Increasing the size and strength of a large organization such as the Canadian Forces (CF) is a significant endeavour, requiring both time and resources. To increase the number of personnel, the CF must not only recruit new people, they must also train these people, and take steps to retain the workforce already in place.
Some CF trades, mostly technical in nature, represent a recruiting challenge in a modern, high-tech economy. CF recruiters are currently focusing their efforts on filling these high-demand trades, so that the CF continue to put the right people to work in the right places at the right time. These more focused efforts will ensure that the CF maintain their effectiveness in meeting the diverse security needs of the nation at home and abroad.
Tables A and B demonstrate the growth of the CF over the last six years. Over that period, the Regular Force and the Primary Reserve have each grown by about 6,500 personnel.
Regular Force personnel are employed full-time and have usually enrolled for long-term service.
Primary Reserve personnel train regularly and may work alongside their Regular Force counterparts on a full-time basis. There are three “classes” of service in the Primary Reserve: Class A (employed part time in Canada), Class B (employed full time in Canada) and Class C (deployed on operations, domestically or internationally). The existence of these three classes of service means that not all Primary Reserve personnel will be working on any given day – hence the value of the “paid strength” figures provided in Table C.
Other “subcomponents” of the Reserve Force are the Supplementary Reserve(former personnel who could be called out in an emergency), Canadian Rangers (who constitute a military presence in isolated and sparsely settled areas of Canada) and the Cadet Organizations and Training Services, or COATS (officers with administrative, instructional and supervisory responsibilities to the cadet program).
At the end of the Cold War, in the early 1990s, the CF included approximately 89,000 Regular Force personnel. In 1994, the “Defence White Paper” set a Regular Force target strength of 60,000 to be reached by 1999. This target was achieved by the end of the 1990s through the implementation of the Force Reduction Program (FRP), which saw approximately 14,000 military personnel take early release or retirement.1 The effects of the FRP are still being felt across the CF.
In 2006, the federal government committed funding to support the growth of the CF to 68,000 Regular Force personnel and 26,000 Primary Reserve personnel. This decision was made to help sustain international operations in coming years and to support the CF contribution to security at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. In 2008, the Canada First Defence Strategy provided the additional resources needed to expand the Forces to a sustainable 100,000 (70,000 Regular Force and 30,000 Primary Reserve).
As Table C illustrates, over the last few years, Canadians have responded to the career opportunities being offered by Canada’s military, and the CF have increased in strength.
The CF are now approaching the force expansion goals outlined in the Canada First Defence Strategy. This may be attributed to a combination of successful recruiting and stabilized attrition.
While the CF have generally met or exceeded their recruiting goals, over the last few years, keeping trained, qualified personnel has proven more difficult. The shortage of qualified workers, especially in technical trades, is a challenge that has been faced by other Canadian employers, and the CF have actively competed to retain the interest of skilled people initially drawn to a military career.
The rate of CF attrition (or departures) rose from approximately 7% in March 2006 to 8% in March 2007, and to 9% in March 2008. As of March 2009, it seemed that the rate had stabilized at 9%. As of March 2010, the rate of attrition had fallen for the first time in four years, to 7.5%. It is felt that a reasonable rate of attrition to support force renewal ranges between 6.5 and 10%.
As Table D illustrates, successful recruiting has historically been offset by the departure of CF personnel from the Regular Force.
Most CF personnel who leave the CF do so before the end of the first year of service, or once they have become eligible for a military pension (normally, after 25 years of service).
When CF personnel leave early in their career, their reasons include the requirement to maintain high physical fitness standards, personal and family issues, and dissatisfaction with their chosen military occupation.
In terms of late-career attrition, the CF have been experiencing a surge in the number of personnel who have become entitled to a military pension that is comparable to the increased numbers of “Baby Boomers” retiring from Canadian public and private sector jobs.
Under a far-ranging retention strategy, the CF have been exploring ways of reducing voluntary releases during the early stages of a military career. Ideally, recruits would enter the CF with more realistic early-career expectations, experience a smoother transition into the military lifestyle and successfully address physical fitness training requirements. Recruits who regretted their original choice of occupation would have the option of transferring to a new occupation within the CF. Improved medical support would return injured recruits to training more quickly.
The CF have also been finding ways of retaining personnel at a later stage in their career. Initiatives under consideration include better career management, and greater support of CF families – such as improved deployment, reunion and relocation programs, expanded child care, enhanced mental health care and better alignment of CF and Veterans Affairs Canada services.
The CF have changed the compulsory retirement age from 55 to 60 to allow for longer service and to permit those who join later in life to gain access to full pension benefits.
The CF continue to meet challenges related to the recruiting and retention of military personnel, and the placement of those personnel in certain high-demand trades. Since 2005, the CF have benefited from a renewed commitment from the federal government, and significant increases in funding to fix, grow and transform Canada’s military. Most recently, this has resulted in the approval of the Canada First Defence Strategy, which will allow the CF to grow and strengthen over the next decade with a degree of certainty and coordination that was not previously possible.
Under the CFDS, the CF will expand to a sustainable 100,000 (70,000
Regular Force and 30,000 Primary Reserve) by fiscal year 2027-28.
Canada’s military has an expansion plan in place, and the resources to
grow, to modernize and to enhance its ability to react to any security
challenges the future may bring.
1Report from Chief Review Services: “Audit of Force Reduction Program”