Military’s aboriginal programs do little to bolster recruitment: report
The military currently has three programs specifically targeted to aboriginal people.
One involves a three-week introduction to military life that is very similar to basic training. Another entails spending a year studying at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston. Both accept only a few dozen applicants each year.
The last program is a six-week summer camp, where hundreds of participants take part in some basic training while getting an opportunity to speak with currently serving military personnel. They also learn about the role aboriginal people have played in Canada’s military history.
In each case, the government covers all costs and participants who go through the full three- or six-week course receive $1,200 or $3,500 respectively. Participants can leave at any time, and while the goal is to bolster aboriginal recruitment, there is no pressure to join.
It’s unclear exactly how much the government spends on these programs each year, but a rough calculation indicates it gave participants at least $1.5 million between 2011 and 2013.
To find out whether the program was working, the government commissioned a study last year that found the programs “are doing a good job providing Aboriginal people with an introduction to the forces and the military lifestyle.
“This introduction, however, has not translated into enlistments,” the study says. “Very few of the program participants interviewed have actually joined the (Canadian Armed Forces) despite having seriously considered the CAF as a career option as a result of the programs.”
The finding is not good news for the Canadian Forces. The Forces are expected to aim at having aboriginals make up 3.3 per cent of personnel in uniform, under the auspices of the Employment Equity Act. Right now, however, aboriginals only account for 1.9 per cent.
In addition to having a legal obligation to increase aboriginal recruitment, there is also a practical impetus. Unlike the rest of the population, the aboriginal community is growing fast. Aboriginals on average also tend to be much younger than non-Aboriginals.
“The implications of these statistics for the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) are that its pool of potential recruits will decline,” the study reads.
“In order to attain its annual recruitment goals, the CAF will have to devise effective strategies to reach out to aboriginal people to encourage them to pursue a career in the CAF.”
The military is currently pushing to lower the 3.3-per-cent target for aboriginal recruitment to 2.6 per cent. It also wants to cut the targets for women and visible minorities, from 25.1 per cent and 11.7 per cent respectively, to 17.6 per cent and 8.2 per cent.
Military leaders have said the current goals are unrealistic, but some fear the Canadian Forces are simply trying to take the easy way out rather than genuinely address recruitment problems.
Participants in the three aboriginal-focused programs could not say what might be changed to convince them or others to join the military, but the study does have a number of recommendations, such as publicizing the programs more and running them for longer periods.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau feared the report would be used to justify cutting the recruitment targets, but said the Canadian Forces should act upon the recommendations and redouble recruiting efforts first.
Garneau said having high employment equity targets while he was president of the Canadian Space Agency resulted in more women sitting on panels interviewing prospective job applicants, which helped to ensure more fairness in the process.
“So you’ve got to keep the goals there, and you’ve got to keep the effort on,” he said, “and not throw in the towel.”
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson’s press secretary, Johanna Quinney, said the government is “proud of the important role aboriginals play in our military,” but that the government would be “guided by merit” when it comes to Canadian military recruiting.