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  • Azfar Adib

Can the Canadian Armed Forces Be Your Employer of Choice?



Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the biggest global security crisis in decades, has pushed western countries to increase their defense spending. Canada recently announced an $8 billion increase in its defense budget — which was previously at $25.7 billion per year. This means that about 1.5 percent of Canada's GDP will be spent on defense. A significant portion of this will be spent to modernize the aerial and naval capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), focusing on safeguarding sensitive regions like the arctic (Connolly, 2022).


Usually considered a medium of power, Canada's military impact has been primarily centered around peacekeeping or assistive roles as part of greater coalitions during certain conflicts. History also shows Canada's incredible contribution during the two World Wars. For instance, over one million Canadians fought in the Second World War; from this tiny nation of only 11 million people at the time, approximately 43,000 lost their lives (Stacey, 2013).


While defense has become a prioritized sector of government spending, some human resource aspects of the Canadian Armed Forces remain controversial. In recent years, CAF has been facing an image crisis resulting from its incapability to prevent and address many allegations of sexual misconduct against its female members. Lack of demographic diversity in the CAF is another crucial issue: 71% of Canadian Armed Forces members are white males, while they account for just 39% of the rest of Canada's workforce! Around 8% of members come from visible minorities, and just around 3% are indigenous. In 2016, the CAF made a target to have 25% women in all ranks by 2026. As of February 2022, women accounted for just over 16% (Burke, 2022).


So what factors are driving such a trend? A review report published in October 2020 by Canada Global Affairs Institute indicates certain factors, including (Mayer, 2020):


  • In the past, the CAF recruited mainly from eastern rural areas. The recruits have been dominantly male and white individuals. As numbers of potential recruits in these areas shrink, the CAF has started exploring different recruitment opportunities, aiming to be more representative of the Canadian population.

  • Meanwhile, traditional warfare has also changed. Military operations abroad now have to deal more with counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and cyber-operations. This has forced the CAF to look for recruits with different backgrounds, skills, and experiences to maintain its operational effectiveness.

  • However, attracting talent qualified enough for these tasks is challenging for CAF while competing with other government and private organizations. With a traditionally structured military framework, CAF can not be flexible enough to offer large salaries and generous benefits to attract talented recruits. Funding for CAF operations has also been fluctuating.


Even at this time of heightened global tension, the recruitment scenario in CAF does not look very promising, particularly regarding women recruits. Sexual-misconduct crisis can be a reason for that. Only 631 women enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces in the 2021-2022 fiscal year — roughly 15 % of all new recruits into the regular forces. The number of women who enrolled over the year is the lowest recorded since 2015-2016 and represents a 10% drop from the previous fiscal year (Burke, 2022).


According to the latest figures, Canada's military is roughly 7,600 members short of full strength (Burke, 2022) . So, how can CAF be an employer of choice for Canadian youth while achieving its diversity targets?


Enhancing Outreach



Public perception of the armed forces gets highly influenced by continuous news of war, conflict movies and television dramas. These usually portray soldiers as tough, masculine (often bearded and sunglasses-wearing), and twenty-four-seven operational and life-risking individuals. Such an image can inspire specific segments looking for adventurous job scopes. However, this can also be intimidating for many, particularly for visible minorities, including women or people with less muscle mass, ultimately discouraging them from ever considering CAF as a potential employer.


However, the reality is that CAF does not only need soldiers on the battlefield; it needs people with different areas of expertise. Like any armed forces, CAF has many human resource requirements. This includes healthcare, computing and intelligence, public relations, administration, engineering, and infrastructure (Careers: The Canadian Armed Forces, n.d.). Therefore, there is an apparent demand for individuals to fill these positions for combat roles in land, aerial and naval forces.


Nevertheless, is CAF making sufficient outreach to potential candidates to fulfill its diverse human resources requirements? Thinking from the other side, how many graduating students across Canada find CAF during career fairs in their educational institutions?


The CAF invests heavily in outreach activities across different demographic segments (for instance, summer camps for youth, special engagement for indigenous communities, etc.). However, more specific approaches may be beneficial to attract talents in the current competitive industry. Per the job requirements, the CAF can consider reaching out to corresponding institutions, universities or forums to make themselves visible enough to potential candidates.


