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Archived - Recruiting and Retention in the Canadian Forces

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BG–09.004 - May 5, 2009

Recruiting and retention are top priorities for the Canadian Forces (CF). As Table A illustrates, over the last few years, Canadians have responded to the career opportunities being offered by Canada’s military, and the CF has been gradually building in strength.

Table A
Recruiting to the Regular Force
2003-2009

Fiscal Year
(April 1 - March 31)

Recruiting
Goals

Recruiting
Results

2008-09

7,995

7,701

2007-08

6,865

6,716

2006-07

6,426

6,517

2005-06

5,527

5,644

2004-05

4,622

4,333

2003-04

4,440

4,339

Increasing the size of a large organization such as the CF is a significant endeavour, requiring both time and resources. To increase the number of personnel, the CF must not only recruit new people, it must also retain the workforce already in place.

Tables B and C demonstrate the gradual growth of the CF over the last five years. Over that period, the Regular Force has grown by about 4,500 personnel and the Primary Reserve has added almost 6,000 new members.

Table B
The Strength of the Regular Force
2004-2009

As of

31 Mar 09

65,890

31 Dec 08

65,251

30 Sep 08

64,754

30 June 08

64,362

31 Mar 08

64,397

31 Mar 07

63,716

31 Mar 06

62,703

31 Mar 05

61,460

31 Mar 04

61,394

Regular Force personnel are employed full-time and have usually enrolled for long-term service.

Table C
The Strength of the Reserve Force
2004-2009

As of

Reserve Force

Primary Reserve

Cadet
Instructor
Cadre
(CIC)

Canadian Rangers

Supplementary
Reserve

Total

Paid Strength
(approx.)

31 Mar 09

34,913

25,674

7,728

4,323

23,401

31 Dec 08

34,678

24,540

7,836

4,276

24,433

30 Sep 08

34,933

25,656

7,858

4,238

24,932

30 June 08

35,030

21,860

7,942

4,216

24,556

31 Mar 08

34,616

25,640

7,742

4,244

28,714

31 Mar 07

34,216

25,231

7,479

4,266

27,734

31 Mar 06

32,947

23,902

8,014

4,448

35,312

31 Mar 05

29,786

23,685

7,050

4,179

40,000

31 Mar 04

28,964

23,555

6,764

4,096

35,000

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). 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 Instructors Cadre, or CIC (officers with administrative, instructional and supervisory responsibilities to the cadet program).

History

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 100,000 (70,000 Regular Force and 30,000 Primary Reserve). Now, the CF is engaged in a vast and dynamic recruiting campaign with an aim to grow the Forces.

Departures (or “Attrition”)

While the CF has generally met or exceeded its recruiting goals, keeping trained, qualified personnel has proven more difficult. The shortage of qualified workers, especially in technical trades, is a challenge faced by other Canadian employers, and the CF is actively competing to retain the interest of skilled people initially drawn to a military career.

The rate of CF attrition fluctuated from approximately 7% in March 2006 to 8% in March 2007, and to 9% in March 2008. As of March 2009, the rate had stabilized at 9%. As Table D illustrates, successful recruiting has been offset by the departure of CF personnel from the Regular Force.

Table D
Departures from the Regular Force
2003-2009

Fiscal Year
(April 1 - March 31)

Recruiting
Results

Departures
(Attrition)

Overall
Growth

2008-09

7,701

6,217

+1,484

2007-08

6,716

6,088

+628

2006-07

6,517

5,514

+1,003

2005-06

5,644

4,402

+1,242

2004-05

4,333

4,265

+68

2003-04

4,339

3,933

+406

Retention Challenges

Most CF personnel leave 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 is 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.

Retention Strategy

Under a far-ranging retention strategy, the CF is 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. Improved medical support would return injured recruits to training more quickly.

The CF is also 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 has changed its 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.

Looking Ahead

CF leadership is working hard to overcome challenges related to the recruiting and retention of military personnel. Since 2005, the CF has 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 over the next decade with a degree of certainty and coordination that was not previously possible.

Under the CFDS, the CF will expand to 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.

1 Report from Chief Review Services: “Audit of Force Reduction Program”


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