What’s in a Soldier? How to Rebrand the Canadian Armed Forces


Image credit: Corporal Yongku Kang, Canadian Armed Forces Photo


by Paxton Mayer
October 2020


Table of Contents


The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) needs to increase its recruitment numbers in order to sustain its capabilities. For this to occur, the CAF must somehow entice Canadians, who would not normally consider the CAF as a job opportunity, to apply. There could be a number of reasons why they would not consider the Forces, including the CAF’s demographics, its poor organizational culture or a lack of knowledge about the CAF’s policies, strategy and operations. To change these perceptions, the CAF must rebrand what it is to be a soldier, thus rebranding itself.



Armed forces around the world are at a crossroads. They are constantly reviewing their recruitment processes and procedures to ensure that they can recruit the best possible individuals, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to attract people, and more importantly, they are failing to attract the specific groups they need. This is especially true in Canada.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has been in a dire situation for years as it continues to struggle with how to improve its recruitment capabilities.1 Soldiers are overworked and many positions are unfilled, but improving its recruitment capacity has been immensely difficult.2 A significant contributor to this difficulty is that Canada’s demographics are changing.3 In the past, the CAF recruited mostly from eastern rural areas and mostly young, male and white people.4 With the dwindling numbers of potential recruits left in these areas, the CAF has begun to look for different recruitment opportunities, especially as it becomes increasingly important for the CAF to be representative of the Canadian population.5 Meanwhile, how war is fought has also changed: there has been an increase in counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and cyber-operations.6 This has forced the CAF to look for recruits with different backgrounds, skills, and experiences in order to maintain its operational effectiveness. However, attracting talent qualified enough for these tasks is challenging since competition for this talent is so high from other government and private organizations.7 Finally, funding for CAF operations has been dwindling, so the CAF cannot simply entice talent solely by offering prospects large salaries and generous benefits.8 So then, the CAF’s recruitment challenge is multi-faceted: how to improve its competitiveness in recruitment, how to increase its recruitment numbers and how to ensure that it is recruiting the type of soldiers it needs in this new world environment. In short, the CAF needs to make a career with the armed forces more attractive to potential recruits to entice them to join, requiring a rebranding of what it takes to be a soldier.9


How Can the CAF Become More Attractive to the Individuals It Seeks to Recruit?

Why are there not more people interested in working for the CAF?  First, people understand that by joining the CAF, they are agreeing to potentially being moved across the country, placed in international locations, or deployed to a conflict or conflict-prone zone.10 Moreover, Canadian CAF bases are located in small communities in more socially remote places, with very few of them in or near Canada’s largest urban centres.11 This can be especially challenging if an individual has a family or a spouse, as schooling and spousal employment often become issues. Although private corporations face some of these same issues, as private sector individuals may be moved to different locations, unlike the CAF, few private corporations require individuals to move in order to keep working the same position (unless downsizing). And, it is less likely that private corporations expect their employees to live in remote locations (for example Cold Lake, Alert, and Goose Bay) where the quality of life decreases and the opportunity for a spouse to gain meaningful employment dramatically decreases. The newest military personnel strategy is doing its best to mitigate some of these issues, but, so far, not enough has been done to address these concerns.12

Second, the CAF is competing with private corporations for talent. Unfortunately, private corporations are able to provide higher salaries and better benefits than the CAF can for technical and specialized positions.13 More funding is necessary to best compete with private corporations, but as the CAF’s budget is not expected to include meaningful increases, this will remain a consistent problem for recruitment.14 Meanwhile, the CAF is left to contemplate how it might attract talent, or at least some of the talent, that it requires based on something other than salaries and benefits.

Third, the CAF is facing very rigid public perceptions of its identity, purpose, and membership. Sometimes this works in its favour, as the armed forces are very well respected, but in its recruitment this public perception is a detriment, since the public’s understanding of what a soldier is limits the number of people who may be interested in joining the CAF.15 In general and largely due to the media, the public believes that a soldier is a strong, extremely fit individual (often a white male) who, as a matter of day-to-day responsibilities, handles a weapon.16 Yet, the CAF requires more and more diverse soldiers in order to maintain its effectiveness.17 For example, the CAF needs to improve its cyber-capabilities since many conflicts are now occurring in the grey zone and over the internet.18 It may be that some people who are more experienced in cyber do not fit into the “soldier” image the public holds and would not consider the CAF as a potential employer because they cannot envision themselves as soldiers.

