A Systems Approach to Recruiting and Training CAF Members: Designing an Optimized Model

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Lcol Kyle Solomon


Every year the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) loses around 8% of its most valuable asset, its people (Gov. of Canada, Auditor General 2002). Every single trained member of the CAF who leaves the military must be replaced by another citizen who is ready, willing, and able to serve their country. These (predominantly) young people need to be attracted to a career in the military, recruited into the military, and then trained to perform their job. The challenge of producing more recruits than veterans has long been recognized as a systemic problem (Gov. of Canada, Auditor General 2002). However, progress to resolve the issue has been slow in coming (Gov. of Canada, House of Commons 2017). The use of systems thinking and design provides a useful methodology to frame the problem, understand the environment, and develop possible solutions that could help break down the silos that have prevented significant progress on this issue. Indeed, with the recently announced growth of the CAF by 3,500 Regular Force members, this challenge has just become more difficult.

The reader should be aware that while this article is written in a linear manner, all of the design processes are undertaken concurrently, iteratively, and with the recognition that they all affect each other. It should also be noted that the Regular and Reserve Force have different models for recruiting and training personnel. The analysis of the Reserve Force system is beyond the scope of this paper.

Problem Frame

One of the most useful, and often ignored, aspects of solving problems is to agree on the problem to be solved. Framing the problem helps shape the system analysis, and vice versa. The use of a problem statement helps guide discussion, focus effort, determine who needs to be part of the process, and to understand the complexity of the challenge. Indeed, if the problem statement reveals a simple or complicated problem, then perhaps systems thinking and design is not the best methodology to use to solve the problem. However, for complex problems, systems thinking and design offers opportunities to truly understand the problem, frame the environment within which it exists, and identify the range of potential solutions. For example, if the problem is “how to increase the capacity of the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School (CFLRS)”, then the environment and solution frames will be necessarily constrained to correspond to the start and endpoints defined in this statement. (The 2016 OAG report appears to examine the problem from this point of view. Para 5.43 focusses on expansion of the recruiting group and basic training school, but does not discuss the follow-on training that is required to reach Operational Functional Point) (Gov. of Canada, Auditor General, 2016). Contrast this with a problem statement such as “how to optimize the process from recruitment to operational functional point (OFP)Note de bas de page 1” to see how the complexity of the problem and system analysis changes. We shall adopt the later problem statement for the purpose of this discussion since it provides a more fulsome problem that captures most of the core issue. It also provides the frame for a first-order system analysis that is focused on the components of the system that directly affect recruiting and training to the OFP. Some immediate conclusions may be drawn from this simple eleven word problem statement, which start to guide and frame the system analysis and range of solutions. The most obvious, and most important conclusion, is that this issue is a CAF challenge, not simply a Military Personnel Command (MPC) challenge.

Environmental Frame

At the core of the environmental analysis is the process whereby an individual is recruited into the CAF, undergoes basic military training at CFLRS, and then completes their Military Occupation Structure Identification (MOSID) specific training delivered by their parent Level 1 (L1) organizationNote de bas de page 2. Even this simplified description of the environment should cause the military planner or designer concern and reveal that our problem statement now covers four L1 organizations (MPC, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Canadian Army (CA), Royal Canadian Airforce (RCAF)) and seven Level Two (L2) organizations. The sixty-three Non-Commissioned Members (NCM) and thirty-seven officer MOSIDs each has their own pathway from recruitment to being trained, however there are enough commonalities to be able to group them into useful “chunks” to define and refine processes. The easiest “chunks” would be to categorize by the L1 responsible for their post-CFLRS training, which yields four groups. These four groups could then be “chunked” into officer/NCMs groups, yielding eight groups. This analysis only needs to extend to the point of utility, and could vary based on difference between the L1s. To reiterate, this process is useful for mapping the complete process from recruitment to OFP. Figure 1 shows the core system, and highlights the “gaps” between L1 organizations that contributes to uncoordinated delivery of recruiting and individual training. The red box indicates the system view for the first problem statement. The double-line blue box represents the system view of the second problem statement.

