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Royal Canadian Navy, coast guard short hundreds of sailors

OceanBonfire

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Lee Berthiaume
The Canadian Press


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The HMCS Calgary is seen behind sailors during a change of command ceremony at CFB Esquimalt, in Esquimalt, B.C., Wednesday, June 24, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito


It's been billed as the largest-ever investment in the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard during a time of peace.

Over the next decade, the federal government will invest tens of billions of dollars into new science ships, icebreakers, supply vessels and warships.

Yet as they prepare to welcome those new ships with open arms, given the age of their current fleets, top officials at both the navy and coast guard are wrestling with a difficult but critical question: Who will sail the vessels?

That is because the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard need hundreds more sailors between them. And while the situation isn't critical yet, it has become one of the top priorities for both services.

"It's good to get all those resources, all this new technology and new ships," Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Mario Pelletier said in a recent interview. "But without people, I'm not going to be able to operate or to support or to manage the operations. So I need people."

The coast guard says up to 15 per cent of its positions are currently vacant, representing a shortfall of roughly 1,000 people. While that alone is cause for concern, the organization released a business plan last year that noted the workforce is also getting older.

The same business plan identified recruitment as "one of the most difficult challenges" for the organization -- an assessment echoed by Pelletier. It is for those reasons that he identified recruitment as well as retention as a key focus when he became commissioner in December.

Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, who took over as commander of the Royal Canadian Navy last June, has the same priority: getting more young men and women to sign up to sail with the navy, which is short roughly 850 members.

The shortfall is manageable now, but McDonald said the concern is what would happen should the navy find itself needing to dramatically ramp up its operations -- something that can't be ruled out given the current state of the world.

"So on one hand, my broad message to you is it's very manageable, the shortfalls we're currently experiencing," he said. "But in a volatile world where we may be required to do more, we need to be able to push to fill those numbers in -- and we are."

The navy and coast guard are not alone when it comes to having trouble recruiting new sailors. Canada's entire marine industry is facing a similar shortage of bodies, as older sailors leave faster than they can be replaced and new technology sparks shortages of certain skills.

"We've identified a shortage over the next five to 10 years of about 5,000 people," said Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. "And we are having to temporarily bring, for example, foreign captains."

Why aren't people considering a career in the navy, coast guard or marine industry? Officials have previously cited the fight for employees at a time when unemployment is low and many people don't want to be away from home for long periods of time.

Yet McDonald, Pelletier and Burrows all cite a lack of awareness. McDonald calls it "maritime blindness." Not only have most Canadians never been on -- or perhaps even close to -- a large vessel, but those interviewed believe there is a misconception about the job.

Burrows is quick to list the many ways in which the industry has tried to become more appealing, including shorter stints at sea, more emphasis on high-tech skills as vessels have become more modern, and better food and connectivity to home.

The navy, meanwhile, has been implementing wireless networks onto its ships so sailors can stay connected to home while highlighting the ability to learn new skills in a fast-paced environment.

"We just have to get our story out," McDonald said. "And what millennials and others are looking for is a chance to do a relevant job where they get to shape what the output is and have a voice to be heard and to contribute."

The federal government and industry teamed up in January to create the Canadian Marine Industry Foundation, whose purpose will be to promote careers in the marine sector and bring in much-needed new blood.

For McDonald, the stakes are high over the next few years.

"My concern is being 850 down this year, we need to get those people in. We have a message that we're hiring because robustness, resilience and our ability to fully meet the surge if we get asked to do more than we're doing now means that I need those extra people to come in."


https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/royal-canadian-navy-coast-guard-short-hundreds-of-sailors-1.4833232

https://globalnews.ca/news/6613120/canadian-navy-coast-guard-sailor-shortage/
 

Colin Parkinson

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Well 100% of the sea going personal suffered Phoenix related pay issues from what I have heard, partly as they did not comprehend the Layday system into program. Most of the ships are old, they didn't promote people unless they went through the college, etc. A lot of things went wrong, most of them similar to the problems facing the Civil Service. Coupled with a general shortage of tickets across the marine industry, a master, Mate or Engineer could easily find better paying work, with less paperwork and higher chance of being paid properly. TC is also short of Marine Inspectors.
 

