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Views and Opinions

The Training Brigade Concept: Meeting Our Strategic Recruiting Objective

by Lieutenant-Colonel Rob McIlroy

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For anyone interested in the recruiting and personnel challenges facing the Canadian Forces (CF), with the intended force expansion, a review of The Personnel Challenge in Defence Administration by Christopher Ankersen in Transforming National Defence Administration, as edited by Doctor Douglas L. Bland.1 is highly recommended. This is a blunt and accurate account of the recent history and current status of our expansion attempts, and the imminent human resource issues centred on our structure and demographics that surely will undermine our attempts to expand. Ankersen identifies four key issues, and some general recommendations for change, that could help in leading the Canadian Forces through this challenging environment. His observations were based upon a relatively minor increase in forces personnel compared to the expanded mandate of the current Conservative Government. The intent of this opinion article is to review these key findings and propose potential solutions that will provide a strategic, long-term solution to the historic woes facing the CF of recruitment, training, and connecting with our population. Hopefully, it also will spur further discussion and debate on this issue.

The Challenges

Ankersen identifies four key challenges to any force expansion: the current personnel situation is already not very healthy; the Canadian population cannot easily support a force expansion; the force expansion goal of 8000 (5000 regular force members) is very ambitious; and the existing human resources structure of recruitment and training is not prepared for a force expansion of this magnitude.2 All these issues are worth elaborating upon.

The fact that the current personnel situation is not very healthy will come as a “blinding flash of the obvious” to anyone currently within the field force. Ankersen notes that the trained effective strength has barely been affected despite an increased recruiting and training effort. This is accounted for, to a certain degree, by the existing demographics and the fact that we currently are experiencing a period where a large portion of the Canadian Forces leadership population is entering the retirement window. This is exacerbated, particularly in western Canada, where a very strong economy and an associated need for skilled leadership is drawing people towards the stability offered by a pension return and a stable second career. This “bubble” of personnel entering retirement is projected to be with us for the next few years, and it is clearly something that should be avoided or mitigated in our future human resources planning.3

The concept that the Canadian population cannot easily support increased recruitment to achieve a 5000 personnel increase to the regular force, let alone a current mandate of nearly three times this number, is a bit disheartening, and, in certain respects, it appears counter-intuitive compared to the manning situation that existed three decades ago. At that time, with a force numbering almost double our current strength and a national population substantially less then the current estimated 33 million, we were able to meet our force structure requirements.4 Ankersen clearly points out that our national demographics have changed, but, just as importantly, that the portion of the population we will rely upon for recruitment has limited interest in the Canadian Forces. Of the population that is interested, half of this group would be more likely to “try” the reserves than the regular forces. Advertising has limited impact on this situation, pointing not only to a requirement to find other mechanisms to attract potential recruits, but also to sell ourselves to and connect with the Canadian public.5 This disconnect with the Canadian public was also identified by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in a March 2006 article: “We have come out of a decade of darkness. We have been disowned, abandoned, divorced by the population of Canada. Canadians need to take ownership and be engaged [with the military]...”6

The idea of increasing the overall effective strength of the Canadian Forces, regardless of the number selected, is ambitious if attempted in any short timeframe. Attrition issues alone are creating an increased burden on the existing leadership at all levels. The relative human resource demographic fluctuations and the resultant personnel “bubbles” point to past errors in our recruitment, training, and human resources policies. As pointed out by Ankersen, the replacement model of recruitment does not work because it places the CF – regular and reserve – in a reactive situation, trying to catch up to a personnel shortfall. This catch-up is exacerbated by the current human resources structure.7

According to Ankersen, the existing Canadian Forces Human Resources system is not prepared for an expansion. The recruitment requirements will be immense, and will require a doubling of current flow-through. Undermanned training systems create delays in the training programs that are aggravating to new soldiers and officers, and they threaten to undermine the modest gains realized to date. Ankersen accurately points out that “the entire recruiting and training system must be re-built” but also indicates that we must take a strategic approach and avoid quick fixes that might lead only to other long-term human resources problems.8

Overall, Ankersen identifies “money and time” as key ingredients for change, and couples this with the following key recommendations. First we must change fundamentally the way we do business with regard to recruitment and training. In the process of adopting change, we must avoid the ad hoc and also avoid a “one size fits all” approach. Clearly, he points to a requirement to an increased training establishment. Finally, he identifies a need to consider “out of the box” solutions. In answer to this last idea, I now offer a training brigade concept.9

Training Brigade Concept – Stop Swimming Against The Current

In developing this concept, I considered the previous observations and developed some further tenets for consideration. Overall, I believe that with the replacement model approach, we have been swimming against the current of retention and are always forced to be reactive to personnel shortfalls and to chase elusive goals. I believe we need to expand our exposure to the Canadian public through a training model based upon higher throughput and accepted attrition. In fact, we must learn to embrace attrition. I also believe in the following considerations:

  • It is a regular and reserve force problem, and, therefore, we need a “pan Canadian Forces approach” – capitalizing upon the strengths of both the regulars and the reserves.