Fourth, the CAF has been under fire in recent years due to its poor organizational culture, exemplified by multiple reports of discrimination and harassment.19 In fact, there is a “sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women” which has resulted not only in complaints, but also in some women choosing not to report harassment and to “grin and bear it” instead.20 Newer women recruits have even been advised by some women with more years of service not to report harassment as that would be detrimental to their career progression.21 Although the CAF has identified this as a serious issue that needs to be resolved, it has yet to successfully fix it. The CAF must ensure it can offer an accepting, welcoming, and inclusive environment for these diverse individuals.22

Therefore, the CAF faces two issues in its recruitment: public perception and organizational culture. The CAF needs to and can realistically improve both issues without major governing body support. In order to boost recruitment of diverse individuals, the CAF must be able to change public perception of who can be a soldier so that more people consider soldiering as a possible career. It must also provide an environment and culture that allow them to thrive so that more people will be attracted to a military career.  Successfully rebranding the CAF, at least in these two dimensions, will improve its ability to recruit the soldiers it needs.


Changing Public Perception

Changing the public perception of what a soldier is will be extremely difficult. The public is constantly bombarded by war and conflict movies as well as television dramas depicting soldiers as tough, masculine, muscular (and often bearded and sunglasses-wearing) special operations men.23 This image may be intimidating to individuals who do not look this way, such as immigrants, visible minorities, women or people with less muscle mass, and may deter them from applying for special operations forces (SOF).  This means that SOF may be missing out on members who speak a variety of languages, can understand and empathize with different cultures, can communicate effectively to the most vulnerable members of communities and have strong cyber-skills. Furthermore, the CAF has recently targeted adventure seekers with its advertisements, and although that may work to attract the typical soldier, these ads will not necessarily entice the diverse individuals the CAF hopes to recruit.24 As these media messages are constant and repetitive and they reach millions of Canadians, the CAF needs an updated branding or a re-brand to boost recruitment through changed public perception.

The CAF will have to define its new audience. In the past, the CAF’s main recruitment audience was the stereotypical soldier, but now it needs to specifically target diverse Canadians – this means Canadians who have potentially never even considered working for the CAF and those who know extremely little about it. These diverse Canadians will be from all kinds of demographic, socioeconomic, psychographic, and geographic backgrounds. Since February 2016, the CAF has been working to increase representation of women, visible minorities, and Indigenous peoples in the armed forces. However, as of January 2020, an internal study from Defence Research and Development Canada concludes that little progress has been made, suggesting that current strategies are not working.25


The CAF’s New Branding Strategy26

The CAF must change the behaviour of these diverse Canadians in order to inspire them to apply. Canadians who may have never considered working for the CAF must now be able to see it as an excellent opportunity and must decide to put in the time and effort to apply.27 To do this, the CAF has to communicate its brand effectively.  Specifically, it must communicate the constant risks of conflict that Canadians face (demonstrating the usefulness of, and need for, the CAF), it must ensure more Canadians know about the CAF and its operations, and it must modify the CAF brand in a way that increases recruitment and addresses all these goals.28 It should position itself as a diverse employer that provides a welcoming, accepting, and empowering environment. More specifically, the CAF should show itself to provide excellent career progression and organizational culture for all its members, regardless of whether the member is female, a visible minority, Indigenous, part of the LGBTQ+ community, or part of any other vulnerable group.

The CAF should also show that it offers meaningful work that provides superb job security, a fair salary, and great benefits packages.29 The emphasis on meaningful work is critical since the CAF is not often in a position to offer salaries and benefits that are comparable to private industry. If candidates are persuaded that their work will be more meaningful if performed for the CAF than for a private corporation, studies have shown that many would be willing to earn considerably less money to obtain that meaningful work.30 Given the CAF’s critical role in the defence and security of Canadians, it should capitalize on its ability to demonstrate the meaningfulness of the work its members perform. In its branding strategy, the CAF should highlight that, as an organization and employer, it is not only integral to Canadian and North American defence and security, but also responsible for more than fighting conventional wars – it is involved in development, training, diplomacy, international peacekeeping, humanitarian efforts, disaster relief, and search and rescue operations as well.31


CAF’s Creative and Media Strategy

In order for the CAF to communicate this new expanded brand to the public, it must have a clear media and creative strategy. Currently, the CAF advertises through the media, partnerships, and social media.

