Attracting the Right Talent to the Defence Sector and Promoting the Culture of Diversity
Datuk Dr. Anis Yusal Yusoff (Deputy Director General, National Centre for Governance, Integrity & Anticorruption (GIACC), Prime Minister’s Department)
There is a general, albeit incorrect perception that the defence sector does not attract the right talent and does not promote cultural and gender diversity. It is often seen as a sector that attracts those on the fringes who have missed the top echelon of selection. Key to this misconception is that the defence sector in Malaysia is seen to be dominated by only one ethnic group and predominantly by one gender.
The purpose of this paper is to present a case for MINDEF to use the charter of the Royal Military College and its model as a means to enhancing diversity in the Defence Sector.
Culture of diversity – What it really means
The forte of the defence sector’s war fighting strength as well as its professionalism is its ability to problem-solve, innovate and adapt quickly. This is achieved by drawing on the different strengths, attributes and characteristics of individuals who make up teams. Teamwork requires that we relate to one another, respect one another, recognise the value of each person’s contribution, and are inclusive in that we work collaboratively to achieve the best and most optimal results.
I would argue that ‘Diversity’ is broader than the labels of gender, age, language, ethnicity, cultural background, disability and religious beliefs; it encompasses a way of thinking and an approach to delivering the best results for entities we serve. Though challenging at times to manage, diversity produces the variety of perspectives needed to tackle complex problems. It is therefore imperative that the Defence sector, a sector that safeguards the sovereignty of a nation and its people, recognises this and develops and creates an inclusive environment which values, respects and draws on the diverse backgrounds, experiences, knowledge and skills of our people.
I would also argue that a robust and agile defence organisation depends on every person having the opportunity to contribute fully. This said, promoting a culture of diversity is not an easy task and it cannot be done overnight. The process takes time as it has to start with the identity (jati diri) of a society that respects different cultures. Education in school too is imperative in building this space as we must not just focus on the 3Rs of Read, wRite and aRrithmatic, but rather the other Rs, such as Respect for culture and religion of others, whilst honouring Islam. Learn how to Relate to other cultures and form values for us to be Responsible for each action that we take.
The defence sector will continue to lose talents as long as people feel threatened by other cultures, or have no respect for other creeds and religions. The sector will lose good people if an environment that labels others as “kafir” (infidels), or a paranoid that “they are trying to take our jobs, power, privileges, rights away from us”, prevails. For the right talent to prevail, we must first ask, what is the right environment to attract best talents? What are we doing about this? How do we treat our ex-‐servicemen? How do we treat people who are different from us? What are our promotion, reward and remuneration models?
Serving those who have served us
Another key area the Government needs to focus is in how it elevates the status of ex-‐servicemen and recognise their contributions. The USA, Australia, New Zealand models offer some good guides on how ex-servicemen are recognised, appreciated and respected. These people are often forgotten and they become the side-‐lines of our societies. In some countries they have become homeless and humiliated. How do we expect an ex-‐ serviceman to be proud of his/her service if they are treated badly themselves? Some have ended up in dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs.
Why would they encourage their kids, relatives, friends to join the service if in the end the service is seen as naught?
The government needs to also review the 20-‐year service system. Most of ex-‐servicemen retire too early i.e. when they are in their 40s. This creates a socio-‐political and economic issue. Why can’t the sector devise a model where the servicemen continue to serve albeit in other capacities after 20 years of service? At a time when we have a Prime Minister and MPs who are serving this country pass the retirement age of 60, our sectors and industries too must create means and ways to continue to encourage those past retirement age to continue to work.
Imagine the hardship of a non-‐Malay ex-‐serviceman. How many of them have kampungs to go back to, in order to keep their post-‐retirement cost of living low? In fact, not many Malay ex-‐servicemen today have kampungs to go back to? So the more important question is not just about attracting the right talent, but retaining the ones who have already joined.
The defence sector should know how to treat people who have given their best, and pledged his/her allegiance to King and country. They should not be treated in anything other than with respect and honour. These people have literally placed their lives on the line for the rest of us. Perhaps a good place to start when wondering over how we can entice talent into the defence sector would be to get some direct answers from the people who have left the service out of dissatisfaction.
