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The Canadian military faces a recruitment crisis

OTTAWA –

The Canadian Armed Forces are sounding the alarm about a severe shortage of recruits to fill thousands of vacancies, with a shortage so bad that senior officers now call it a crisis. .

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, Robert Romero walked out of the Canadian Armed Forces recruiting office in downtown Ottawa with an envelope full of paperwork in hand.

Originally from the Philippines, Romero did not have any direct experience with the Canadian military; His interests are largely rooted in a sense of adventure and some of the things he saw about soldiers in movies as a child.

“I idolize them,” he said. “I was hooked. So then I started researching it and I got more involved in it.”

Romero is one of 11 people who have just written an aptitude test to determine what military occupations prospective recruits are qualified to fill. He took his results from the envelope: intelligence officer, meteorologist and chef.

He’ll now talk to his parents to decide on a career he’s interested in, whether he wants to rewrite the test or drop the assignment altogether.

The Canadian military is said to be in a period of growth as new needs increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and pilots. The Liberal Government in 2017 laid out plans to add thousands of full-time and part-time positions.

While the plan comes after years of military shortages, there are signs the military is shifting direction as recruitment begins to outpace departures.

“We only started to gain momentum when the pandemic hit,” says Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who is responsible for overseeing recruitment and training.

Recruitment ramped up during the first year of COVID-19 as the military closed recruitment and training centers. The result: only 2,000 people signed up in 2020-21 – less than half of what was needed.

Nearly 4,800 recruits were enrolled in the next financial year when bans and restrictions were eased.

But Brodie says the military is getting about half of the applicants it needs each month to meet its goal of adding 5,900 members this year.

The shortfall is expected to exacerbate an existing personnel shortage, with about a tenth of the army’s 100,000 positions unfilled.

“There’s no doubt we’re in a candidate crisis right now,” Brodie said.

Many industries are facing labor challenges, and Statistics Canada reported a record number of job vacancies in June. But the pandemic and labor shortages have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.

That has been marked by allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military and Canadian society at large, leading to a push more diversity in the ranks.

Those efforts include targeted recruitment of underrepresented groups, including women and indigenous peoples, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by relaxing restrictions on dress code, which Brodie proposes is working.

However, fewer and fewer Canadians are choosing a military career, and it’s not clear why.

“I don’t think we have a good answer anywhere. I think there are a lot of factors, components and trends that explain why,” Brodie said.

The Defense Department is trying to better understand the problem, she added. It is also looking at possible solutions such as financial incentives, ways to improve work-life balance, and addressing public perception of the military.

Brodie couldn’t say whether promoting diversity would do more harm than help, at least in sheer numbers, by eliminating the military’s traditional recruiting group: young white men. .

“We can’t measure the impact of that right now. It’s too early,” she said. “But it has to be very, very clear – we want the right candidates, and the right candidates are those who first and foremost reflect the values ​​of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The effects of not having enough recruits are both short- and long-term, putting more pressure on existing members and meaning fewer people will be able to advance and take on leadership roles later.

The shortage is uneven in the military. Certain occupations have more than enough applicants. But some are facing shortages so severe that signing bonuses of up to $20,000 are being offered to 25 of the military’s roughly 100 occupations, including chefs, technicians, and more. meteorologist and many naval jobs.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clark is a senior recruiter in Ottawa. In recent weeks, his staffers have attended various events such as the Gatineau Airshow and a comic convention to pitch the pitch.

“We are selling the benefits of joining the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said. “Poverty, medical, dental, education, continuing education, as well as a pretty interesting career where you can travel the world, and get paid to do it.”

Employers are provided with targets to meet, with positions segmented by trade, as well as minimum targets for female recruitment and maximum targets for men. There is also a high-profile push towards what the military still calls a “visible minority” and indigenous peoples.

“Diversity is what we’re after,” says Clark.

Ottawa is unusual in being close to its recruitment target, which Clark says has a large number of military families in the capital. But many other places do not, including traditional military communities.

Major Simon Rocheleau, who is responsible for managing recruitment efforts across northern and eastern Ontario, said: “We’ve actually seen even places like Kingston that used to have a large influx of applicants.

Rocheleau has several theories to explain the situation, including the state of the economy, the lack of a major mission like Afghanistan to raise awareness, and concerns about sexual misconduct.

Outside the Ottawa recruitment center, Jeremy Langlois has just finished an aptitude test. The 21-year-old chef wanted to fly a jet, but didn’t score well. He will take the test again in 30 days in hopes of qualifying.

“If that doesn’t work out, then I’m going to have to reevaluate and think about things,” he said.


This report by the Canadian Press was first published on September 25, 2022.

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