The following is a transcript of Christian Leuprecht’s testimony before the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence. He discusses the issue of recruitment and retention in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The recording occurred on April 6, 2022. Please check against delivery.
By Christian Leuprecht, April 6, 2022
Members of the Committee, I live and work in Kingston, which is situated on the traditional territory of the Anishnabe, Huron-Wendat and Haudenausonee peoples.
I’ve been engaged in research and policy related to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting and retention for over 20 years. My own work focuses particular on demographic change and diversity to inform CAF decision-making. I am not only a professor but also the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Military Journal, which regularly publishes articles on the subjects at hand.
Last week I was called to testify before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO) on procurement. Today I have been asked to share my expertise on recruitment and retention, in the CAF and across the Defence Team. The subject of last week and this week’s testimonies are related. It can take upwards of 15 years to envision, initiate, procure and implement a new system, such as the next generation air force fighter program. Less apparent is that it takes just as long to generate the experienced workforce to operate these complex systems.
Yet, for years the CAF has had to privilege operations. Now people need to be reconstituted, but the people and equipment systems are out of sync: regenerating and maintaining the force, and aligning that with equipment modernization. As a result, the CAF now suffers from a sizeable experience gap, especially at the level of junior non-commissioned members (NCMs) and officers. This “missing middle” is the centre for gravity of the CAF: this middle force does the work of recruiting, instructing, absorbing on units and supervising units. In terms of readiness, this presents a significant risk of failure at a time of growing demand on the CAF and increasing complexity of missions.
For years the CAF has been sufficiently robust or the nature of conflict was such that government could choose force packages that worked for the CAF. Meanwhile, baseline foundational capabilities have been eroded. But in the new security environment, government no longer has the luxury of choosing baseline or tailor-made packages. This shortfall bears considerable reputational risk, as admonishments of Canada by both the Secretary General of NATO and the Biden administration suggest.
The “missing middle” are not only the members who train the force and operate equipment, but who the government calls on as a last resort, whether to manage national vaccine distribution or mitigate the fallout from mismanaged long-term care facilities during the pandemic. Ergo, people are the CAF’s most important and underappreciated capability and should be treated as such. Talent has to be recruited, trained and retained. To this effect, the first two pillars of the new CAF Journey are not just the most pressing for the organization, aptly they are also the subject of NDDN’s current study: Renew Personnel Generation and Modernize the Employment Model.
As of February 2022, the CAF is 7600 members short of its authorized strength. However, due to imbalances in the training system, it is actually about 10,000 people short in the operational force. At 54,642, the CAF is currently operating at about 85 percent operational force size of 62,308 on current mandates and roles. The organization is especially short on Master-Corporals and Sergeants, Captains and Majors. This experience gap is having and will have cascading effects for year to come.
As a result, stabilization and recovery of military personnel are a top priority: generate bespoke personnel for 100 endangered occupational functions and leadership positions (especially to meet requirements in the navy as well as across the cyber, space and information domains), reduce early service attrition as well as differentiated unhealthy attrition at the end of initial engagements (that is, after their first or second term of service, due to discrimination, harassment, misconduct, or sexual misconduct), while setting conditions to develop and build future force capability.
To this effect, I offer the following observations on MPs as stakeholders in what BGen Krista Brodie, Commander Military Personnel Generation Group calls: the modern mobilization mindset and movement, to re-generate the CAF and ensure the operational readiness of vital and venerable national institutions and the instrument of foreign policy and national power.
First, expand the CAF and public service talent pool. Instead of mass recruitment, it is about a targeted approach to interest the right people in the right occupations. Recruiting is a whole-of-government and a whole-of-nation effort: every riding, and every Member of Parliament (MP) has a key role to play in building trust in the credibility of the CAF and raising awareness of the CAF as an employer of choice, especially women, diverse ethno-cultural groups, immigrant communities and Indigenous peoples.
Second, make the Defence Team more agile by reducing and streamlining HR policies and processes. By way of example, I am currently chairing a hiring committee: at a civilian university it takes about three months to hire a professor, at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) it takes 18 months. Onerous processes are partially responsible for the prevailing staff shortages across the Defence Team. Without more money and more staff, modernizing the rules and processes to make recruitment and retention more feasible, more affordable and putting in place the (ministerial) authorities to execute is essential to reconstitute the CAF, in particular stabilization and recovery of personnel capability. To this end, the CAF needs to modernize hundreds of policies related to recruitment and retention that are out of date. That requires priority attention by Central Agencies. Standing Committee on National Defence must ensure that Treasury Board in particular, its president, make policy renewal for DND and the CAF a top priority. Bureaucratic or political delays will further imperil the ability of the CAF to operate.
Third, MPs can enhance pillar three, Support Military Families, by ensuring that they are actively invested in minimizing stressors on CAF families through effective and efficient intergovernmental cooperation, coordination and collaboration among federal, provincial, territorial and local authorities in areas such as access to health care, education, and childcare.
Christian Leuprecht is professor at the Royal Military College and Queen’s University, and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.