The number of Australians looking to join the military has surged since the COVID-19 outbreak began.
Recruitment applications to the Australian Defence Force are up by 42 per cent compared to last year.
Women and people from the aviation and tourism industries comprise a larger proportion of applicants than usual.
The rate of female applicants has skyrocketed by 78 per cent when compared with the same period in 2019.
Women have been disproportionately affected by the so-called “pink recession”, which has seen predominately female industries and casual employment roles heavily impacted.
Applications for the Navy are up by 54 per cent compared to the same period last year, applications to join the Air Force have increased by 43 per cent, and applications for Army jobs are up 41 per cent.
“The global financial crisis is when we saw a similar surge,” Defence recruiting director Jan Noonan said.
But Defence figures show the spike has been much more sudden in the wake of the pandemic than it was during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
“After the GFC it was about four months before that spike in applications came through,” Captain Noonan said.
“But really we saw this as soon as coronavirus hit.
“There’s been a lot of impact on Australians throughout the last five or six months — it’s been really tough.
“We can provide security of jobs for a range of people, whether they’re high school graduates or people with professional degrees and qualifications.”
Pilots, chefs and logisticians
The most requested roles related to industries that have been particularly hard hit, Capt. Noonan said.
“The airline community are definitely part of that, in tourism we’ve seen chefs wanting to join, and a lot of people in administration and logistics roles also keen to join Defence at this turbulent time,” she said.
“We’ve seen an increase in applications from every state except Tasmania, and that’s really ramped up from March onwards, when coronavirus hit.”
The greatest increase in applications were in the Northern Territory (43 per cent), Western Australia (38 per cent) and Victoria (24 per cent).
Some 7,300 extra applications have been received in Queensland, with about 600 Queenslanders joining the ADF recently.
The ADF had already seen an 18 per cent increase in potential recruits from December until the start of the pandemic, which Defence attributed to the more visible role the military had in the community during the summer bushfires.
The Defence Force is one of few Australian employers expanding its workforce during the pandemic, with the federal government announcing this week that an extra 650 jobs would be added to the Navy over the next 10 years.
Military enlistment often rises during economic downturns, while recruitment has been more difficult during times of economic growth, such as the mining boom.
On average, 80,000 people apply to work in the ADF annually, about 8,000 of whom are accepted each year.
‘Game changer for recruiting’
Townsville’s senior military recruiter, Major Steven McNaughton, says Queensland has always been a strong source of people wanting to sign up to the ADF.
High-profile domestic ADF operations during the 2019 Townsville floods, as well as the more recent bushfires have boosted recruitment in the north of the state for both full-time and reservist roles.
“We’ve seen a decent increase since December,” Maj. McNaughton said.
“COVID has been the catalyst for many.
“A lot of people have lost jobs, obviously with the industries that have suffered through COVID, and people are looking for stable employment and Defence definitely offers that.
“A lot of candidates that we see through the doors have always had an interest in Defence — now they’ve taken that step.”
Defence has been forced to adapt its recruiting process, replacing face-to-face recruiting with virtual information sessions and counselling sessions.
That means people from remote and regional areas no longer need to travel to a metropolitan recruiting centre to apply.
“That’s been a game changer for Defence Force recruiting,” Maj. Noonan said.
James Cook University labour market researcher Riccardo Welters says people flock to higher education or public sector employment during recessions.
“When you think stable employment, you think public sector, and when you think public sector, you think Defence,” he said.
“The federal government has already said it’s not going to let Defence go down, so it gives you many hours — and it’s good pay as well.”
Dr Welters said Defence could also expect more school-leavers and graduates to walk into the recruiting office, with youth unemployment typically higher than the overall unemployment rate.