RCAF asking former members to “rejoin the team” to help fill critical gaps

If you were recently released from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and are mulling over the precarious nature of your new civilian job during this pandemic, the Air Force has a reassuring message: We want you back.

RCAF's fighter pilot training process is the longest and most challenging of all of its pilot training programs
It is undoubtedly a positive for the RCAF that a significant number of former members who have reached out for potential re-enrolment are pilots with a mix of multi-engine, helicopter and fighter jet backgrounds. Mike Reyno Photos
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In Facebook, Twitter and other social media posts, the RCAF is pitching former members to “rejoin the team.” The campaign is part of a wider Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) effort to re-enrol highly trained and experienced personnel to fill critical gaps. The Royal Canadian Navy has floated a similar message, asking former members to “dive back in.”

In recent years, the Air Force has confronted high attrition rates among pilots, aircrew, maintenance technicians, and other key trades as demand for skilled labour has increased significantly in commercial aviation. The loss of personnel, often with 10 to 20 years of service, has left an “experience” gap across the RCAF, especially at the operational and training squadrons where those leaders are most needed to develop newer aircrews and technicians.

Under two multi-year programs known as Operation Experience and Operation Talent, the RCAF has been trying to stabilize attrition and bring back some of that experience, while simultaneously improving the quality of life and service for members and their families.

As airlines and maintenance and repair shops began announcing temporary layoffs and wage cuts, however, the Air Force reinforced the message.

“We had always intended on keeping the re-enrolment option fresh and we had [planned] for another refresh of the campaign … to remind everybody that the option still exists,” said Col Mark Larsen, director of Air Personnel Strategy.

“However, when it appeared [parts] of industry were going to be stalled for a period of time, we did get some individuals contacting us … [and] we thought it was a good opportunity to remind everybody that we are [re-enrolling] and that the source is the Air Force Intake and Liaison Team.”

In the three weeks since the revised campaign was launched, the RCAF has received 39 “serious contacts,” said Larsen — 29 for Regular Force positions and 10 for Reserve roles. Three have been forwarded to the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group to process.

Significantly, for an air force that as of December 2019 had a pilot shortfall of 203, 19 are pilots with a mix of multi-engine, helicopter and fighter jet backgrounds. And that is in addition to 15 who had indicated an interest to re-enrol before the refreshed campaign began.

The other trades include a “good cross-section” of air combat systems officers, air space engineering officers, logistics officers and communications officers. About 25 per cent of the 39 are non-commissioned members and include various aviation technicians, flight engineers, air weapons operators and communications specialists.

Larsen said the numbers are “slightly higher” than in previous economic downturns, but he noted that “those who served before in times of crisis will often wish to serve again. We are seeing some of those types of discussions occurring.”

About 25 per cent of the “serious contacts” who have reached out for re-enrolment are non-commissioned members and include various aviation technicians, flight engineers, air weapons operators and communications specialists. Mike Reyno Photo

Though the Air Force is considering all comers, the Rejoin the Team campaign is particularly focused on former members who have the knowledge and experience though their military career and civilian jobs to be reintegrated with minimal requalification for a trade or on a type of aircraft.

“The easiest people to bring back are those who have been out for a year or two because most of their qualifications remain and they just need to be recertified,” said Larsen.

To meet social distancing and other coronavirus prevention measures, most courses are on hold and all but non-essential training activity to maintain currency has been temporarily paused.

“We’re not discounting individuals who have been out longer, we just need them to understand it isn’t a quick fix putting them back into the workforce in the exact trade they may have been in,” he said. “We may be able to bring some of those back and put them into staff type jobs.”

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Geographic stability and issues such as family health care and education were uppermost in the minds of RCAF pilots who sought voluntary release. Mike Reyno Photo
The Air Force has been working with the Recruiting Group and other units in the Canadian Armed Forces to streamline the re-enrolment process. Mike Reyno Photo

As of Apr. 22, the Facebook campaign had attracted more than 230 comments and 701 “shares.” And while some former members were emphatic that they had done their time and would not be re-upping, a great many more were sharing their circumstances and asking for further information, including some well over 60 years of age offering to come back and serve or teach. “Unfortunately, the compulsory retirement age still applies,” noted Larsen.

The Air Force has been working with the Recruiting Group and other units in the CAF to streamline the re-enrolment process, he said, but it could still take several months before a former member is back in uniform. For the 29 serious candidates that have been identified so far, the RCAF and the recruiting group are now “trying to match capabilities and interests to vacancies we currently have.”

While the federal government’s wage subsidies and other emergency credit programs have stemmed some of the layoffs, smaller companies may not ramp back up to normal operations for many months, if at all. That could mean plenty more former airmen and women examining a return to the RCAF.

“I think there are a lot of people who have filed away in their mind that coming back to the military may be an option for them, but they want to wait and see what happens with the company they are in over the next weeks and months,” he said. “I think there will be a number of files that continue to come to us in the next weeks and months for consideration.”

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