An emphasis on sufficient resources and recognition, development and retention of existing skills leads DECA survey response.
Professionals Australia received close to 450 responses from Defence employees to the DECA survey released last year.
Headline responses to the general questions included overwhelming support (97.5%) for science and engineering having a strong voice in Defence and being part of our campaign to build a strong science and engineering community across Defence (88.2%).
While the majority of respondents felt valued as employees by Defence (63.5%) a majority of respondents (56.8%) didn’t believe engineering and science expertise was valued by Defence.
Respondents had variable responses on challenges with fitting current workloads within the regular work week (just over 50% didn’t think this was manageable) but there were clear responses in favour of compensation for additional hours worked during trials (84.7%) and clearer compensation for executive level employees (57.4%).
There were also clear responses to the importance of technical expertise in Defence and an overwhelming view that the current classification structure doesn’t properly recognize your skills and responsibilities (63.1%) or encourage the development and growth or technical professionals (79.3%).
With the pressures on existing resources and APS wide recruitment it is critical that the classification structures provide a better fit for the recognition and development of science and engineering expertise.
The Biggest Challenges – A Stronger Voice is Essential
The survey asked respondents to consider the three biggest challenges for science and engineering professionals in Defence.
The recurring themes in responses were around resources, recognition and value of professional expertise and workforce planning and development and the implications for not addressing these issues. How can you have succession planning if you are not allowed to recruit/promote or provide professional development?
The loss of skilled, knowledgeable engineering and technical staff from Defence through downsizing.
Getting adequate recognition and pay for knowledge, experience and responsibility engineers bring to Defence. They cannot operate safely without us.
The science and engineering professional group needs to be large enough to have a voice.
Professionals are being squeezed out of the decision making process, whereby we are buying off the shelf items and no technical integrity is conducted or being conducted by external contractors who may or may not have the Defence interest in their best interest.
Recruitment freeze making succession and workforce planning impossible. Massive budget cuts making equipment refresh and external training nearly impossible.
Under resourced projects due to FTE cutbacks will mean that there will be often one engineer working on a large body of work and if they leave or are sick there is no one to pick up the work. Corners are being cut due to projects being under resourced.
Maintaining capability and expertise on complex, expanding technologies in an environment which pitches us between a real reduction in resources while increasing nugatory administration tasks
Not allowing professionals access to relevant technology conferences and networks to maintain currency.
Failure to recognize the importance of STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) to the economic development of Australia
No advertised APS positions means no jumping to next classification which means talented people leaving.
Doing the job properly while completely overwhelmed/overworked. Eventually an overworked engineer will slip up due to their insane constant workload, that someone will be seriously injured or die.
Increasing union membership across professional and technical staff
Getting recognition of the contribution made by professional and technical staff in the delivery of Defence capability
Providing adequate resources to tackle the major engineering challenges that are with us now and also coming at us.
Maintaining professional integrity in the face of having fewer resources to achieve a timely solution.
There is a lack of opportunities and support for maintenance of status and increasing knowledge base.
Perceived value of the contribution science and engineering professionals make to the Defence landscape.
It is critical to gain Government acceptance that engagement of a suitably scoped professional engineering workforce is desperately needed and that that the workforce is not static. It must be raised, constantly trained and refreshed and sustained.
Entrenching sound engineering principles in the determination of needs and requirements for acquisition programs is essential to ensure adequate performance of acquired systems (even if, perhaps especially if ,those systems are COTS/MOTS).
The prolonged recruitment freeze means attrition is happening randomly without positions being replaced. Long term this will likely result in reduced capability and gaps in the organisation.
Insufficient staff to undertake work leading to burnout of existing staff. Insufficient funding to allow staff to develop and maintain specialist skills
Lack of opportunities for promotion leading to junior staff leaving to find promotion elsewhere, leading to a loss of skills and experience (this is reflected in the 40% turnover in staff with 2-6 years’ experience noted in the TRFW review).
It is critical that all professionals get involved to support claims that recognise and value science and engineering expertise and protect existing conditions.
Talk to your National Defence Committee members or workplace representatives about how you can become involved.
If you are not already a member of Professionals Australia (APESMA) you can join online here .