Czech_pivo

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Colin P said:
Well 100% of the sea going personal suffered Phoenix related pay issues from what I have heard, partly as they did not comprehend the Layday system into program. Most of the ships are old, they didn't promote people unless they went through the college, etc. A lot of things went wrong, most of them similar to the problems facing the Civil Service. Coupled with a general shortage of tickets across the marine industry, a master, Mate or Engineer could easily find better paying work, with less paperwork and higher chance of being paid properly. TC is also short of Marine Inspectors.

So this fall into the category that I’ve brought up before - Canadians are the cheapest SOB’s out there - just pay these people what they are worth, if the private sector offers higher wages, then follow suit.
 

dimsum

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Czech_pivo said:
So this fall into the category that I’ve brought up before - Canadians are the cheapest SOB’s out there - just pay these people what they are worth, if the private sector offers higher wages, then follow suit.

I'm sure someone will correct me, but our pay (and the CCG's pay) isn't set by us.
 

Czech_pivo

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Dimsum said:
I'm sure someone will correct me, but our pay (and the CCG's pay) isn't set by us.

I know, it’s set by GoC, the people who manage to screw up the simplest of things
 

CBH99

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Correct me if I'm wrong...

I was under the impression that salaries for CAF personnel were pretty high compared to other NATO countries? 

So is it a matter of our salaries not being competitive with the private sector, especially in regards to naval skill-sets?  Is it a general lack of interest from Canadians, as most Canadians don't live with much exposure to either ocean?  Is it an overly complicated recruiting process?
 

Colin Parkinson

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Government can't respond quick enough to industry trends, then there is that sticky thing about contracts. Previously the deal was that government paid less than industry, but offered stability, decent benefits and a good pension. The stability, benefits and pension have been eroded, coupled with all the IT failures and failures to reinvest in the fleet, of course people walk. Canadian Merchant Officers have a good rep and can get good jobs overseas.
 

daftandbarmy

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I live in a Navy town.

I’m in the Army, but there you go.

If I did not attend the Remembrance Day service at the cenotaph there is no way I would realize that we have naval personnel in town.

If nothing else, we need to get better at letting Canadians know that our Navy needs them. And that we have a Navy.
 

Halifax Tar

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I cannot speak fort the CCG.

As for what I see at my level in the RCN, in a sea going position, on my 2nd 6-7 month deployment in 3 years.  We are hamstrung by the policies that are in place to help and assist those sailors who are in need.  We have huge amounts of personnel who are tying up shore billets and ruining what was a descent sea to shore ratio for posting cycles.  And this only exacerbates the problem as those we have left as healthy, simply break down and add to the masses.  We may be 850 short but I wll bet we are double that in pers on unfit sea MELs.

Personnel management and trade amalgamations has hurt us a ton.  We have seen allot of good people with decades of trade knowledge walk away.  And get scooped up by industry.

Quality of life at sea.  There simply isn’t any.  And the remuneration for that hardship (SDA) isn’t worth it to many.  I recently completed a survey on QOL for the new T26's we are planning on building.  My big point was privacy.  To quantify my position I have 6 years field time as well.  Never once in the field did I wake up and question my life’s choices, every day at sea I do; and I am PO1 imagine what the MS and below are thinking.

Pay.  Why am I making the same +SDA as the PO1 in Halifax who is unfit, and has less responsibility in their job?  I know the journey program is supposed to address that.

Officer and NCM relationship.  This needs to be investigated and fast.  I am seeing a huge divide start to broaden across the fleet and this will not help the RCN in it manning issues.  And I place the blame squarely at "Succession Management", "Institutional Leadership by CPO1s" and the removing of CPO1s from the trades.
 

