Navy launches new ‘experience’ program to cope with military recruit shortfall

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) launched a unique, one-year contract recruiting program Friday which allows rookie sailors to sample a military career before committing to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) long-term.

“Through the new Naval Experience Program (NEP), the Navy is rethinking the way it attracts, recruits and trains sailors,” a Department of National Defense (DND) news release says.

“The aim of the program is simple: to reduce the amount of time it takes to train civilians as sailors, to foster the development of sailors who love their work, and to attract those who enjoy the unique lifestyle that the Navy offers.”

After NEP recruits sign a one-year contract, they are required to go through an eight-week basic training course before heading to either Esquimalt, BC or Halifax for a specialized navy training course.

The program is open to those aged 16 to 57, but applicants under 18 need permission from their parents.

“After the one-year contract, participants can choose to continue to serve with the RCN, either full-time or part-time, transfer to another element, or leave the RCN,” the release said.

“For those who stay, they will transfer to a trade and carry on with their naval career; and for those who choose not to continue with the RCN, they will have an amazing opportunity, and a valuable life experience to add to their resume .”

A DND spokesperson told CBC News in an email that the program is unique in the CAF; there is no equivalent program for the army or air force.

The department said the program is also unique in that it allows recruits to try different trades before committing to a long-term military career. CAF applicants usually must choose a trade before enrolling in the military.

“Life in the Navy can be demanding and challenging at times — it’s not for everyone and that’s why the new Naval Experience Program gives participants the chance to experience life in the Navy, for one year, no strings attached,” Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, the RCN’s commander, said in the news release.

“The program also allows the Navy to assess the suitability of the new participants and offer them career choices based on their success.”

Military short thousands of troops

The new program comes as the armed forces faces an acute shortage of personnel. Last year, Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said the military is 10,000 trained soldiers short of full strength. Eyre told a House of Commons committee last year he’s “very, very worried” about the military’s staffing numbers.

“I am concerned as the threats to the world security situation increase, as the threats at home increase, our readiness is going down within the Canadian Armed Forces,” Eyre told the committee.

The shortage prompted Eyre to issue a directive making recruitment and retention the military’s top priority.

The CAF last year drastically changed dress and grooming rules for personnel, a move partly motivated by a need to boost recruitment and retention. The military also opened up recruitment for permanent residents in December 2022. The NEP is also open for permanent residents.

But the CAF has come under fire recently over a series of sexual misconduct scandals, including allegations against its top officers, and has faced criticism about its new support benefit to offset high housing costs.

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