Attracting the Right Talents for the Defence Sector and Promoting the Culture of Diversity

By Associate Professor Ir Dr Yang Soo Siang (Instrumentation & Control Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Sabah)


1.  Background

The defence sector is comprised of the administrative bodies (the ministry and its oversight bodies) and the operational actors in the field, directly responsible for ensuring the defence or protection of the state and its citizens. Modern armed forces are synonymous with advanced military technology and strategic advantages that comes with it – warfare is highly complex and each side involved will have undeniable intent to prevail, bringing every advantage into the conflict. Hence, the need for the right talents to man modern war machines is critical. In essence, whether civilians or military strategists, commanders or support personnel, the ability to out-maneuver the enemy is becoming more crucial in order to overcome the unpredictability of modern warfare, particularly with advanced war machines factored into the battlefield environments.


2.  The defence sector: What is ‘attractive’ about it?

According to current thoughts on diversity in the workplace, ensuring a comprehensive and holistic diversity strategy attracts the right people from a broader section of the community. Promoting an equitable and inclusive working environment attracts talents, motivates existing personnel to perform at optimal levels. These are key factors in continuous retaining of the services of a capable workforce. However, the fact remains that it is every citizen’s responsibility to contribute to the nation’s security agenda and the involvement of a broad section of the Malaysian community enhances the robustness of the nation’s defence mechanism. By promoting diverse involvement in the defence sector, a wide spectrum of backgrounds, experiences and beliefs open up new possibilities and fuel innovation to support it.

For example, note that the core of the defence sector workforce is composed of personnel categorized as operational actors, mainly military service men and women of the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF). The regimental culture of the MAF hinges on the culture of nurturing of group cohesion—promoting the sense of brotherhood, belonging and worth to every serving man and woman, beyond the divisive line of creed or culture. In the thick of battle, the military creed matters the most; reflecting the unique demands placed upon its personnel and the culture of team cohesion to achieve its objectives through selfless dedication for the sake of the many they are sworn to protect. Military service demands the ultimate commitment and sacrifice of its personnel, hence it is not simply just a job; its members are bound to the solemn oath of ultimate sacrifice as duty to King and Country.

This may sound dramatic, but the fact remains that the factors discussed are the main attractions for many joining the service every year. The MAF personnel management system is efficient at retaining the right talents while unsuitable or non-performing personnel are filtered out of the service in the early stages of their career. It makes perfect sense to extend the principles of existing military work culture to the whole of the defence sector. Aside from improved work benefit and remuneration schemes, enhancing and accentuating this aspect of the military culture to attract more talents of diverse background to join the defence sector looks to be a promising strategy. Moreover, it is realistic and achievable within a short time frame.


3.  The significance of diversity in the workplace: Beyond demographic parity

A workforce of diverse demography encourages diversity of approaches for solutions or in short, encourages diversity of thinking through varied worldviews. A wide range of experiences, perspectives and insights are available. This aspect alone is of great significance to the defence sector. Threats to national security have evolved significantly due to the globalized nature of the new century. Aside from traditional threats, non-traditional threats propagated by non-state actors have gained prominence, increasing the complexity of safeguarding our national interest. In this sense, Malaysia’s defence sector can greatly benefit from the increasing availability of a diverse pool of talents teaming up to formulate innovative solutions to address issues of national importance.

Malaysia is fortunate to have readily available a diverse population as its source of manpower talent base. Through active promotion of the culture of diversity, the defence sector will directly be portraying the will of the Government to unite its varied community and also reflect on the nation’s desire to involve all segments of the population on matters of national defence. The defence sector needs to look beyond demographic parity or fairness in terms of gender and race. Rhetoric aside, this is an issue of direct interest to the nation’s defence strategy. Moreover, work environments that are free from discrimination enables its workforce to reach their full potential. In return, the reputation of the defence sector in terms of employer branding would be enhanced to attract more diverse and suitable talents into its fold, thus sustaining the sector’s manpower needs.


4.  Concluding remarks

In an increasingly competitive and globalized world, attracting and retaining a capable workforce can manifest as significant challenges to Malaysia’s defence sector. This short commentary have not done justice to the subject matter discussed but it should suffice to highlight them as crucial issues to be addressed comprehensively in the Defence White Paper. Strategies for attracting the right talents and promoting the culture of diversity can be viewed as intangible and complementary, and adaptation of the military regimental culture to approaches used by current talent and to diversity management practices in the corporate sector is highly recommendable. The changes may take time to deliver fully but will rightfully indicate the Government’s eminent determination towards building a better and secure future that is inclusive for all Malaysians.

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