  • We must connect with Canadians – in a long-term view, the more people exposed to the Canadian Forces through positive experiences, the more likely the CF will garner public support in the future.

  • If our policies and approaches can be viewed as supporting society as a whole, the idea will be both sellable by politicians and supportable by the Canadian public.

  • We must develop a structure that is sound for the long term, and, if possible, insulated from personnel variances. The personnel and infrastructure must exist to provide a positive training experience for new recruits, and to mitigate the pressures of tasks on the operational formations.

The training brigade concept focuses upon utilizing the strengths of the reserve connections in society as a recruitment and training base for both regular and reserve personnel. The existing training structure of the army would be expanded to meet an increased training scheme. A total of four training brigades would exist across Canada. Although “army focused” in my example, the idea is transferable to a consolidated training concept for the navy and the air force.

The target audience for this concept, and, in fact, the reserves as a whole, would be the student population in Canada. This is the population that can meet the current training time requirements of the regular force. The overall concept is to guarantee two summers’ employment in a programmed training scheme that would take a new recruit through basic military training and then train the personnel to regular force standards (now army standards) for combat arms, combat support arms, or the service support arms trades. They would be indoctrinated into the reserve forces through recruitment and also a mandated training regime at their parent unit, conducted during the intervening year of summer training. At the end of the second summer of the training scheme, they would act as a formed group in either a reserve summer training scenario or during a scheduled Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre (CMTC) serial. Following completion of the training scheme, and after meeting the requirements of their contract, they would receive a completion bonus in the form of monetary remuneration, and be offered an immediate position in the reserves or the regular forces, on a space available and merit basis. The training brigade would act as a separate feeder system of soldiers to the regular army and the reserves in Canada.

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Figure 1

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In essence, once a steady state is achieved, the numbers envisaged for this program would surpass the total numbers required for both regular and reserve recruiting requirements. This would prevent the stealing of trained positions away from the reserve force by the regular force, which occurred under programs like Youth Training and Employment Program (YTEP).10 Although basic soldier training would be the same for both regular and reserve forces, the remainder of the training scheme for the reserves could stay unchanged. The expanded training bases for this concept (Wainwright, Meaford, Valcartier, and Gagetown) would also act as mobilization bases and equipment depots and could also act as staging areas to support regional and national domestic operational requirements, such as those necessitated by Hurricane Katrina.

The key to this concept is getting the requisite numbers of recruits to meet our needs. The “hook” to achieve this could come in several forms, but it would be predominately monetary in nature. As already indicated, a “completion of training” bonus would be utilized. This could take the form of a taxable or tax-free monetary settlement. Another alternative might be to grant a non-refundable tuition credit. The tuition credit would be worth more than the actual monetary settlement and would provide an incentive to pursue and to remain in an education program. Other incentive programs could include a head-fee grant to schools with personnel involved in the program (be it secondary school, college, or university). For students participating who are below the age of majority, a tax credit could be provided to the parents or guardians. With these types of incentives, the medium to advertise would now be shifted, from solely the Canadian Forces, to agencies such as school boards, and, in a roundabout way, Revenue Canada. These incentives, along with the potential for qualification and immediate employment, hopefully would draw more people into the program than are currently showing interest. Word of mouth advertising should do the rest.

The intended end state would be the creation of a well supported, steady state training system with an established throughput well beyond the actual recruiting needs of both the regular and reserve forces.

With an expected or baseline throughput, a training structure could then be established to meet the training need. This would be manned predominately by the regular forces with reserve augmentation, but could also be supported through civilian contracting.11 Between summer training cycles, the organization could be utilized to run regular force training in support of recruitment, and training in support of the operational field force, thus mitigating operational tempo. The training brigade would also act as an area of respite for those personnel with valued skills, but who need a break from the operational tempo within our Army brigade formations.

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Figure 2

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Changes Required

To achieve this concept, various changes to the way we do business are required. Key structural changes would be needed, including the expansion of infrastructure and supporting equipment at the training brigade locations. An equipment pool necessary to support the training establishment adequately would be required. It is vital that these organizations be well supported, since they would have a direct impact on potential retention in the reserve or regular forces following training.

