The confusing message of ADF partner employment support

The intent and the content of current partner employment programs raises some interesting questions about what partner employment support in Australia should look like. I’m a big fan of the current Partner Employment Assistance Program (PEAP) but I have written before about how and why it is not enough on its own. What I find particularly problematic is the acknowledgment of a systemic barrier to employment (mobility) but a program that aims to address individual deficiencies.

The current PEAP program provides up to $1500 for individuals to access employment-related initiatives such as resume assistance, identification of transferable skills, job placement advice, job search techniques, and interview coaching. This is a valuable program. Research findings show that job seekers who receive career development support are 2.67 times more likely to find work. It is important to note that the best career development services are delivered by qualified professionals who adhere to industry professional standards.

PEAP is delivered under the mobility support element of the Defence Family Support Manual. That manual states that “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“. I think we’d all agree with that. And yes, mobility certainly impacts partner employment.

But if mobility is the issue, why is the only support offered that which focuses on individuals, and not the systems that affect individuals?

Careers are our journey through life encompassing various life roles, learning, and work (paid and unpaid). They are complex. Career development (as defined by the Career Industry Council of Australia) is the process of managing life, learning, work, leisure, and transitions across the lifespan in order to move towards a personally determined future. Career development services encompass a wide range of programs and services to help clients gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours to manage their career development (ref CICA). This is crucially important. But we can’t ignore the context that our careers take place in. Our careers are shaped by social, economic, technological, political, and many other factors. For ADF partners the context includes mobility, but also other aspects such as the expectation that we will fulfill the majority of domestic and caring work in our families freeing up the member to do their paid work. Career development programs need to both understand and address the context that clients’ careers are taking place in. Over-emphasising individual responsibility not only fails to deliver the career support needed it may detract from addressing influential systemic barriers such as mobility (1). We need to fix the system, not just ADF partners. A more comprehensive program that provides personalised individual support and addresses systemic barriers is needed.

Side Note: it is interesting that the opposite approach seems to be taken with veteran employment. There appears to be an emphasis on overcoming systemic barriers faced by veterans by creating veteran employment programs, and less on individual career management skills (which really should be taught throughout a member’s career, rather than via crash course as transition looms on the horizon). Addressing both is important for both partners and veterans if we want our defence community to achieve satisfying, meaningful careers.

Further reading on my recommendations can be found here


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