'Hard-sell' navy targets lagging military profile
Recruiting can't keep up with attrition among sailors
By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen
October 15, 2009
Canada's top sailor says the country's navy has bottomed out in its ongoing problems with recruiting, and he is cautiously optimistic about new initiatives to attract skilled personnel to the maritime force.
Military recruiting efforts have focused on the army and the need to bring in personnel for the Afghanistan war, leaving the navy's ranks depleted and ships hurting for crews.
At the same time, attrition has taken its toll, creating what officers describe as a serious and worsening situation.
The navy's commander, Vice Admiral Dean McFadden, says the force hasn't yet turned the corner on its recruiting problems, but there are positive signs.
"The bit that keeps me reasonably comfortable is that I think we've bottomed out," said McFadden, who was named as head of the navy in June. "I think people have come to understand the extent of the problem, and I'm seeing measures put in place to get it fixed."
The navy has estimated that it will be short 1,000 full-time personnel by 2011. It now has 7,900 full-time personnel and 3,345 reservists.
McFadden said the focus at recruiting centres during the past several years had been on the army.
"There is no doubt that, in order to generate the land capabilities for what is the critical mission for us in Afghanistan, there are consequences in recruiting centres," he said. "A great many of the folks there are recently back from Afghanistan, and, when a young man or woman comes in, they can't help but be impressed by that individual."
He said there needed to be a better understanding in the Canadian Forces, not only of the navy's requirement for more sailors, but also of the necessity of technically qualified maritime recruits.
The navy has been trying to raise its profile lately, once again this summer undertaking a recruiting drive using one of its ships to visit ports in Quebec and Ontario. As well, a senior naval officer has been assigned to the Canadian Forces recruiting group, a move that McFadden hopes will raise the service's profile in that area.
"We understand we need to be more specific and targeted in our recruiting," he said.
In addition, the Canadian Forces is highlighting a subsidized education plan for naval technical occupations to interest students in community colleges.
The navy saw an increase in September in recruiting. McFadden, however, has said the overall progress of recruiting won't be known until early next year.
The navy has put more resources into supporting recruiting efforts, but while it has been successful in attracting new personnel, it hasn't been able to keep up with attrition. In addition, attrition for navy occupations is somewhat higher than those for the army or air force, a November 2008 Defence Department briefing report indicated.
"There is no doubt that the Navy, in terms of recruiting, was and remains a 'hard sell,'" the briefing concluded. "While this can be said of a number of technical occupations across the CF, the cumulative impact of consistent under-recruiting, combined with a trend to increased attrition, are having disproportionate impacts on the relatively small Naval occupations."
One of the main problems is that few Canadians know about the navy, officers say.
"Strategically, I believe that our major issue is a lack of public awareness of (the) Navy, what it does, how it does it and why it is a good life, one that Canadians should be considering actively and positively," Col. Matthew Overton, commander of the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group at CFB Borden, Ont., wrote in November 2008.
McFadden has been meeting with media outlets in an attempt to raise the navy's profile.
"We need to do a better job in explaining our purpose," he said. "What is the value of predominately young Canadian men and women choosing service, and why should they be looking at the navy? I've got a big part to play in (explaining) that."
Military officers said last year that the navy must routinely "borrow" sailors from other ships to send warships out to sea. For example, when HMCS Protecteur operated in the Indian Ocean last summer, 108 of the ship's crew of 260 were not normally assigned to that supply vessel.