Changes to personnel manning and personnel policies would also be required. As an example, if the recruitment requirements are 5000 personnel annually, then potentially the system is designed for 8000 new recruits per year or 2000 personnel per training brigade. As the concept embraces two summer training periods, the actual training requirement per training brigade location is 4000 personnel or 16,000 personnel nationally. Clearly, this means a substantial increase to manning at the training brigade locations, potentially in the area of 600 leadership positions. Also, it would mean a requirement for streamlined recruitment processes to achieve the intended training numbers.

We might also need to reconsider certain training policies. Regular forces training requirements might need to be streamlined to allow for the achievement of equivalent standards in the training brigades, which would likely be restricted to a maximum of 24 weeks of training (12 weeks per summer). This could be augmented to some small degree through Class A continuation training at the parent reserve unit in the intervening training year. Reserve units might need to be augmented with more full-time staff to administer and train this increased training audience.

Spin-Off Benefits

There are definite spin-off benefits to this concept, some of which have already been articulated. The structure envisaged would take advantage of the reserve forces connection with Canadians to enhance the likelihood of drawing in or attracting the necessary numbers of potential recruits. It would also take advantage of a predominately full-time staffed training organization that will ensure a commonality of training standards across the nation for both regular and reserves. Once a steady state was achieved, we potentially would be in a position where we stopped “chasing” elusive recruiting requirements, as the numbers of trained recruits would be more than the actual reserve and regular force combined personnel shortfalls. A properly manned training establishment would also minimize the tasks to the field force and provide a support base to augment regular force training between the summer training periods, which would also help mitigate operational tempo. The enhanced training brigade locations would also act as potential mobilization bases, equipment depots, and emergency housing when acting in response to a domestic operations catastrophe.

Even more importantly, the concept would assist the Canadian Forces over the strategic long term, in remaining connected with Canadians. It would expand our mobilization base of personnel significantly. Every recruit who did not stay with the Canadian Forces in a reserve or regular force capacity at the end of the training sequence would still be a much better informed individual about the Canadian Forces. It would also have a significant long-term impact on our society as a positive developmental influence upon these young Canadians. The program envisaged has the potential to give something back to Canadians through increased direct and indirect financial support to education and training in Canada, and in concept, should receive enthusiastic support from the provinces and population as a whole.


The training brigade concept is not a quick fix approach, but a concept designed to provide for the strategic long-term solution to the Canadian forces recruitment and training shortfall. Overall, it is envisaged that four training brigades would be established across Canada to meet the expanded army needs. A new training structure or model would be created, based upon a higher throughput and turnover of recruits that would increase significantly the CF exposure to the Canadian public. Primarily focused on students or those personnel that can afford the training time, the training structure would be designed to support a guaranteed two consecutive summer periods of employment that would result in one standard of training across the army. The recruits would be indoctrinated into the reserves during the intervening year. Monetary incentives, in the form of completion of training bonuses, would be the primary method for attracting and maintaining recruits in the system. Head-fee rewards and tax-credits to organizations supporting the program will also enhance recruitment and advertising.

The intent of this suggested program would be to tackle, head on, those issues identified by Christopher Ankersen in The Personnel Challenge in Defence Administration. It is a concept designed to capitalize on the strengths of both regular and reserve forces within an integrated recruiting and training structure. The training structure would allow a predictable flow-through rate of recruits, insulated from the annual variances of personnel requirements of the regular and reserve force structures. It would create a stable and well supported training structure that will produce well-trained soldiers, and, in turn, mitigate the tasking and operational tempo across the Army. It is a system designed specifically to expand our connections with Canadian society and ensure, in a strategic sense, the Canadian Forces long-term viability to the public at large.

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Lieutenant-Colonel McIlroy is Senior Staff Officer Doctrine at the Land Force Doctrine and Training System, based in Kingston, Ontario.


  1. Christopher Ankersen, “The Personnel Challenge in Defence Administration,” in Douglas L. Bland (ed.), Transforming National Defence Administration (Kingston: School of Policy Studies, Queens University, 2005), pp. 31-44.
  2. Ibid, p. 32.
  3. Ibid, pp.32, 35.
  4. Census data at Statistic Canada Web Site: <http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/demo02.htM>. and <http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census01/home/index.cfm>.
  5. Ankersen, pp. 37-38.
  6. Fred Lum, “Gen. Hillier Speaks to The Globe on Afghanistan,” Globe and Mail, 03 March 2006, at <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060302.
  7. Ankersen, p. 39.
  8. Ibid, p. 42.
  9. Ibid, pp. 41, 43-44.
  10. YTEP – An employment mechanism to attract personnel to the reserves in the 1980s that offered one year full-time employment and regular force qualifications before returning to the reserve force. Most personnel opted to stay with the regular force at the end of the contract, with limited benefit to the reserve force.
  11. Ankersen, p. 44.