NavyShooter

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Well said.  I am one of those with decades of experience that walked away.

I could not see the benefit of spending 2 years on a HR unit, expecting 200+ days a way per year, then 3 years at ST(A) with 250+ days away a year....that was my next 5 years.  My eldest is 16 - she'd have been 21 and moved out by the time I got back from those two 'adventures'. 

The amalgamations staved off some problems, and created a host more - I tried proposing solutions, but was roundly ignored, and so was left with the spectre of trying to argue against a system I did not support - while on a ship at sea supporting that system.

The time was right for me, and the opportunity was right.  I have done multiple overseas deployments in my time, I've responded on short notice (26 hours notice for a 6 month trip to Libya) so I've done the business, and done it well.  I moved on before I got bitter, and now I'm in a better place.

The Navy....needs to think about how they do things.  200 years of tradition unmarred by modern technology is more than just a saying...watching 4 people manning lines on a cruise ship to bring it alongside where the navy would have over 20 people.  Seeing a bridge with 5 people on it at sea instead of 35.  The navy isn't good at change, and the change it does make doesn't always fix the real problems.

Well said Tar.  Look me up for a coffee when you get home...if there's anything you need, shoot me an email and I'll see what I can do to help.
 

Lumber

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Halifax Tar said:
Officer and NCM relationship.  This needs to be investigated and fast.  I am seeing a huge divide start to broaden across the fleet and this will not help the RCN in it manning issues.  And I place the blame squarely at "Succession Management", "Institutional Leadership by CPO1s" and the removing of CPO1s from the trades.

Can you elaborate on this? What's the divide and how is it broadening?
 

daftandbarmy

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Lumber said:
Can you elaborate on this? What's the divide and how is it broadening?

FWIW.....

I know three NCOs in the RCN (two POs and one, a very experienced Stoker who was being lined up for his third stripe, who left after 10 years and joined a big company where he is doing very well) well enough to BS over beers occasionally. They all love/loved their jobs, have lots of sea time and are experts in their fields, and ooze leadership and all that stuff you'd generally expect from good people. All three have young families.

The overall impression I get is that MARS Officers (and they used this term specifically) in general are aliens from another planet when it comes to treating people like, well, people and not a faceless cog in a machine. They shared a few examples with me that left my mouth hanging open, and not just because I was ready for another beer. Sea time away from the family? Apparently a minor irritant in comparison with the relationship that their own Officers have with them, and vice versa.

They point to the few Army and Air Force Officers/NCMs they've come across as wayyyyy better at that stuff, 'they even remember your name' was one comment I recall, which is scary in it's own right, but there you go.
 

Oldgateboatdriver

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And complete the whole exercise by also reading Chapter 13 of RCN in Retrospect, 1910-1968, ed. James A. Bouthillier, U.B.C., 1982, titled "The lower deck and the Mainguy report", written by L.C. Audette - one of the three commissioner of the Mainguy commission.

It does talk of the relationship between officers and ratings in ways not covered by the actual report, and addresses issues not far remote from today's issues.

As a sampling: dealing with the matter of Welfare Committee not being set up IAW rules and regulations for weak reasons in all ships that suffered incident, Audette states that: "It never seems to have occurred to the officers involved that their own defiance of orders led their men ineluctably down the path towards collective insubordination." He later states: "What most surprised the three commissioners was the curious abandon with which the permanent force officer could disobey orders which they deemed undesirable, an unexpected characteristic which was displayed right to the very top."

Sounds familiar (not in relation to welfare committees necessarily) - smoking in the wardroom anyone?

Also, Audette picks on something that could still be true today (I have been out too long to know for sure) but was the case in my days, still: "There had been evidence which made me question the existing situation where alcoholic drink was available to both officers and men, though under different conditions of issue." [my underlining]

Again, sounds familiar?
 

garb811

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Lumber said:
Can you elaborate on this? What's the divide and how is it broadening?
This is the problem, the people at the top of the divide just don't get it, because they are the ones who are benefiting from it.

