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Collaboration key to mitigating cyber workforce pressures

Australia’s cyber security sector faces significant challenges around its workforce shortages. With no silver bullet, both government and industry are compelled to think differently; the sector as a whole must find new ways to service a growing market with a limited pool of trained staff.

Collaboration key to mitigating cyber workforce pressures
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So how can we do more with less?

A simple answer to this is to work more efficiently. Efficiency at the sector level demands more connectivity and collaboration. It requires that we spend less time and energy navigating bureaucracy and more time developing and delivering capability to clients.

It requires that we see our workforce holistically – as a precious resource to be developed, supported and retained within the cyber security sector.

This article addresses some collaborative efforts underway between Defence and industry, focusing on the role that ADF members, Reservists and veterans can play in building the cyber security workforce and improving cross-sector collaboration.

Defence Industry Secondment Program - helping to bridge the gap

Defence has highlighted the value of industry connections through the Defence Industry Secondment Program. Launched earlier this year, the program aims to strengthen the relationship between Defence and Australian businesses, and likewise to break down some of the legacy barriers – and mistrust – associated with more traditional customer-supplier relationships. The program is also expected to help Defence, as a customer, to better appreciate pressures faced by Australian businesses who are working to deliver ADF capability.

The Defence Industry Secondment Program offers further potential to upskill and motivate elements of the cyber security workforce. ADF personnel stand to benefit here through exposure to emergent cyber technologies with potential applications in their uniformed Defence roles. In addition to offering new experiences, industry placements offer ADF personnel a unique opportunity to shape and expand how industry builds new technologies to support war fighters, which delivers better long-term outcomes for both industry and Defence.

Offering cyber industry secondments to ADF personnel also serves as a form of work experience for those in uniform – including those who are planning their transition from full-time service. Promoting awareness of the breadth of roles available in the sector will be critical to retaining our ADF talent in cyber roles – particularly those supporting Defence and government clients.

Enduring links through ADF veterans and reservists

Each year, around 6,000 Australians leave the ADF. Veterans today comprise around 5 per cent of the total Australian workforce – a scarce resource in a candidate’s job market. With this in mind, the cyber sector must be prepared to compete with other, highly motivated sectors and employers to attract and retain ADF veteran staff.

ADF veterans are well regarded for their leadership skills, strong work ethic, critical thinking, versatility and resilience; they are an attractive resource for the private sector. They also understand Defence – a major client for the cyber security sector.

Leaving full-time ADF service to take up civilian employment can bring a great deal of professional, cultural and emotional upheaval. In recognition of those challenges, a number of initiatives have been developed to assist ADF veterans make the transition. Awareness of – and participation in – these programs offers Australian cyber businesses the opportunity to build and improve their own veteran support and recruitment programs.

Some initiatives offering career transition support and recognition to ADF veterans are:

Mutual benefits to ADF Reserve leave

ADF Reserve leave is also a meaningful way for civilian employers to support the contributions of their veteran staff to the defence and security of Australia. Of note, civilian employers are required by law to release employee Reservists to undertake all types of Defence service, and to continue to employ them on their return.

While not mandated, offering paid leave for Reserve service also provides incentives for veterans to maintain connections with uniformed employment.

Growing demands on Defence to augment the national COVID-19 taskforce have provided further opportunities for Reserve employers to support the ADF. Other recent calls for ADF Reserve support include Operation Bushfire Assist in 2019-20, which was the impetus for Penten’s Jordan Johnson to join the ADF Reserves – despite having no ADF background.

Jordan Johnson

Johnson, a Software Engineering Team Lead, believes his Reserve service is both meaningful and rewarding.

“I've always felt a desire to serve my country. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had, and I’m always looking for outlets to give back. I think that's why I was drawn to the Defence Industry as part of my engineering career. But it was really Bushfire Assist that got me to Defence Force Recruiting,” said Johnson.

“When joining the Army Reserves I considered how it would affect my family and work. The commitment to spending time away from home is part of the role. I am grateful to my wife and employer for supporting me in this,” Johnson said.

Stephanie Abra

Stephanie Abra, Penten’s Logistics Support Manager, is also an active ADF Reservist. Abra joined the Reserves when she left the Army, because she wanted to maintain her ADF skills and proficiencies. She felt as though the Army was like family, and was reluctant to leave that behind when transitioning to civilian life.

“Many people transitioning don’t appreciate how valuable they are in the private sector. They also don’t always realise they needn’t cut ties with Defence if they find a great employer who supports them,” said Abra.


Australia’s cyber security workforce stands to benefit from greater working-level engagement between Defence and industry, together with more accessible pathways for ADF veterans into cyber roles.

The Defence Industry Secondment Program, various Veteran employment initiatives and the ADF Reserve scheme are just some opportunities for government and industry to work more closely. These relationships will be key to improving cross-sector collaboration and will improve our chances of retaining more ADF veterans in the cyber security sector.

Penten has a 30% veteran workforce and offers unlimited ADF Reserve leave.

Author: Jane Landon, Applied AI Operations, Penten

Penten is an Australian, cyber company focused on innovation in secure mobility, applied artificial intelligence (AI) and tactical communications security.

In 2019 and 2020 Penten was awarded Cyber Business of the Year at the Australian Defence Industry Awards.

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