How the Navy goes about improving employee retention

Employee retention and improving the “propensity to stay” is a significant challenge in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), which is faced by a labour market increasingly shaped by technological and demographic change as well as increased competition for skilled people.

In a bid to improve retention levels, Director-General Navy People, Commodore Michele Miller, said it is important to understand what personnel want in terms of structural factors, reward and remuneration, skills development and other factors such as career progression.

“We know what aspects of career progression and promotion are really important to people and what influences them in this regard.

“Not everybody wants promotion, but everybody does want a sense of satisfaction for the work that they’re doing and knowing they can continue,” said Commodore Miller.

About 50 per cent of the navy workforce has less than eight years of service, and the bulk of its personnel are aged between 18 and 28 years old; this demographic hasn’t changed for a long period and is generally a reflection of the career journey in the navy.

“The initial part of your career is all about going to sea, and it might be great and exciting when you’re an 18, 20 or 22 year old,” she said.

“But by the time you get to 24 and 26 and you’re trying to make some life decisions, the navy might not actually match what you need to do.

“So our challenge is to have people stay beyond that eight-year period. We want people to have families, we want them to have work/life balance. We want to try and give people more stability.

“We have some workforce shortfalls that mean that we act in the opposite direction to stability, so our main effort is to try and get people to stay just a bit longer.”

“Not everybody wants promotion, but everybody does want a sense of satisfaction for the work that they’re doing and knowing they can continue”

One of the initiatives the navy has employed to try and fill gaps at middle management ranking levels is through the use of a “mid-career entry” scheme, in which individuals with highly technical skills from the civilian industry are brought into very specific jobs for four- or six-year contracts.

“They might be anything from policemen to gas turbine engineers or people who are experts in vibration analysis – skills that we don’t necessarily develop in the navy, but we can get from outside to help plug gaps,” said Commodore Miller.

There was also a concern for a long time that if navy personnel were trained in and received civilian qualifications, such as a Cert III or a Cert IV, they would leave.

“In fact, the opposite has happened,” she said.

“When we give people civil skills, they get confident that they can maintain their competitiveness with the outside world, so they tend to stay. This is one good example of how we can change our commitment in order to meet expectations.”

For the fully interview with Commodore Miller and story on how the Navy, Army and Air Force are adapting to meet changing capability demands, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine.

Image: supplied