Regular Force system model

Figure 1: Regular Force system model: Pre-recruitment to OFP (author’s model)

The assignment of authorities and responsibilities is critical to understanding who shares ownership of the problem, and of the solutions. It also helps understand why progress has been slow, since various L1s can have different interpretations of the problem and different levels of interest in the solution. Unfortunately, the current process for personnel management, course loading, training delivery, and recruiting lacks an integrated management tool that spans L1 organizations and connects L4 (units) organizations that actually provide service delivery to individual CAF members. Instead, the CAF relies on stand-alone systems and Microsoft Excel as the primary management tools. These tools are often easy to use, but do not provide the integration function nor adequately address the temporal and sequencing aspects of our problem statement that is necessary to strike at the root of our problem. For example, many low-density, high initial training requirement trades only offer one course per year. If candidates are not recruited during the correct time of year, either the limited number of course positions go vacant (stress on the organization and on trained members) or the oversupply of recruits overwhelms the training capacity and those that cannot be trained must wait another year before starting their training (stress on the individual - often the most capable members leave the CAF once this is communicated to them). More importantly, the use of stand-alone programs and excel spreadsheets provides little useful information to decision makers to understand and monitor the system, to determine where problems exist, and to examine potential solutions. Rather, the use of spreadsheets requires a human interface that often focuses on the issues of immediate concern to the operators unit, formation, or service. The introduction of the new CAF human resource management system (Guardian) is intended to better track members on the Basic Training List, however this software will still not perform the essential function of synchronizing recruiting, basic military training, and individual MOSID training (Gov. of Canada, House of Commons 2016). On a positive note, it should help better define the problem of delays in the training cycle, but it will not help resolve the problem. Is it time for a new tool?

There are a number of supporting processes that enable the planning and delivery of the recruiting to OFP cycle. The most important of these processes are the Multi-Year establishment Plan (MYEP), the Annual Military Occupation Review (AMOR), the Strategic Intake Plan (SIP), training systems National Calendar production, and annual business planning cycles. Unfortunately, these processes are not aligned in time and space, which inserts friction, uncertainty, and chance into the system (perhaps unnecessarily). For example, National Calendar Production is undertaken in the Canadian Army Combat Training Centre in October for the following fiscal year, before the AMOR/SIP process or annual business planning cycles. This means that courses are planned before we know how many people will be recruited into any given occupation and before we know how much money will be assigned to deliver training. This may work during periods of steady state (same as last year), however, when the CAF is committed to growing beyond steady state, for example by 3,500 Regular Forces personnel and 1,500 Reservists, this approach will stress the system. While this sounds incredible, it is necessary simply because the AMOR and SIP processes happen too late to be relevant to course scheduling or business planning, and because funding for the individual training system remains uncertain since it competes with operations and collective training for resources. Some conclusions could be taken from this, including the recommendation that the AMOR/SIP process should make decisions that occur in two years and that they should be linked to course capacities. For example, if a course can accept twelve students (due to facilities or instructor limitations), then the SIP should be constructed in multiples of twelve (plus the appropriate attrition factor). This will permit resources to be scaled accordingly, additional courses to be added to the national training calendar, funding be assigned and additional instructors posted or assigned temporarily to the schoolhouse.

Of course all of the members involved in the delivery of training and the trainees themselves are impacted by the broader CAF personnel policies, these represent the second order system. New recruits are subject to additional policies while they are assigned to the Basic Training List (until completion of OFP), which are often not well understood and interpreted and applied differently across L1sNote de bas de page 3. For example, when someone is recruited into the CAF, they are prohibited from moving their family at public expense until they reach OFP. What this means is that a married, Water, Fuel, Environmental (WFE) tech who is recruited from northern Ontario (where there are no bases for On the Job Training assignments while awaiting training) will be separated from their family for four months of Basic Military Qualification training in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and seven months of DP1 training in Gagetown. If they are not recruited at the right time of year, they could wait an additional eleven months for the one WFE DP1 course that is conducted each year. Our sales pitch to this applicant then says “Welcome to the CAF, you will be separated from your family for a minimum of eleven months (more likely between nineteen to twenty-three months) with no idea where in Canada you will be posted upon completion of your training.” This is not a good sales pitch at the recruiting centre, but it is even worse for the individual to realize this after completion of BMQ training and decide at that point that they don’t want to be separated for another seven to eighteen months. By this time the CAF has expended significant effort to recruit and train these folks, and we are losing them at the outset of their career. This is certainly not a system that promotes increasing the diversity of our recruiting base nor of expanding the size of the CAF, especially, for low-density/high-skill trades. However, with this improved understanding of the system we can start to see how a mix of proper communication, policy adjustment, and better synchronization of recruiting to training can help make the CAF more attractive to potential recruits.

