Military Partner Career Development : an asset-based approach to policy

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

Current narrative around military (ADF) partner employment in Australia is heavily focused on the identification of a problem/s to inform a policy and program response – i.e. a deficit approach. But this is not necessary to justify and/or begin implementing enhanced career development support for the spouses/partners of military (ADF) personnel. The knowledge and understanding that career development is good for individuals, families, communities, employers and the economy should form the basis from which an ADF partner career development strategy and framework is created. We have enough information available on the benefits of career development programs, and enough information on the types of career challenges faced by military partners, to begin designing, developing and investing in suitable career development policies and programs – without wasting any more time and money quantifying the problem/s – so that we can all benefit.

Military partner career development support should be viewed as an opportunity for widespread benefits resulting from smart investment in suitable, high quality and effective policies and programs that support a section of the population experiencing additional systemic barriers to employment.

What is Career Development and why military partners?

Contemporary definitions of career are far more broad than climbing the corporate ladder. Careers are 

“a lifestyle concept that involves work, learning and leisure activities across the lifespan. Careers are dynamic, unique to each person, and involve balancing paid and unpaid work and personal life roles.” (1)

As the Australian Government National Careers Institute background paper states, “career development is the process of managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions throughout life to meet our personal aspirations and goals”. It “informs people’s job, industry, education and training decisions and helps individuals to find and succeed at work” (1). Career development policies and programs don’t just benefit individuals but have economic and social benefits.

As the International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy (ICCDPP) articulate:

“How people live their lives, build their skills, care for their families and work in the labour market has implications for society and the economy. Because of this governments, societies, employers and educational organisations have an interest in supporting people to build good, productive and meaningful careers. Citizens who can effectively manage their careers are better placed to respond to changes in the labour market, develop their skills and contribute to society and the economy.” (2)

This is a sentiment echoed in Australia

“A strong, efficient and effective career development services system is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce of today and the future” (1).

It is widely acknowledged that military life is unique and imposes some challenges and restrictions on military families.The Defence Family Support Policy states that

“Service in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) places unique demands on Defence members and their families. The nature of Service life and the commitment required of Defence members may impose restrictions, pressures, and difficulties on their families not generally encountered in the civilian community” 

Data collected to date in Australia and overseas indicates that this includes an impact on military partner employment. If career development support is beneficial to the population in general then it is certainly beneficial for groups such as military partners who experience additional challenges. And like the close relationship career development policy has with other government policies (such as education, social and economic) career development policy for military partners is very much related to Defence policy. Military partner career development can influence the recruitment, retention and readiness of military personnel and it is therefore an issue of defence capability and national security. And it makes career development for military partners very much a government (a whole-of-government at that) concern.

Addressing military partner career development via the implementation of high quality and effective policies and programs is in line with current government policy. Australia has renewed focus on career development with the recent establishment of the National Careers Institute within the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business which will “provide leadership in the delivery of high quality, evidence-based career development to enable Australians to make informed decisions about their learning, training and work pathways” (1).

It’s time to stop approaching military partner employment with a deficit mindset and instead focus on the widespread benefits of designing and implementing high quality policies and programs and viewing military partner career development as the asset it is to individuals, families, the ADF, society and the economy. This is a much more effective and efficient use of time and money.


  1. National Careers Institute Consultations and Co-design Background Paper. Australian Government Department of Skills, Small and Family Business National Careers Institute. October 2019.
  2. International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy (2019). Communique from the 2019 International Symposium in Norway.

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