The most recent CAF advertisement campaign, “Dare to be Extraordinary”, includes images of soldiers in helicopters, out in the field, and on ships in the middle of the ocean.32 Such a campaign, obviously targeted to the adventure seeker, raises a couple of issues. First, adventure seekers are always looking for a new thrill. These people often do not stay in the same job or organization for long, so even if they were enticed to join the CAF, the CAF’s retention is likely to decrease in the long term, especially if the job does not prove to be as consistently adventurous as the advertisements suggest.33 Second, much of what CAF members must do as part of their jobs may not be adventurous. The ad campaign leaves the impression that CAF members are always deployed, but this is not true; for example, it does not depict the paperwork or logistics that many CAF members must also handle. It is likely that many recruits who applied because of this campaign may become dissatisfied with their jobs and leave, finding it more boring than expected, thus decreasing CAF retention. Therefore, the adventure-seeker persona is not the only type the CAF should want to hire. A campaign targeted to the adventure seeker is too narrow and detracts from the CAF’s overall recruitment goal.

Moreover, the “Dare to be Extraordinary” campaign does not have consistent messaging with other CAF communications, such as the “Life in the Canadian Forces” video.34 The video was published only a couple of months after the “Dare to be Extraordinary” advertisement and depicts life in the CAF as far more “normal” than the adventurous depiction in the “Dare to be Extraordinary” advertisement. Although there are many different positions and, therefore, lifestyles available to CAF members, these two very different messages do not appear to dovetail, and instead send confusing messages of what working in the CAF is really like. Moreover, both ads are very male-dominant with few women and visible minorities represented, leaving the impression that there are few roles available for the latter two groups.

In its communications to support its new brand, the CAF must demonstrate how it provides meaningful work and how minority groups can fully participate and be included. An important element of this is showing that everyone (no matter what role they have) is appreciated and that everyone (regardless of gender, race, sexual identity, etc.) can be in every role. Therefore, the CAF must depict minority groups in combat as well as support roles.

An ad that includes multiple different characters (from various minority groups in different units) should be used. These characters should be seen supporting each other and being happy in their positions. See Appendix A for further creative analysis and a proposed storyboard.

The CAF also uses its partnerships with sports franchises to its advantage, but its efforts in this area can be improved.35 Recently, the CAF has worked with National Hockey League (NHL) teams and a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, the Toronto Blue Jays. However, most of these sport franchise fans are male, white and, relatively old.36 For instance, the average TV viewer of the NHL is 50 years old, the average MLB viewer is 53 and the average age for most professional sports fans is increasing, not decreasing.37  The National Basketball Association (NBA) has one of the youngest average fan ages at 36 and also attracts almost 1.3 million viewers per game (one of the sports leagues with the larger per-game viewerships).38  Interestingly, although the CAF follows some Canadian baseball and hockey teams, it does not follow Canada’s only basketball team, the Toronto Raptors. This indicates that the CAF is not focusing on the right partnerships for its recruitment demographic. In fact, the Raptors would be an excellent partner, as 35 percent of their fans are women, almost half the fans are black, and the team itself is located in Canada and in the world’s most diverse city and thus able to attract very diverse audiences.39

The CAF has Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube pages. The CAF’s Facebook page has over 274,000 followers and acts primarily as a news outlet, focusing on quick updates.40 The CAF’s YouTube page has approximately 33,700 subscribers and focuses on providing many different kinds of videos; between September 2019 and April 2020, most videos were either interviews with CAF members (for example, “60 Seconds with …” and “CAF Story”), highlights of CAF’s participation in global celebrations, information about CAF processes, or a news story (for example, “Defence Team News”).41 Given the significantly lower subscriber base of the YouTube page, there seems to be a lack of engagement with that page in comparison to other CAF social media pages. The CAF’s Instagram page has approximately 164,000 followers and shows interesting pictures and updates, but there is a lack of return communication from the CAF on comments left by the public.42 These are definitely missed opportunities to better educate the public about the CAF recruitment process and to inspire members of the public to join the CAF.43 There is quite a bit of cross-promotion across these pages; however, none of them seems to have a consistent brand or message. Furthermore, a lot of the imaging the CAF provides shows white men. Even the communication focused on the recruitment of women shows white women and these women were usually in support roles (for example, as a health professional or chef).44 This does not lend itself well to convincing possible recruits that the CAF is a diverse employer that offers myriad opportunities to all of its members.

