ARCHIVED - Recruiting and Retention in the Canadian Forces

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Backgrounder / May 27, 2011 / Project number: BG 11.007

Maintaining the personnel capabilities of a large organization such as the Canadian Forces (CF) requires a constant balance of recruiting new members and retaining trained personnel. As an employer of choice, the CF are currently in a position where recruiting has been extremely successful and attrition is lower than expected, resulting in Regular Force strength in excess of 68,000 personnel.

This increased strength, which represents early achievement of the intermediate 2011/2012 growth target scheduled as part of the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS), has led to a different focus for the recruiting and retention strategy of the CF. Some specialized military occupations, such as Technicians, Social Workers and Pharmacists, still represent a recruiting challenge and CF recruiters will now be focusing their efforts on these priorities to ensure 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 eight years. Over this period, the Regular Force has grown by more than 6,500 personnel.


Table A
The Strength of the Regular Force
2004-2011

As of

Total Strength

31 Mar 11

68,250

31 Mar 10

68,136

31 Mar 09

65,890

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

Table B
 The Strength of the Reserve Force
2004-2011

 

Primary Reserve Average Paid Strength
(approx.)

Cadet Organizations and Training Services
(COATS)

Canadian Rangers

Supplementary
Reserve

31 Mar 11

26,873

8,069

4,635

15,573

31 Mar 10

27,898

9,862

4,295

16,138

31 Mar 09

21,057

7,728

4,310

23,448

31 Mar 08

19,750

7,835

4,230

28,726

31 Mar 07

22,830

7,538

4,132

27,738

31 Mar 06

27,449

7,528

4,032

31,734

31 Mar 05

27,898

7,721

4,136

40,048

31 Mar 04

26,259

7,875

4,421

56,897

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 temporary periods of full-time service. 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 use of “paid strength” figures provided in Table B provides a more accurate estimate of serving Reservists.

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;
  • Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service, or COATS who areofficers with administrative, instructional and supervisory responsibilities for the cadet program.

Recruiting

In the early 1990s, the CF were comprised of approximately 87,000 Regular Force personnel. The 1994 White Paper on Defence 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

In 2006, the federal government committed funding to support the growth of the CF to 68,000 Regular Force 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 CFDS 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, Canadians have responded, over the last few years, to the career opportunities being offered by Canada’s military, and the CF have correspondingly increased in strength.

Table C
Recruiting to the Regular Force
2003-2011

Fiscal Year
(April 1 - March 31)

Recruiting
Goals

Recruiting
Results

2010-11

4,724

4,806

2009-10

7,454

7,522

2008-09

7,995

7,701

2007-08

6,865

6,716

2006-07

6,410

6,517

2005-06

5,425

5,644

2004-05

4,637

4,333

2003-04

4,440

4,339

The CF are now in a position where they can reduce intake targets in occupations that are either over strength or have sufficient personnel in the training pipeline to meet forecast requirements.

To determine the optimal intake level for the upcoming fiscal year, the CF take into consideration the desired and actual strength of each occupation, factors in forecast attrition (such as retirements), any planned expansion or contraction of the occupation, as well as the number of personnel in the training system. Once any expected shortfalls are calculated, adjustments are made to allow for anticipated training attrition (withdrawals, failures, etc.) and the desired composition of the occupation. These adjustments are an attempt to moderate overall intake and allow attrition to assist in stabilizing the overall CF strength. Recruiting efforts will continue to focus on distressed occupations and filling remaining positions in occupations such as Social Worker and Pharmacist.  In spite of recent control measures in recruiting, all pending offers of enrolment will be honoured. 

Attrition

The CF have generally met or exceeded their recruiting goals over the last few years, however keeping trained, qualified personnel has proven more difficult during some years. While a shortage of qualified workers, especially in technical trades, is a challenge that has been faced by other Canadian employers, 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 FY 2005-06, to 8% in FY 2006-07, and to 9% in FY 2007-08. The rate stabilized, remaining at 9% for FY 2008-09, then fell for the first time in five years to 7.6% in FY 2009-10. This rate continues to decline, and the rate in FY 2010-11 was 6.7%. The decline may be attributed to a combination of factors: changing Regular Force demographics which have witnessed a relative decline in the numbers of long-service pension-eligible personnel, a period of economic and labour-market uncertainty since late 2008, and positive measures taken by the CF to stem voluntary attrition.

As Table D illustrates, successful recruiting has historically been offset by the departure of CF personnel from the Regular Force.

Table D
Departures from the Regular Force
2004-2011

Fiscal Year
(April 1 - March 31)

Recruiting
Results

Departures
(Attrition)

Overall
Growth

2010-11

4,806

4,691

+115

2009-10

7,522

5,293

+2,229

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

Most CF personnel who leave the CF do so either 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 often have to do with the requirement for high physical fitness standards, personal and family issues, realizing they are not suited for the CF, 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.

Retention

Although recent retention strategies have been very successful and have contributed to a drop in attrition, as a measure to reduce Regular Force strength, release procedures for personnel awaiting disposition on the Basic Training List are reverting to a more streamlined process where members seeking or being released from the CF are managed without delay.

Retaining trained personnel at later stages in their careers remains a priority. Initiatives include better career management and greater support to 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. This has contributed to a reduced rate of attrition.

In 2004, the CF raised 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.

Looking Ahead

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 CFDS, 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. 

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. 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. The CF will continue to meet challenges related to the recruiting and retention of military personnel, and the placement of those personnel in certain priority occupations. Measures to improve the health of all CF occupations will continue and CF strength will be closely monitored to ensure that the CF meets its commitments and carries out the missions assigned by the Government of Canada.

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

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