Skip to main content

Mātauranga me te whakangungu

It takes a lot of skills and training to do the things we do. From medical to engineering, navigation to combat, intelligence to flying an aircraft, the range of trades in the Air Force is diverse.

Whatever role our people hold, we need them to be highly trained, because they may have to do their job in adverse conditions, at a moment’s notice. At these times, we need experts. We need our people to excel, to be the best they can be.

Our people handle some of the most advanced technologies in the world. They are provided with the training, education, tools, and equipment necessary to become fully effective in their field.

Recruit and officer training courses are conducted at RNZAF Base Woodbourne, near Blenheim. During this initial training, personnel get to grips with the ethos and values embedded in Air Force culture and become familiar with listening to details, following instructions, and learning how to work as a team. Within those teams, recruits get used to working quickly, with urgency, in order to complete tasks. They learn basic skills like weapon handling, first aid, and drill. This is all part of developing an ability to perform tasks within a unit or squadron in tough situations, under the direction of a leader, and in a team with people they can rely on.

After basic training, personnel move on to develop expertise in a chosen field. They receive specialised education through courses, on-the-job training, and sponsored tertiary study. Sponsored part-time or full-time study is available to personnel through our Voluntary Education Study Assistance (VESA) scheme. This provides financial assistance to undertake part-time study toward a Level 4 or higher qualification on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. Our people can apply for this scheme after completing one year of military service.

The way we train our personnel has benefits outside the Air Force. The qualifications our personnel achieve, plus the life and employment skills gained during their career in the Air Force, are highly sought after in the civilian world. And the skills, character, and resilience that are developed in the Air Force are valuable to the private and public sectors.

How does a civilian transition into an airman? It starts with the basics.

New recruits may have passed the aptitude tests and have the right qualifications, but after walking into RNZAF Base Woodbourne and ‘signing on the line’, the Air Force needs to confirm that our recruits are suitable for a career in military air operations. They need to be sure about the choice they’re making as well.

Initial training is designed to take a person from civilian life to a competent and self-disciplined member of the military while confirming that person’s suitability for life in the Air Force.

For airmen, this starts with recruit training, a 12-week course that happens twice a year. Recruits are divided into two flights during the training. In a controlled environment, recruits learn to develop teamwork and support each other while under stress. They become accustomed to following orders, military discipline, moving with urgency, and they learn self-discipline – including learning how to care for and clean their uniforms. Physically, recruits become fitter and stronger and learn to bond through shared hard work.

For individuals selected to become commissioned officers in the Air Force, there is the RNZAF Officer Commissioning Course (ROC). This 26-week course is designed to prepare students with the knowledge and experience necessary for commissioned service and the beginning of a career in leadership. This course will cover various subjects including customs and protocol, command, leadership, and management, through to defence and strategic studies.

As personnel progress through recruit or officer training, they develop confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect. Drill and parade ground training become an important part of military life because they teach our people to think and work as a team and complete instructions quickly and correctly. In an emergency, this ‘muscle memory’ and ability to react quickly and without hesitation will come in handy when our people need to respond quickly to a superior’s command. It may save their life or the life of a comrade.

Both courses include the core military skills of weapons training, first aid, navigation, and lessons on military law. As part of their journey into service, everyone who joins is welcomed into Te Tūrangawaewae o Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa, at Base Ohakea.

The training concludes with a graduation ceremony and parade in front of family and friends.

With more than 30 different trades for airmen, the Air Force offers one of the highest choices of career options and ongoing training of any New Zealand employer.

Recruit training and the RNZAF Officer’s Commissioning Course gives our people the basic skills, knowledge and culture of being in the Air Force. But to be deployed, they need to have a job to do. They are going to be part of an organisation that requires an enormous variety of specialists to function. The days of unskilled labour and limited skillsets are long gone. When our people up-skill within their trade, they are provided a high standard of education.

New members of our Air Force choose a particular trade prior to starting their career, and that trade will require professional development. Trade training is predominantly done within our Air Force, but it may also involve study outside the military. Air Force trades and careers utilise a wide variety of tertiary education paths spanning university, technology institutions and trade training.

Today, much of the trade training in the military has achieved parity with civilian qualifications, meaning that the training our people complete will earn them the equivalent qualification for civilian life. In some instances, the qualification undertaken as part of trade training is the civilian industry qualification.

All full-time Air Force personnel can further upskill using the Voluntary Education Study Assistance (VESA) programme, which provides financial assistance to undertake part-time study towards a Level 4 or higher qualification on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.

Effective leadership is at the heart of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

At its most basic level, leadership is about behaviour. It's about the building of effective relationships to influence the actions of other people, enabling them to contribute to the success of the Air Force in a professional and ethical manner.

People might think that military leadership is clear-cut. But in fact leadership is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ in the military. There is no single approach or leadership style that fits our Air Force. Unlike a business leader, our leaders work in a military context, where circumstances can change. There are physical risks, moral challenges and psychological pressures. It means our leaders need to constantly assess the situation and environment, so that they can adjust their behaviour appropriately.

From the beginning, everyone in the NZDF accepts that that they have a responsibility to support their own development.

This is known as ‘Lead Self’ in the New Zealand Defence Force Leadership Development system. The system progresses through Lead Teams, Lead Leaders, Lead Systems, Lead Capability, Lead Integrated Capability and Lead Organisation. This system supports the progression and transitioning of our leaders.

Our leadership development is strongly aligned with workplace experiences. Formal education, training and courses all contribute to leadership, and so does coaching, but the development of leaders within the workplace is a strongly-embedded culture within NZDF. Our leaders are stretched and exposed to novel situations. New experiences are a fact of life in the NZDF, due to the required posting cycle and rotation of military personnel.

As a person progresses in their career, they embrace the concept of every person in the Air Force being a leader, and that leadership development is shared across the organisation.

Our leaders never stop learning and are constantly developing skills on the job. It's part of our culture that our leaders develop other leaders because as people progress or change roles, or are promoted, we need to have leaders following in their footsteps.


Being ready to share skills with the next generation, or utilising skills and knowledge to manage the organisation strategically, is a natural part of career progression in the New Zealand Defence Force.

As our people progress in their careers, the experience gained in both their trade and their leadership will naturally lend itself to roles as an instructor and in management.

The New Zealand Defence College (NZDC) provides the framework for the learning strategy and policy across NZDF and ensures that our instructors and learning managers are aligned with the Defence Force education system. Our people hold roles instructing in a wide variety of fields, such as at the Command and Recruit Training Squadron at Woodbourne, the Survival School at Auckland, and at the No. 14 Squadron simulator at Ohakea. 

Our Air Force is constantly upgrading to keep up with technology and international developments. Personnel, as they grow in their career and achieve seniority, can become managers of teams and projects, using their skills, knowledge and insights to help NZDF and the Air Force to deliver defence capability, and to grow as a modern government organisation and employer. Personnel, both in the civilian workforce as well as military, are able to advance their careers in management in the NZDF and Air Force just like any other government department.

Considering a career in the Air Force?

A big part of our work in the Air Force involves assisting communities affected by conflict or natural disasters. The fact that we work to protect and help people is one very good reason why we're so passionate about what we do. It gives our lives real meaning and purpose.

Find out more