The CAF should begin by considering what it wishes to achieve with each of its social media pages and the messaging it has on each of them. In order to determine how to use each social media page, a full analysis should be conducted to better understand the types of users who visit each of the CAF’s social media. This would allow the CAF to understand whether it can better communicate through videos, pictures or words to these individuals. Regardless, the CAF’s messaging should be consistent across all pages and should always leave readers and viewers with the opportunity of learning more through its website. Therefore, every message should either educate the public on CAF operations or highlight the CAF’s diversity. Every caption or message should include a link back to the CAF’s website to learn more about specific operations, job opportunities, recruiting processes or organizational culture.


Strengthening the CAF’s Organizational Culture

In promising a positive and welcoming work environment and desirable career opportunities to potential recruits through its marketing, the CAF must be able to follow through on these promises. Research shows that 86 percent of millennial employees are willing to work for a lesser salary and benefits package if the work culture is good, a fact which, if leveraged properly, could help the CAF better compete with private enterprise, especially for technical and specialized positions.45 In fact, 70 percent of employees, in general, would refuse to work in a poor office environment.46 Negative work environments especially affect minority groups; for example, women in the CAF “were 1.7 times more likely than men to have been depressed in the past 12 months”.47 So, how can the CAF provide a welcoming environment and great career progression to all of its members, including minority groups?

The baseline of a tolerant work environment is one that does not include hate, discrimination, or harassment of any kind. Of course, there must be measures and processes in place to ensure that these things are not tolerated; that every CAF member understands what hate, discrimination, and harassment are and how they are detrimental to personal and organizational goals; that perpetrators are properly punished; and, that victims are properly cared for and supported.48 This should be shown in every element of the CAF’s processes from basic training to supervisor training and promotions. For example, although perpetrators should be required to go on mandatory acceptance and inclusion training, all recruits should have a segment of their classes focused on acceptance (what it is, and what it looks and feels like), as well as the benefits to Canada and the CAF’s members of a diverse CAF. Furthermore, supervisors should be chosen using criteria that include their propensity for diversity and inclusion. Any yearly training to update skills should also include a refresher course on inclusion.

However, providing a tolerant work environment is not enough. The CAF also needs to determine how to create a work environment that is accepting and welcoming of differences and look to use these differences to increase operational effectiveness. For instance, it is possible that the lack of representation in the armed forces of certain minority groups, such as women, detrimentally affects Canada’s security, since “the absence of women’s ideas, insights and experiences from military planning and strategizing means that Canada is not as prepared to face the twenty-first century’s complex security threats as it could be.”49

Therefore, there must be measures in place to help ensure that minority segments of the CAF can flourish; this can be accomplished using specialized networks and career path advisors.50 Implementation of these measures must also consider that there may be resistance within the organization to these changes, and so support must be provided to members of the armed forces, both supervisory and non-supervisory, as they move from resistance to exploration to commitment.51

Within the CAF, specialized networks should be created to connect different minority groups: women, visible minorities, and Indigenous individuals.52 The important aspect of these networks is to connect individuals so that they feel supported and can unite in one voice when addressing policy-makers. Moreover, strong workplace social support, in whatever form, has been found to lead to workers feeling that their work is more meaningful, which contributes to a worker’s willingness to stay in the job even if earnings are not as high as they might be elsewhere.53

Career path advisors should be in place for all CAF individuals, but there should be some who specialize in minority groups.54 It would help, for example, if these advisors were not only specialists but a part of the minority groups themselves. These advisors need to understand the plights of minority groups and how to help them achieve their goals even in an organization where there are many disadvantages. Furthermore, “coaching and mentoring are valuable tools to help workers across all roles and levels find deeper inspiration in their work,” which suggests that coaching and mentoring through career path advisors, could also be beneficial to attract and retain new recruits even when the CAF is unable to match private industry salaries and benefits.55

And, of course, supervisors need to be fully on-board with accepting and including minority groups. Due to the CAF’s extremely hierarchical structure, if supervisors and higher ranked officials are not openly accepting of minorities or are overlooking any discriminatory or harassing behaviours, then the CAF’s organizational culture will never improve. It cannot be put solely on the victims to report abuse; instead, all CAF members must understand that any discriminatory practices will be gravely punished and that everyone is an equally valued member of the team or unit. Every member of the CAF should be required to work toward the same goals of inclusiveness, diversity, and acceptance.



