An Interview with Ken Espiritu

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On the sidelines of #DEFAUS19, we caught up with Sergeant Ken Espiritu who pitched “Machine Learning and promotion boards”.

Samuel Cox (SC): Can you give readers the bottom line up front (BLUF) of your pitch?

Ken Espiritu (KE): As it stands, the promotions process in the tri-service environment places a huge cognitive burden on our people which results in inconsistencies and inefficiencies. The intent with machine learning is to smooth out that process by involving machines as a decision-support tool; not to remove humans, but to complement them so that we can make better decisions.

SC: Where did this idea come from?

KE: I work as a Personnel Capability Specialist, a clerk, in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and I am studying cyber security and robotic processing automation. Based my observations in those spaces, I’m curious about how we can utilise ‘outside’ technology to improve ‘inside’ processes.

SC: How developed is your idea?

KE: The Australian Research Council is already trialling machine learning in its internal processes, but has encountered hurdles that are indicative of the kind of challenges the Australian Defence Force would have to manage as well. Therefore, further development is required and some trial and error.

SC: What do you think is the most important issue facing the Australian Defence Force right now?

KE: We have a skills shortage in Information Technology (IT), but otherwise I think we’re doing OK. Events like DEFAUS19 certainly help by continuing to foster and encourage innovation.

SC: What are the key qualities that serving in the RAAF has imbued in you?

KE: Service has imbued me with four things:

  1. self- awareness;
  2. critical thinking;
  3. empathy; and
  4. emotional intelligence.

SC: What can Army learn from the RAAF? 

KE: I can’t speak to what Army is or isn’t doing well, but I can speak to what the Air Force is doing well. Our strength is that we put our people forward and put our people first. We are open to conversation and to engaging with people of all ranks and seniority.

Sergeant Ken Espiritu

SC: As a Sergeant, you’ve been in the Air Force for a long time now. What ideas are you seeing nowadays that are entirely new?

KE: I am still relatively new to the organisation, and I am learning every day. The pitches presented at DEFAUS19 were completely new ideas to me. There are a lot of great ideas being generated by the junior members of our organisation.

SC: In what role or from what person did you learn the most about leadership?

KE: It’s been an incremental distilling process. Over my career I’ve taken lessons away from many situations where I’ve deconstructed ‘how I do business’ to identify what did and didn’t work in order to be better. I can’t point a specific person, but in each posting there’s been someone whose positive or negative influence has been a growth opportunity.

SC: What’s next for you?

KE: I want to delve into more into technical capability. I’ve enjoyed working with people and gaining both leadership and followership skills, but I want to deep dive one specific technical skill now.

SC: What does followership mean to you?

KE: Leadership is obvious, but followership is about supporting those in a position of authority to enable the team to achieve an end state.

SC: What do you hope for the future of the Air Force?

KE: I hope that it continues to put people first, because when you understand what your people want, and what their desired end states are, then you can support them in their goals and the team can achieve anything.

It helps to know what is happening when you challenge the accepted. 10in10 is an interview series designed to share insight into future-leaning work across the Australian profession of arms. One interview will be released every day for 10 days. You can find previous interviews here.

#DEFAUS19 was held in Canberra from 30 Sep – 01 Oct 19.

FAQs and pitch guidance for #DEFAUS20 can be found here.

Join the @DEF_Aus conversation on Twitter by following #DEFAus20. 

About the Author: Samuel J. Cox is the editor of Grounded Curiosity. You can follow him on Twitter via the handle @samuel_j_cox