Participants of a pilot program tailored for the immediate family of current and former serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members have been left energised and empowered to regain control of their professional careers.
Canberra resident Mathilde Lamerton had not been back on Australian soil for very long after relocating her family from France when an online correspondence caught her attention.
Mathilde was at a crossroads with her professional future when she saw the opportunity to participate in the AGSM @ UNSW Business School pilot Defence Family Career Comeback program in Sydney.
The course was aimed at helping Defence and veteran family members realise their full career potential following time away from the workforce or their preferred career path.
“I had no expectations, but I put my hat in the ring anyway,” said Mathilde, whose partner is currently a serving member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
“I was pleasantly surprised, because even though the other participants came from diverse backgrounds, we all had shared experiences of service life, and it was interesting to see how people had navigated similar challenges to myself and my family.”
Families of ADF members often make career sacrifices to support their loved one’s military service. This is largely attributable to frequent moves every two to three years due to postings, challenges with securing flexible work and bearing the majority of responsibilities around the home.
As they have to frequently re-establish their lives and social networks in a new location, some family members take up casual employment or accept roles which they are overqualified for, to afford them the flexibility to juggle other family commitments.
The course was held in November 2022 and was a partnership between Defence Families of Australia (DFA) and AGSM @ UNSW Business School and was sponsored by the Department of Defence.
Mathilde said the three-day in-person program helped her shift her mindset about her varied skill set as something which could work to her advantage.
“I have acquired lots of technical and transactional skills across my career and life as a Defence partner, moving across countries and continents,” she said.
“However, this course helped me realise I have so much to offer, and my different life experiences and skills can be useful to my potential employers.
“It put us back in the driver’s seat of what we want to do and where we want to go professionally, instead of simply taking ‘what’s on offer’ and being grateful for the opportunity.”
Data from the 2019 ADF Family Survey found that even though ADF partners are more likely to be tertiary qualified than the general public, they were at the time twice as likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
“I have been part of an ADF family for 38 years, and made sacrifices willingly and happily,” said Cath Parsons, National Music Director of the Australian Military Wives Choir, an AGSM 2022 Defence Family Career Comeback participant whose professional background is in music education and theatre.
“But it got to a point about 10 years ago when my husband turned to me and said, ‘It’s your turn now; what do you want to do?’ ad I didn’t have an answer. When I was accepted into the program, I was full of disbelief and trepidation. I felt out of my depth and undeserving, but I could not have had a more positive experience in every aspect.”
Cath, who since the 2022 program has enrolled into an undergraduate degree in professional writing, expressed her gratitude for the other participants and what they achieved together in such a short time.
“Because of our shared connection with Defence style-living, everyone just understood the lifestyle – which can be difficult to describe to others,” she said.
“Making set goals professionally and challenging assumptions I had about myself was also an uncomfortable experience, but I felt supported getting through it.”
Cath said the communications element was a course highlight for her, which helped challenge some of her own assumptions, coming from a communications and dramatic arts background.
Course participant Toni Jones, Senior Manager Business Growth at Credit Corp Group, AGSM 2022 Defence Family Career Comeback participant, described herself as an ‘outlier’ in the Defence family community due to not having children and for opting to live apart from her husband to focus on her career.
Toni said the AGSM course was the first time she felt strongly connected to the Defence community.
“In 2021, I moved with my husband for the very first time from Sydney, when he was posted to RAAF Base Amberley. The sacrifice of leaving my corporate career for two years, at age 53, first appeared to be a professional setback,” said Toni.
“I reached out to Defence Families of Australia (DFA), who recommended I join this AGSM Short Course. It was a very valuable experience in restoring my confidence to return to a high-performing role in a global organisation in the finance industry.”
Toni said she enjoyed listening to the presenters, the material covered during the 3-day program and the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds teaching at AGSM.
“The AGSM Defence Family Career Comeback Course gave me the confidence that a career comeback is possible at any stage of life,” she said.
A post-program survey of the course showed 95% of attendees would recommend the AGSM Career Comeback course to a friend.
This resounding endorsement of the program shows there is a strong demand for professional connection and shared lived experiences in the Defence and veteran family community, according to Sandi Laaksonen-Sherrin, Defence Family Advocate, Defence Families of Australia.
Australian Defence family employment is an important area of focus for DFA’s advocacy work, and DFA is now urging tertiary institutions, governments and private enterprises to replicate the successful pilot of the AGSM Defence Family Career Comeback Course, following the recent release of the course evaluation report.
“There is immense potential in this underutilised but highly qualified cohort of Defence and veteran family members,” said Sandi.
“We hope industry, educational institutions and governments will take our learnings from this Career Comeback Course and improve on it.”
The Defence Family Career Comeback Course 2022 Evaluation Report can be downloaded from the DFA website at https://dfa.org.au/publications
To learn more about AGSM @ UNSW Business School Short Courses, click here.