The CAF has increasing issues in recruitment due to a variety of internal and external pressures, including changing Canadian demographics, changing characteristics of war and conflict, and a lack of budget resources with which to attract top talent. The CAF’s recruitment challenges require it to improve its competitiveness in recruitment so that it can increase its recruitment numbers and ensure that it is recruiting the type of soldiers that it needs in the new world environment.

In order for the CAF to effectively address these challenges, it must rebrand itself in order to begin attracting a more diverse workforce: it must change the public’s perception of what it takes to be a soldier by using a more creative, consistent and accurate media strategy. Finally, it must do all of this while depicting an inclusive and accepting organizational culture that allows diversity to flourish and positively affect operational effectiveness. That depiction must become reality through targeted and aggressive training measures that ensure that all members of the CAF, present and future, are moving in this same direction.


Appendix A: Marketing Analysis and Plan

Industry Summary

  • Armed forces in various countries are trying to determine the size and quality needed for their forces.56
  • There is a constant trade-off between paying members and purchasing capital investments to boost capabilities.57
  • Different capabilities are consistently required due to cyber-advances, changes in national interests, etc.58

Competitor Summary

  • Private competition can offer more flexible benefits.59
  • Private competition can offer bigger salaries.60
  • Public government organizations can provide similar salary and benefits packages, but do not require location flexibility from recruits.

Potential Recruit Summary

Individuals have the following preferences:61

Work Element Score of Importance (out of 5)
Meaningful work 3.5
Compensation and perks 3.1
Supportive managers 3
Positive company culture 2.8
Fun team 2.6


  • Younger individuals (18 to 24 years old) prefer having a supportive manager over higher compensation and perks.62
  • Employees who feel that their personal values align well with the CAF will recommend it to a friend 88 per cent of the time; this would make future recruitment easier and cheaper.63
  • People who join the military want to provide a service to their country, have an interest in military affairs, want a leadership role, are interested in gaining education and training, want job security and are adventurous.64
  • People also join the armed forces for fiscal reasons: salaries, benefits, job security and career prospects.65

SWOT Analysis

  • The CAF has an extremely dedicated work force.
  • The CAF provides meaningful work to its members.
  • The CAF does not have a diverse workforce.
  • The CAF is not known to have an inclusive organizational culture.
  • The CAF could implement measures to become a more accepting work force.
  • The CAF could better communicate the benefits of working as a member.
  • Private companies recruiting CAF individuals or individuals who would be interested in working for the CAF.
  • Constant need to re-evaluate needed capabilities within the CAF may lead to different recruitment needs.

Positioning Map

This map shows how the CAF should position itself in the job market. It should focus on branding itself as a diverse and accepting employer, and as an organization that provides highly meaningful work.



Marketing Mix

Product (what does working for the CAF mean?)
  • Working for the CAF means that the individual will gain a team that they can count on for personal and professional matters
  • Working for the CAF means that the individual will be directly improving the defence and security of Canada
Pathway (where will the CAF reach potential recruits?)
  • School visits and programs across the country (high school, college and university) to ensure that a wide variety of individuals know about the CAF and its opportunities
  • Sport partnerships across the country (with the professional and high-performing semi-professional teams) that have a wide variety of viewership
  • Media outreach through news outlets on CAF success stories, major improvements and community involvement
  • Advertisements on cable, social media and outdoor outlets
Price (how will the CAF explain to recruits the “price” of working for the CAF?)
  • The CAF will, of course, disclose that its personnel may have to relocate, may have to train in different locations across Canada  and may be deployed at any time
  • In any communications, the CAF must show its potential recruits that these risks are worth it to be a part of the CAF community and to be able to protect Canada and Canadian interests
Promotion (why should potential recruits want to work for the CAF?)
  • All promotions must send two messages: that the CAF is a unique community focused on diversity and acceptance; and that the CAF is one of the only organizations that provides the opportunity for individuals to contribute to the defence and security of Canada; thus, it is extremely meaningful work


1 A part of a combat unit is discussing how they are going to tackle a certain exercise.
  • It is clear that the exercise is important for Canadian security and defence.
2 All individuals are actively participating and included in the conversation.
  • There should still be more Caucasian men than individuals who look like they are a part of a minority group to accurately reflect CAF’s demographics. However, it must be clear from the advertisement that the Caucasian men are accepting and inclusive toward those minorities.
  • Individuals have different perspectives about what should be done and are obviously in charge of different aspects of the exercise.
3 They all are seen supporting each other, and the leader of the unit (a Caucasian male) is seen giving positive feedback and support to the minority group members.
4 They decide what to do and are seen as professional and have a “get it done” confident attitude. 
5 They leave the tent into the field as a team.


