Canadian Forces Seeks New Recruits: Are you Ready, and Are They?

Earlier this year, the Canadian Forces launched their ‘Ready When You Are’ Campaign, the first marketing campaign in four years. Ogilvy & Mather media, the ad agency responsible for many public advertisement campaigns for the Department of National Defense (DND), the Royal Canadian Mounted Policed (RCMP), and Veteran’s Affairs produced the 30 and 60 second ad spots for the Canadian Forces (CF). They will be on the air until June, and so far have been well received by current service members and non-commissioned viewers.

CF_Commercial
A shot from the ‘Ready When You Are’ video campaign.

From a philosophical perspective, the ad is more inclusive than previous campaigns. It appeals to individuals who want to ‘make the world a safer place’, rather than those who want to ‘fight’. Cinematically, the ads are appealing as well. They are beautifully shot, the sound track is surreal, and they contain just the right mix of heart-jerking and adrenaline pumping action shots. However, 148,474 YouTube likes will not mean much to the DND. The pressing question is, will it work?

Budget cuts, closures, and lowered targets

For the ad campaign to work, recruits need to join. This may be an uphill battle, as reports indicate that interest in employment with the CF is low. A recent marketing report from Simon Fraser University explains that youth are pushed away from the CF, as they feel ‘alienated’ or ‘patronized’ by the military’s image. Additionally, a DND report published in April outlines over one thousand full-time and reserve occupational shortages.

High attrition can be blamed on multiple factors, such as high rates of early retirement and the end of the high-profile Afghanistan mission. Budget cuts nearing $5.5 billion over three years have contributed as well; causing marketable training programs to be cancelled and forcing the closure of 12 recruitment centres.

Facing these obstacles, hiring the necessary 4000 recruits each year will be a difficult goal. As an additional challenge, within this hiring target, the CF is mandated to reach specific margins for designated Diversity Groups; women, visible minorities, and aboriginals.

Under the Employment Equity Regulations, all government departments are required to hire personnel at a ratio that supports that department’s functioning, as well as appropriately representing the nation’s diversity. The targets are calculated by the Directorate of Humans Rights and Diversity, and reviewed and audited by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

Unfortunately, the set target of a 25.1% female, 11.7% visible minority, and 3.3% aboriginal military service has never been met. Internal complaints attest that the goals are unrealistic. With the threat of penalties from the CHRC, senior officials are hoping these standards can be significantly lowered. The proposed new targets would be much closer to current representation, which stands at 15% women, 4.2% visible minorities, and 1.9% aboriginal.

The potential move has sparked controversy. Supporters of current targets, including retired Lieutenant-Colonel Chantal Fraser contests that failure to meet targets is not due to unrealistic statistics, rather to non-inclusive environments and poor recruiting efforts. Others agree that lowering targets reflects a lack of respect for Canada’s diversity, as well as unwillingness to employ effective and proactive recruiting techniques.

On the other hand, there has always been vocal opposition to diversity recruitment targets in the military. Concerned members of the public are quick to voice concerns over equitable employment policies, spreading fears that due to arbitrary genetic factors, worthy candidates for sought after positions are being passed over in favour of less-qualified individuals. Suspicion of incompetency is a serious matter in a position where lives are on the line. However, this point becomes nullified, as the DND’s own reports indicate that few people want these jobs at all.

Readying a Force for the future

To sustain itself, the CF will need to engage qualified and committed recruits. The available labour force is changing in Canada. The CF’s traditional hiring pool of young Caucasian males from rural communities is shrinking, while the number of females and visible minority members in the employable population is only expected to increase. Even if the current quotas seem unrealistic, it is clear that the CF will suffer if it is inaccessible to these populations.

Is the ongoing campaign directed at the appropriate demographic, and will it be thorough enough to work? The ‘Ready When You Are’ campaign is accompanied by an active Forces Jobs twitter account, which publishes an average of two to three promotional tweets per day, but only to approximately 3,100 followers, or 0.005% of Canadian twitter users.

In addition to more aggressive marketing, DND Auditors have identified other potential areas of improvement in recruitment and retention strategies. NATO allies such as Belgium and the Netherlands have tracked positive results by making simple changes, such as increasing accessibility of daycare services, and reducing wait time and increasing support between failed application and re-application. Auditors have found that CF members face significant obstacles in accessing daycare services. The support offered to prospective recruits as well as the wait time between application and training has also been reported as ‘inept’.

In the name of creating an adept and efficient national military, many strategies have been identified, but even more will need to be put into action. Brand auditing and marketing is a good starting point. But, even with the agreeable packaging of the message, will being ‘Ready When You Are’ be enough?

About Kelsey Berg

Kelsey Berg is a graduate of the University of Alberta, with a BA in Psychology. She is also the first student from the francophone Campus Saint-Jean, to obtain the joint certificate in Community Service Learning. Kelsey is currently enrolled in the Master of Public Health program at Benedictine University in IL, USA. She has a special interest in the Canadian Forces, and their role in ensuring global security and prosperity.