Advocating for Defence families

Report highlights opportunities for Defence family career comeback programs

The official advisory body for families of current serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members is calling for an educational program for Defence families to return to the workforce to be expanded nationally.

Defence Families of Australia (DFA) is advocating for tertiary institutions, governments and private enterprises to replicate the successful pilot Defence Family Career Comeback Course, following the recent release of the course evaluation report.

“There is immense potential in this underutilised but highly qualified cohort of Defence and veteran family members,” said Defence Family Advocate of Australia, Sandi Laaksonen-Sherrin.

“We hope industry, educational institutions and governments will take our learnings from the pilot Career Comeback Course and improve on it.”

Mrs Laaksonen-Sherrin said families are essential in supporting Defence capability, and often do so at the expense of their own professional aspirations. 

The Defence Family Career Comeback Course was developed to address challenges and remove barriers faced by Defence and veteran family members returning to work after various periods of time away from the workforce or their preferred career path.

The course, delivered by Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of NSW (UNSW) and sponsored by the Department of Defence, was held in Sydney from 15-17 November 2022 for the families of current and former serving ADF members residing in ACT and NSW.

A post-program survey of the course participants showed 95% of attendees would recommend this course to a friend. 

“This resounding endorsement of the program shows us there is a strong demand for professional connection and shared lived experiences in the Defence and veteran family community,” said Mrs Laaksonen-Sherrin.

“Participants reported feeling empowered to start their career comeback journey after a period out of the workforce supporting their serving member’s military career.”

Defence family employment is an important area of focus for DFA’s advocacy work. Families of ADF members face career interruptions and often do not have career continuity or progression due to frequent moves and postings.

“Data from the 2019 ADF Family Survey suggests that even though Defence partners are more likely to be tertiary qualified than the general public, they were at the same time more likely to be unemployed,” said Mrs Laaksonen-Sherrin.

“There’s also likely to be a high degree of underemployment or underutilisation of expertise.

“In a cohort of at least 40,000 Defence spouses, that’s a lot of underutilised talent and a lot of potential in a modern workforce facing skills and labour shortages.”

The Defence Family Career Comeback Course Evaluation Report can be downloaded from the DFA website at

About Defence Families of Australia

Established in 1986, Defence Families of Australia (DFA) is the official group representing the interests of families of current serving ADF members. As the official families advisory body to the Minister for Defence Personnel and Chief of the Defence Force, we advocate for ongoing improvement in policy and practice. Our team are located all across Australia, and are family of current serving Defence members. Our advocacy drives change to decrease the negative aspects, and to support the positive aspects of Defence life.

About the AGSM Career Comeback Course

The Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney is committed to building capacity for women to reach their leadership potential. Their successful Career Comeback program aims to address the gaps in career opportunities to close the gender gap in Australian leadership. Launched in 2017, the Career Comeback Program is designed to assist women and men to re-enter the professional workforce after a period of absence, primarily but not exclusively due to family responsibilities including childcare, relocation of partner/spouse, or illness/caring for a sick family member.

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