Applications to join the ADF were up by close to 4300 from December through March, an increase of 18 per cent on the same period in 2018-19. The figures continued ratcheting up to April, by which time Defence was processing a total of 39,000 prospective recruits, the highest number in at least four years, Captain Noonan said.
Victoria and NSW recorded respective 24 per cent and 14 per cent increases in applications for the December-March period, while the biggest spikes were in the Northern Territory (48 per cent) and Western Australia (38 per cent).
Captain Noonan said the interest from former airline employees had comprised the gamut of professions, including pilots, engineers and hospitality staff.
“But not everyone has wanted to do the same job they’re currently doing and that is one of the benefits [of the ADF],” she said. “There are more than 300 different jobs in the Defence Force, so we can help people from all walks of life in choosing a career path.”
She believed the 2020 interest was also driven by the ADF’s community-facing presence during the summer bushfires and the sharpening of its marketing strategy.
The rate in which prospective recruits could be absorbed into Defence depended on the their existing skills and the roles they wished to fill, she said, with priority areas including communications, officer training and trades-based jobs, including engineering.
Jim Bright, professorial fellow in career education and development at the Australian Catholic University, said there had been a “hidden” underemployment problem for young people even before the pandemic began.
Organisations like Defence would be even more appealing now because it was one of the few major employers with capacity to continue taking people, he said.
Dr Bright said the interest in Defence jobs was one example of the COVID-19 workforce upheaval and predicted there would be “all sorts of bizarre flow-on” effects long into the future which were still too difficult to predict.
The “chaos theory” of employment proposed by Dr Bright and colleagues holds that unpredictability was, in fact, the natural order of a working life.
He said their research showed about 70 per cent of people could report careers dramatically changed by unexpected events such as natural disasters, terrorism, economics and geopolitics; to more personal experiences like workplaces injuries or simply being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time.
“There are so many factors … which means you can’t actually predict where you will be in five years’ time,” Dr Bright said.
“Sadly, these negative events like COVID are proof of our theory. We don’t take joy in that. But there are positives – people get lucky breaks, too.”
But rather than “moving to Nimbin and letting it all wash over us”, Dr Bright said it was about accepting unpredictability and being creative about transferring skills.
He used the example of a Rubik’s cube in which one colour represented a range of trades skills, while another colour represented office or administrations skills. In this Rubik’s cube world, there existed 54 skills, which every person had at varying levels of competence, he said.
Mixing and matching all the colours (skills) could yield 43 quintillion combinations – a 43 with 18 zeros.
“In other words, you can put skills together in ways you never thought of before,” he said. “We get so stuck in our [career] identity we can’t see under our noses.
“If we walk around that cube a little and look at combining skills in a different ways, we might actually have a whole bunch of options that are open to us.”
Zach is a reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com