Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Services retention woes have a common cause

The Navy is having so much difficulty retaining technicians that is is offering them a $45,000 bonus to remain in service for three years. The technicians are normally paid $48,000 per year but Navy staff have recognised that unless something is done to retain its men it will not be able to put vessels to sea.{http://www.stuff.co.nz/4319076a6000.html}. The Navy is not alone in losing key staff. The services in general have an on-going shortage of trained personnel {http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4284803a6427.html}.

The fundamental problem to my mind is the whole philosophy of manpower planning in our armed services. This was addressed at length in my defence review.

Traditionally the armed forces have worked on the assumption that they recruit young cannon fodder, train them up for a bit of excitement and then when they finally want to settle down let them go again. And given you would have to be fairly young and fairly stupid to put up with the working conditions the military expect people to work under (dying either by enemy action or from a court martial is a potential obligation under your employment contract) then it isn't surprising that has been how they have operated.

The problem is the real world doesn't work that way anymore. Military equipment is more complex than ever before. Military planning and training expertise is now subject to intense competition from the private sector whether it is from ordinary civilian life or private armies. You can't press people into service with a crown in someone's tankard and a tot of rum or strokes of the cat won't keep people in service either.

Fundamentally the armed services have to pay people for their skills not their rank. This is the proposal on page http://defence.allmedia.googlepages.com/integratedranks of my review. Currently the armed services promotes people to non-existent commands in order to retain experience. But you can't do that without upsetting the command structure of any organisation. It would be absurd for naval technicians to be made Warrant Officers in order to retain their skills.

My review recommended setting six skill levels based on civilian parity plus a loading for the obligations of military contracts. On top of this there was a rank bonus to reflect the level of independence and responsibility an individual was expected to exercise. The rates quoted are based on 2002 levels and should be inflation adjusted for the past five years.Thus an advanced technician would end up earning almost as much as an officer in a less technical field such as a truck driver for the operations brigade. Equally important their military service would eliminate the need to repay student loans for study.

To remain functional the armed services need to recognise that they are not a vast training operation waiting for a time of war to swing into action and ramp up their numbers. World war two is not going to happen again. Instead the armed services needs to see itself as an intelligent corporation modelled along the lines of private armies or consultancies for dealing with exceptional circumstances. It should attract and retain expertise with both suitable remuneration but also with an engaging career that can span a lifetime.

Currently 1,766 staff are engaged in operational duties at home and abroad which is claimed to be a stretch. The NZDF however employs 9,051 regular force, 2,240 territorial force service men and women and 2,261 civilian staff. That means that 11,312 people are employed full time but that 9,546 are needed to support those being operational. By contrast the Police have 10,300 staff and most of them are operational.

A private army with 11,312 staff but only 1,766 on billable assignments sounds rather unlikley. In fact any private operation with such a ratio would be facing serious questions from its shareholders. In my view the services are too large and too underpaid. They should be even more tightly integrated (including the Ministry) and run much more like a civilian operation. This means a smaller, more efficient, even more professional organisation equipped with the best money can buy and able to adapt to all possible emergencies.