I was posted to a navy base for 4 years, well into my career. The gulf between the Officers - Chiefs and POs - Jr Ranks of the RCN was astonishing and something I had never experienced before.  The fact that the Officers were oblivious to it, or maybe it was they just didn't care, I just couldn't understand.  I re-kindled a friendship with a Cdr who I had known early in my career and spoke to him a few times about what I was hearing from folks I was interacting with and, although he's a great guy, he just couldn't grasp what I was telling him and the effects it was having on morale and, in the end, retention.

It permeated everything. Culture, the way people were treated, selective interpretation and/or enforcement of policies depending on the rank involved, the sense of entitlement...

The worst part was what was going on had trickled down to the Chiefs and POs and they had adopted many of the same behaviours and habits. End result was the lower-deckers were miserable and, although they had no hesitation in expressing that to anyone who would listen, none of the people who really mattered ever really "heard" what they were saying.  The number of times I had a Chief tell me that what they were doing to the killicks was ok because that was what they had to go through on their way up was sickening.

Throughout my career I've been posted to the CA, the RCN, the RCAF, NDHQ and seconded to DFAIT. Nowhere have I ever seen the dysfunction and disconnect between the various messes than I have while serving with the navy.
 

dapaterson

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garb811 said:
Throughout my career I've been posted to the CA, the RCN, the RCAF, NDHQ and seconded to DFAIT. Nowhere have I ever seen the dysfunction and disconnect between the various messes than I have while serving with the navy.

And the Navy has retention and recruiting problems.  Almost as if there's a relationship between the two...

One could also note that only 1:8 hard sea trade personnel are Francophone, where Canada's population is 1:4 Francophone.  Imagine if the RCN tried to create the possibility of careers for Francophone sailors (and their families) - that's a big chunk of the current personnel deficit, right there.
 

MarkOttawa

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A friend observes: "There are time-honoured solutions to this problem"

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Mark
Ottawa
 

MJP

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Halifax Tar said:
As for what I see at my level in the RCN, in a sea going position, on my 2nd 6-7 month deployment in 3 years.  We are hamstrung by the policies that are in place to help and assist those sailors who are in need.  We have huge amounts of personnel who are tying up shore billets and ruining what was a descent sea to shore ratio for posting cycles.  And this only exacerbates the problem as those we have left as healthy, simply break down and add to the masses.  We may be 850 short but I wll bet we are double that in pers on unfit sea MELs.

Pay.  Why am I making the same +SDA as the PO1 in Halifax who is unfit, and has less responsibility in their job?  I know the journey program is supposed to address that.

The medical issue/unfit environment is something the CA struggles with, or at least on the CSS side of the house but it sounds like anecdotally it is affecting the other line units.  The effect  for us is that we a have number of smaller trades whose members (Ammo Tech, Cook, Traffic Tech) now have to take on a larger share of the field, taskings and deployment, stressing them further and eventually they are not deployable thus feeding the cycle

Not a medical expert so I can't comment on if the increases are that we are getting better at helping those with issues on the physical and mental domains, people know and understand the system better, and/or some combination of factors that are causing this shift.  All I know is it is hard for those that are healthy to continually pick up the slack.


On the pay side I thought the RCN was pretty good at ceasing SDA for those that are unfit sea once they hit the 181 day threshold? We have a decent process within our unit but it is something the rest of our close 1st line units struggle with.  They equate taking away away LDA differently than we do likely because they have no institutional functions (other than made up internal ones) that they can place soldiers into where it is clear they have no entitlement to LDA.  I find overall LDA/SDA is a irritant that causes issues as it is all means all allowance, easy to administers, nightmare to takeaway. I wonder if going away current schema to one where you get a "superallowance" when you do the job in the manner it was intended. Likely a discussion for another thread cause I don't think this is the driving issue for the RCN just my Sunday musings

 
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