Solution Frame

There are many potential solutions to our problem statement, but they can largely be categorized as changes to function, structure, process, or tools. The best solution is likely some combination of these efforts. When developing potential solutions, we must recognize that all possible solutions may not be acceptable solutions, and that the second order impacts could cause greater problems. For example, would the Service Commanders be willing to relinquish responsibility for DP1 training and give all of the training resources to MPC if they were responsible for the entire process (change to function, structure, and process)? If so, how would the services then support MPC with the additional personnel, equipment, and funding that is required to actually deliver the training? Alternatively, should recruiting and recruit training be devolved to the Service Commanders to create four parallel but self-contained systems? With our current system, what if we are wildly successful at increasing recruiting (changes to process or tools) without a parallel effort to increase and synchronize the delivery of training within MPC and by the other L1s? We would likely see many of those that we have worked so hard to recruit and train at CFLRS leave the CAF when faced with many months (or years) long wait for their DP1 course to begin. Even worse would be the lack of strategic awareness that this is actually happening.

Some fundamental changes to our outlook, based on our understanding of the environment, could help shape the solution space. Firstly, this issue should be viewed over a multi-year horizon since the AMOR, SIP, National Calendar, business planning, and recruiting and training execution span more than one fiscal year. Secondly, we should be willing to accept that we are wrong and embrace the uncertainty that currently drives the aforementioned processes. Effective analytics working with historical data analysis, using expected attrition rates and acceptable margins of error would allow us to smooth the system over fiscal years, which would then permit the use of a tool to integrate the system. This tool would be used by MPC to guide recruitment and to communicate to applicants what the next months or years would look like, including identifying where they would be posted upon reaching OFP. Using an Army example, it would identify optimal recruiting windows, show vacancies by trade, slots at CFLRS, positions on BMQ-L, positions on DP1 training, and the assigned position after DP1 training. Language of instruction would also be identified, as would the wait time between courses. Wow! That is seven layers of information that are directly related to our problem statement. This would fundamentally change the discussion that recruiters have with applicants at the recruiting centre. This would also force L1s to cost and resource each step of the process, and permit the use of analytics to demonstrate where areas of friction were occurring. It would also permit the acceptance of risk or reallocation of resources from other activities.


Synchronizing the recruiting to OFP system has been a challenge for the CAF for many years. The good news is that we control almost all of the means to fix this problem. The bad news is that many of the problems are self-imposed and that culture change is almost as urgently required as process change if there is any hope of improving the system. The use of systems thinking and design argues for a cross-functional design team to examine this challenge from a pan-CAF (not L1) perspective to integrate the existing processes, remove or replace processes that do not positively contribute to success, analyze policy, and make the first steps that CAF members take in uniform more certain and positive. Perhaps the recent Defence Policy and the promise to increase the regular force by 3,500 personnel will be the trigger required to bring this topic forward for action. Otherwise the CAF will only undertake the analysis in response to a crisis, which is the worst time to undertake this type of change. Fortunately the CAF has a growing pool of “designers” in uniform, who can leverage academic knowledge such as the growing expertise at the Canadian Forces College and Royal Military College Saint-Jean, and can partner with Government of Canada innovation labs to facilitate this discussion. We are well positioned to solve this challenge but we need to gather the right people and employ the right approach.

Author Biography

Kyle Solomon is a Royal Canadian Engineer officer and design practitioner. A graduate of the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies, he has applied theory to practice at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, within operational and institutional planning cycles.


Government of Canada, O. of the A. G. of C. (2002, April 1). Chapter 5—National Defence—Recruitment and Retention of Military Personnel. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_200204_05_e_12378.html

Government of Canada, O. of the A. G. of C. (2016, November 29). Report 5—Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment and Retention—National Defence. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201611_05_e_41834.html

House of Commons of Canada. (2017, June). Committee Report No. 30 - PACP (42-1) Report 5, Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment and Retention – National Defence, Fall 2016 of the Fall 2016 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/PACP/report-30/

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