Improving Employer Branding



Enhanced outreach may enable the CAF to connect with a higher and more diverse group of potential recruits. At the same time, it will put them in more challenging contests with different government and private organizations who are trying the same through similar platforms. The question arises: how can the CAF promote itself there as a better employer?

Here comes the need for a more effective strategy of employer branding. In recent times, negative portrayal of the working environment in the CAF has been quite common in mass media, sparked by the sexual misconduct crisis. The typical perception of a risky working environment has also been fueled by the loss of CAF personnel in some accidental plane crashes home and abroad. Therefore, overcoming negative perceptions through positive branding is essential for the CAF.


CAF can emphasize its basic identity and purpose, which differentiates itself from any other employer in the country. It is a unique institution that gives people the opportunity to serve and defend Canada and the world. Working for the CAF does not mean taking up arms and risking lives in war but also involves working in various capacities in different times of need. The CAF can highlight some of its recent contributions. For example, safeguarding people and properties during a wave of natural disasters across Canada from 2020 to 2021; or its crucial roles as part of the NATO mission in Europe. It can also highlight its magnificent history of contributing across the globe in different crises. In fact, CAF veterans can always be great ambassadors to share these real-life stories and encourage youth. Emotional branding can be an effective tool for CAF to attract the right talent while competing with more flexible and aggressive competitors.


Emphasizing Diversity By Actions, Not Just By Words


CAF must position itself as a diverse employer with a welcoming, accepting, and empowering environment. This is a crucial part of its rebranding. For instance, as already pointed out by the Global Affairs Institute, the CAF needs to review its partnership with sports franchises. CAF has worked with National Hockey League (NHL) teams and a Major League Baseball (MLB) team (Toronto Blue Jays). However, most of these sports franchise fans are male, white and relatively older. On the other hand, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has one of the youngest average fan ages. Interestingly, the CAF does not follow Canada's premium basketball team, the Toronto Raptors, despite its immense popularity. This indicates that the CAF is not focusing on the right partnerships for its recruitment demographic. In fact, a basketball team like Toronto Raptors would be an excellent partner for CAF, as 35 percent of their fans are women and almost half the fans are black, while the team itself is located in the world's most diverse city (Mayer, 2020). So CAF needs to strengthen its commitment to diversity by actual actions, not just words.


Overqualification of the job-seeking workforce, especially among immigrants, has been a persistent challenge for Canada (Cornelissen & Turcotte, 2020). A post-pandemic world currently troubled with a huge security crisis and other geopolitical, environmental and economic transformations is now presenting a different thinking horizon for everyone. The Canadian Armed Forces can use all these factors to become a potential employer of choice in a diverse Canadian society (Pablo, 2019).



 

References


Burke, A. (2022, March 23). Canadian military reports sagging recruitment as NATO ramps up deployment in eastern Europe. Retrieved from CBC News: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadian-armed-forces-staff-shortfall-1.6395131


Careers: The Canadian Armed Forces. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Government of Canada: https://forces.ca/en/careers


Connolly, A. (2022, March 8). Canada is eyeing a defense spending boost. Here’s where experts say extra cash should go. Retrieved from Global News: https://globalnews.ca/news/8690688/canada-defence-spending-budget-2022/


Cornelissen, L., & Turcotte, M. (2020, September 2). Persistent overqualification among immigrants and non-immigrants. Retrieved from Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2020001/article/00004-eng.htm


Mayer, P. (2020, October). What’s in a Soldier? How to Rebrand the Canadian Armed Forces. Retrieved from Canadian Global Affairs Institute: https://www.cgai.ca/whats_in_a_soldier_how_to_rebrand_the_canadian_armed_forces


Pablo, C. (2019, November 6). Canadian Armed Forces wants more visible minorities, Indigenous people in military. Retrieved from The Georgia Straight: https://www.straight.com/news/1322361/canadian-armed-forces-wants-more-visible-minorities-indigenous-people-military


Stacey, C. (2013, July 15). Second World War (WWII). Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/second-world-war-wwii




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