The Royal Military College Charter – A case study
Royal Military College (RMC) was established with the objective of preparing young Malaysians to become Officers in the Malaysian Armed Forces, to hold office in the higher divisions of public service, and/or become amongst the country’s professional, commercial and industrial leaders.
The RMC charter is very clear and precise. For Malaysia to become a great nation, young Malaysians need to be prepared to take on leadership roles. Young Malaysians – not young Ibans, or young Chinese or young Malays.
The Royal Military College (RMC) presents to us a model for promoting national unity and a culture of diversity. This model that has been in existence since 1952 can be emulated across many precepts and tracks of our society. The uniqueness of the RMC model when studied and applied can attract the right talent and promote the culture of diversity in the Defence Sector.
The Original RMC Model
- RMC is a multi-‐racial full boarding school with students representing the population of Malaysia hailing from all corners of the country and from all levels of society. From young princes to young settlers, all of them are called Putera -‐ donned in the same uniform, receiving the same allowances, eating the same food and staying in the same dorms.
- Selection into RMC is based on merit, and not just academic excellence but physical health, interest in sports and having the right aptitude to be a responsible rakyat.
- Emphasis is given to discipline, balanced between achievement in academic, sports and military training, which forms the character and personality of its students.
- Consistent with its motto, “Serve to Lead” the culture imbues mutual respect, service above self and leadership values. All leadership training starts with giving service. From an early age, Puteras are entrusted to manage themselves (to keep their surrounding clean, make their own bed, do their own laundry and keep their lockers tidy) on their own, without any supervision except from the more senior Puteras. Trust is earned when they are still young.
- The teachers and military trainers also represent the diverse population of Malaysia. Including both male and female, they are not limited to any particular race nor over representative on any particular religion.
- The teachers and military trainers selected to teach at RMC are competent and well trained to teach Puteras to be “colour blind” and not show bias to skin colour.
The above six (6) aspects of RMC culture formed the foundations for a strong legacy that has shaped the identity and built the premium brand of characters prevalent amongst the RMC puteras. We can still see these traits cutting across RMC alumni today.
This RMC model, which has been tried and tested for almost seven decades can be a strong reference point for our armed forces to attract the best talent and promote cultural diversity. This successful tried and tested model can be emulated and replicated at all training and recruitment centres under the Ministry of Defence.
It is my personal opinion that this recipe should be re-‐introduced in RMC immediately as a start, so that RMC will continue to produce “colour blind” future leaders.
Diversity reflects the variety of personal experiences that arises from differences of culture and circumstance. Institutions and countries maximise their capabilities and capacities by drawing on the diversity of their own people. Inclusion means fostering a work environment where individual differences – whatever they may be – are appreciated and valued. Diversity and inclusion in Defence is a critical capability issue. The Defence organisation of the 21st Century must emphasise these traits and garner the broadest talents if we are to remain fully ready to defend Malaysia.
In a competitive world faced with multipolar challenges, Defence can no longer rely on a workforce drawn from a narrow pool of talent.
The RMC model is one of many ways to attract and retain the right talents as well as inculcate a culture of diversity. It is a proven model—a model where merit takes precedence over race and religion. This is a model where a person is recognised because of his/her talent and leadership, not because of his/her skin colour or who they know. This is a model that imbues strong integrity and character from a very young age.
The Defence sector requires men and women of integrity, people who live the meaning of honour, selfless service, loyalty, duty, respect and personal courage. Even in sports, RMC taught their Puteras the sportsman prayer:
“Oh God, please help me to win for I always want to win. But if in thy inscrutable wisdom Thou wills me not to win, then make me a good loser. For when the one great scorer comes to write against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”
This prayer teaches humility in success and failure. The RMC motto of “Serve to Lead” simply teaches us that leadership is not about status and ranks and glory. It is about serving and giving; and this can only be imbued by a culture that does not discriminate – a culture that teaches us that the best is the one who gives his/her best to serve the country. The RMC Model taught me this.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not represent GIACC.