Friday, June 29, 2007

Recruiting is only part of the story

DND put up a press release a couple of weeks ago that brags about their success at recruiting new members of both the regular force and reserves:

The Canadian Forces’ expansion efforts continue to succeed, as demonstrated by a net increase of 1,000 personnel in the CF’s Regular Force during fiscal year 2006-2007. This growth is in addition to a net increase of 1,300 personnel in the Reserve Force during the same period.

"As part of our Canada First approach, this Government has made it a priority to increase the size of the Canadian Forces to 75,000 Regular Force and 35,000 Reserve Force members over the long term," Minister O’Connor said. "To meet our policy goals, the Canadian Forces will need to grow at a rate of about 1,000 Regular Force and 500 Reserve personnel per year. Active recruitment efforts are vital to ensure the long-term effectiveness and relevance of our military. I commend the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group on its success."

This is an important and much-needed step in the right direction. But it's not as big a step as they seem to be suggesting.

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote a post over at my other blog that touched upon some of the training difficulties the CF would face if it was able to meet the aggressive recruiting targets set by the new Conservative government while also maintaining a high operational tempo at home and abroad:

I find Hillier's 'can-do' attitude towards the prospect of training a significant cohort of new recruits bracing, but he's glossed over the key trade off here: operational tempo will have to slow down in order to accomodate the intense training demands. According to Christopher Ankersen in chapter three of "Canada Without Armed Forces?", personnel issues are among the most serious facing our military today, and unlike equipment - where if you throw enough money at the problem, you can buy your way out - there are no quick fixes to people shortages.

"Since 1998, the number of non-effective personnel on full pay and allowances has increased from 4,000 people in 2000 to more than 10,000 in 2003...The growing imbalance between the total number of CF members (Total Authorized Strength, or TAS) and the number of trained and available members (Trained Effective Establishment, or TEE) is an institutional reality...One cannot, for instance, simply hire unit commanding officers or even junior leaders because they must be developed in-house and matured through experience." (Babbler's highlight)

[aside: Anyone with an interest in the Canadian Forces should read this collection of monographs put together by Douglas Bland. Ankersen's chapter on The Personnel Crisis is worth the price alone. In fact, one of these days I hope to get around to delving into the issues he raises in greater detail.]

I don't know if the TAS/TEE gap has been brought back to normal levels since 2003, and would welcome up-to-date information on that front if any reader can point the way. From a training and recruiting perspective, the only positive aspect of such a brutal op-tempo over the past decade is that there are plenty of CF members who have now 'been-there-done-that', and can pass along their experience to the next generation - if they're allowed to come off deployment once in awhile. I'm not so sure "give us the money, and we'll get the job done" works as well for training and personnel issues as it does for capital and operations issues, but we shall see.

Op tempo hasn't eased off at all. I know that the CF has been actively trying to lure back former members of specific trades who got out for one reason or another, which may have somewhat eased the demographic hole moving through the ranks for the past decade, although I can't imagine such efforts would have made much of a dent in the problem. I know that DND is throwing every solution it can think of at the most potentially productive line of attack: retention.

With all that in mind, I was curious to see if the TAS-TEE gap has widened or narrowed in the past three years, and I asked the department to provide that information to me. Of course, the terminology has changed, so it took awhile for them to clarify with me exactly what I wanted. But here's what they said about FY05-06 and FY06-07:

As of 31 Mar 06:
Trained Strength + Advanced Training List: 53 633
Basic Training List: 8177
Non Effective Strength (Supplementray Holding List, those releasing from CF, sick leave): 891
Total Reg Force: 62 701
Class C Reservists:1 304
Grand Total: 64005

As of 31 Mar 07:
Trained Strength + Advanced Training List: 53 753
Basic Training List: 9 051
Non Effective Strength (Supplementray Holding List, those releasing from CF, sick leave): 912
Total Reg Force: 63 716
Class C Reservists:1 405
Grand Total: 65 121

What do those numbers mean? Well, first of all, you have to realize they're nothing more than two snapshots taken a year apart. Many Canadians have both joined and left the CF in that time, and the increases or decreases you see are net numbers.

But as I read them, the figures above mean we have about 200 more trained personnel working full-time for the CF than last year, and 100 of those are Class C reservists. In other words, the CF has only managed to increase its effective regular force strength by 100 bodies, out of 1,000 they've put on the roll. Or, seen another way, of the 1,000 they've recruited, 90% are still in training - not ready to do their job just yet.

That tells me the training issues I was worried about are still a big issue for the CF.

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun highlighted the strain the CF training system is under:

The Canadian Forces, squeezed by the Afghanistan conflict, may be forced to cancel half the training courses for regular and reserve soldiers scheduled for this summer in Western Canada.

The training squeeze, caused by the unavailability of qualified officers to teach troops, could cause a shortage of reservists in 2009 if Prime Minister Stephen Harper decides to extend the mission past February of that year, according to one reserve officer.

"We're still struggling to find trainers, there's no question about that," said Lt.-Col. Tom Manley, commanding officer of the Calgary Highlanders reserve unit, which has generated a disproportionate number of volunteers for the Afghanistan mission.

"And there's a chance we simply may not get everyone trained that could potentially deploy, so we may have to leave some behind (in 2009) because they didn't get the training they needed," he said this week.

While this comment comes from a reservist and may not translate entirely to the regular force situation, it's still symptomatic of a system under pressure.

Note to Dawn Black: pressure to juggle priorities isn't always a bad thing. Operational tempo concerns can help motivate a drive to greater efficiency, a focus on "keeping the main thing the main thing," as Stephen Covey would say.

But it also means that important long-term aspects of force generation might be getting pushed aside to deal with short-term urgencies of meeting current obligations. Not having time to sharpen your saw because you're too busy sawing isn't a viable plan for very long. Someone needs to keep an eye on the future force, not just the present force.

Knowing DND, someone's paying attention to exactly that. I just wonder if they have a workable plan to deal with what they're seeing.


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