in May, Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty admitted that ‘attracting people to the ADF is proving challenging‘, and he tasked his department to ‘think really creatively‘. The 2024 National Defence Strategy also underlined this challenge, reinforcing the priorities laid out in the 2023 Defence Strategic Review and announcing a workforce review to be tabled in 2025.

Part of the problem lies in the language used by uniformed and civilian leaders when discussing the issue: they don’t emphasise the enormity of the task.The ADF doesn’t just need to be competitive by the ordinary standards of the labour market; it must lead the competition at length. Jobseekers applying for a uniformed position are signing up to the possibility of losing their lives on the job, so they make decisions far more cautiously than those considering civilian employment.

Current salary and conditions from the ADF are clearly not persuasive enough in their weighty decision-making. The ADF needs something else to convince possible candidates for service.

The government has formerly made attractive housing offers to recruit the best talent to the ADF. In 1918 it established the War Service Homes Scheme, which helped servicemen who returned from World War I and later World War II and the Korean War. The government handed out Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits pensions to the baby boomers. And it launched the Home Purchase Assistance Scheme (HPAS), Home Purchase Sale and Expense Allowance (HPSEA) and the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme (DHOAS) for Generation X. These tangible benefits were decisively better than those offered by other potential employers.

The existing support schemes, however, are not enough to win over those currently considering a military career. The HPAS, HPSEA and DHOAS have not kept pace with the increases in cost of living or housing prices, and no longer provide a significant incentive to join the ADF.

Now, Defence needs to offer something more in its promise of housing support. It could provide super-cheap living-in accommodation, better and cheaper married quarters, increase rent allowance for those living off base, and increasing HPAS and DHOAS payments. These initiatives can be paid for with the salaries of the 5000 people whom the ADF has budgeted for but failed to recruit. The initiatives would also have second order effects of injecting more federal funds into construction and the property market.

Increasing the size of the ADF is a daunting problem when the unemployment rate is low and many industries are competing for the best talent. The ADF isn’t even in the same class as those industries. The perils of military service put it out on its own.

For the ADF to win over potential recruits, it needs creative ideas that would land a knockout blow on Millennials and Gen-Z. Give them what they want—strong support on housing—and it might just win them over.