Knowing your people: a targeted approach to engagement in the Part Time Army

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The Part Time Army is growing – now with a combined force of over 15,000 – and on a steady upward trend over the last 5 years.

How can we capitalise upon this growth in the Part Time Army, and ensure high levels of engagement – including regular parade attendance, reaching high levels of training, and being future ready?

Could better understanding the motivations, challenges and commitments of your soldiers help identify ways to keep them not only retained, but engaged?

Understanding the Problem

In February this year, the new command team of 4th/3rd Battalion, the Royal New South Wales Regiment convened a ‘CO’s Conference’ – to share goals and plan for the year. Chaired by the Commanding Officer (CO), the conference was a chance to bring together all 30 officers and senior non-commissioned officers from across the battalion to discuss their vision for 2021.

One activity led by the CO and Regimental Sergeant Major was a ‘soldier profiling activity’, where each attendee answered the following questions:

  • Why do people join the Part Time Army?
  • Why do people attend Tuesday night parades?
  • Why do people stay?
  • Why do people leave?

Each person’s response was written on a series of post-it notes, to then be stuck to a wall marked for each question. At the end of the activity, each question had almost 100 responses.

Each post-it note was then collected, coded by theme and the main responses recorded. They are shown below, in order of prominence:

Why do people join the Part Time Army?

  1. Opportunity to serve your country and wear the uniform.
  2. Learn new skills, experience a challenge.
  3. Financial benefits / job security.
  4. Work with like-minded people.
  5. Deployments.
  6. Previous family service.
  7. Exciting and enjoyable work.

Why do people attend Tuesday night parades?

  1. Pride and loyalty to the uniform, a sense of shared identity.
  2. The training is enjoyable.
  3. Mateship.
  4. Secondary income.
  5. Getting a break from civilian life.
  6. Learning new skills.

Why do people stay?

  1. Mateship.
  2. Career growth / professional development.
  3. Purpose: being a part of something bigger than yourself.
  4. Tax-free money serving as a supplementary income.
  5. Enjoyment / sense of adventure.
  6. Culture and sense of commitment: ‘you stay forever’.
  7. The opportunity to serve on operations.

Why do people leave?

  1. Unable to maintain family / work life balance.
  2. Loss of motivation / interest – ‘too much admin’.
  3. Poor leadership – disappointed with the chain of command.
  4. No deployments / opportunities.
  5. Health, age or injury.
  6. Feeling that they’ve served their time and are ready to move on.

The Analysis

Using the above results, commonalities in the responses to the stimulus questions emerged. For example, it was easy to imagine how a young university student might be the sort of person who would be drawn to the Part Time Army for its sense of adventure. Within a few years though, they could also be the same person who left the Army due to competing work commitments, once they had graduated university and joined the full-time civilian workforce.

Using a similar approach, 5 profiles were developed to understand connections between the above responses.

Profile 1 – ‘The Uni Student’
This group includes those who likely joined the Part Time Army straight out of high school; seeing it as something that is fun and challenging. Unit training activities serve as their main source of income. 

People in this group will likely attend courses and block training during holiday periods and will generally parade regularly. They may also transfer to SERCAT 2 once they start full time work.

Profile 2 – ‘The Full Time Reservist’
People in this group likely joined Army in their early 20’s as they were drawn to the idea of service to their country and the opportunity to deploy. They’ve likely deployed overseas, and regularly instruct on Training Support Requests (TSRs) and unit training weekends.

They love field and their job as a soldier. They consistently complete 150 Army Reserve Training Days per year. They’re unlikely to leave Defence, but their availability will drop once they start a family or find more regular civilian work. 

Profile 3 – ‘The Selective Soldier’
People in this category see Tuesday night parades as a secondary income source, and are highly selective about what events they turn up to. They are ‘on the fence’ when considering continuing their service and have sporadic parade attendance. They are interested in operations, and less interested in TSRs and Battalion training activities. 

They are more likely to leave Defence after being dissatisfied once they believe there are no longer opportunities or deployments. However, despite their low attendance, can be highly useful in times of domestic operations. 

Profile 4 – ‘The Dual Professional’
People in this category may have joined the Part Time Army as a way of doing something different and challenging. They enjoy the flexible lifestyle of the Part Time Army, and will parade in person on Tuesday nights and catch up on administration remotely throughout the week. 

They can make any course or training activity if given enough notice. However, a lack of availability prevents them from deploying on extended operations. As they progress through their career, their civilian work will become more demanding and they will struggle to maintain work-life balance.   

Profile 5 – ‘The Long Hauler’
People in this category feel a strong sense of loyalty to Army, the uniform, and their unit. They feel the Army gives them purpose and the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

People in this category maintain an above average level of service (e.g. 70 days a year) and will support unit training activities and consistently attend Tuesday nights. They will only leave the unit if posted out, or discharged due to age, injury or poor health.


Within the total workforce system, the conditions of service, overlayed with personal, employment, family and financial motivations leads to a diverse range of motivations for service.  These profiles were shared with leadership teams across the unit – and are used to aid in the planning, management and engagement of personnel at all levels.  Training staff are asked to consider how their planning and communications for an activity are tailored to engage people from all ‘profiles’. Operations staff use the soldier profiles to identify who is likely to be available to deploy at short notice.

Platoon command teams use the profiles to identify the motivations, commitment levels and needs of their people. One group of soldiers in the platoon may have no interest in attending a field weekend regardless of how they are approached. Alternatively, a larger section would likely attend if they had greater notice of the activity, and a clear idea of what they would be doing and when so that they can prioritise it over their other civilian work commitments.

Others may have university exams, and will therefore need early liaison between the unit and course convenors to ensure the member can be released.

With the consistent growth of the Part Time Army, leaders at all levels must be looking to see how our soldiers can be both retained and engaged. We offer these profiles as one tool to help in the pursuit of that goal.

About the Author: Lieutenant Brody Hannan is the Adjutant of the 4th/3rd Battalion, the Royal New South Wales Regiment. Views expressed are his own.

Cover Image Credit: SGT Glen McCarthy, Defence Image Gallery