End Notes

1 Lee Berthiaume, “Military Short Thousands of Personnel Despite Small Increase in Ranks,” CBC, January 4, 2018,; To meet the organizational objectives of the Canadian Armed Forces as outlined in Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy, the CAF needs to double its members within the next five years. Douglas Dempster, “Capability Acquisition and Canadian Defence Policy: Programme Achievability and Resilience?” in Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice, eds. Thomas Juneau, Philippe Lagassé and Srdjan Vucetic (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 346.

2 Auditor General of Canada, “Report 5 – Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment and Retention – National Defence,” September 28, 2016,

3 Laurent Martel, “Insights on Canadian Society: Recent Changes in Demographic Trends in Canada,” (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2015),; Indigenous peoples, for example, are the fastest growing demographic in Canada. Sheryl Lightfoot, “Indigenous Peoples and Canadian Defence,” in Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice, eds. Thomas Juneau, Philippe Lagassé and Srdjan Vucetic (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 227.

4 Christian Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation: Recruitment, Attrition and Retention of Citizen Soldiers,” in Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice, eds. Thomas Juneau, Philippe Lagassé and Srdjan Vucetic (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 186-187.

5 David Akin, “Canada’s Armed Forces, Struggling to Hit Diversity Goals, Turns to New Digital Recruiting Tools,” Global News, September 15, 2018,; Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 179.

6 Minister of National Defence, Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy, 2017, 14,

7 The CAF is preparing a competitive workforce and understands that it needs to adapt to: a workforce that is evolving and multi-generational, people whose needs and expectations change throughout their lives, the concept of lifetime employability versus lifetime employment and creating a workforce enabled to meet future challenges. Marc Gagné, “Chief Military Personnel – Strategy, Plans and Policy, Canadian Armed Forces,” in a presentation given to the class of INAF5211, Comparative Defence Policy, on March 2, 2020.; Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 185.

8 This is true even if, in the near term, changes in employment levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic increase the amount of talent looking for new positions.  This phenomenon is likely to be short-lived.

9 The Department of National Defence (DND) and the CAF recognize this is a key challenge they face, and understand that it “could benefit from external expertise to challenge or complement their thinking.” Department of National Defence, “MINDS Policy Challenges 2020-2021,” January 3, 2020,

10 Harvey Sapolsky, Eugene Gholz and Caitlin Talmadge, US Defense Politics: The Origins of Security Policy, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2017), 87.

11 National Security and Defence, “Canadian Armed Forces Bases and Support Units,” February 19, 2019,

12 A comprehensive family strategy, and its Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE) initiatives (Seamless Canada, CFB Canada, the CAF Offer, adaptive career paths and universality of service).; Gagné, Canadian Armed Forces, Presentation.

13 Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 185.  Liam Foster, “Young People and Attitudes toward Pension Planning,” Social Policy and Society 16, no.1: 65-80.; Although salary is not the only deciding factor for potential recruits to join an organization, millennial recruits often do not value a pension as much as they value a good salary.  These recruits would, unfortunately, not see the CAF’s excellent pension plan (in comparison, especially, to private corporations) as a definite factor in deciding to apply to or accept a position at the CAF.

14 David Krayden, “Once Again, the Federal Budget Turns a Blind Eye to Canada’s Military Needs,” National Post, March 27, 2019,; Canada’s defence expenditure is one of the lowest of all NATO countries and falls below the annual expenditures of two percent of GDP, the guideline NATO has established. NATO Public Diplomacy Division, “Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2013-2019),” Press release, November 29, 2019,; The 2020-2021 defence budget is set at $23.4 billion, only a one per cent increase from the previous year’s budget. Marc Boucher, “Department of National Defence Budget for 2020-21 Set at $23.4 Billion,” SpaceQ, May 12, 2020,

15 Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 183.

16 Brenda Bouw, “I Want To Be in the Canadian Armed Forces. What Will My Salary Be?” The Globe and Mail, May 11, 2018,

17 Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 180.

18 Minister of National Defence, Strong, Secure, Engaged, 14 and 53-57.

19 Statistics Canada, “Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force 2018: Key Trends Since 2016,” May 22, 2019,; Canadian Press, “Federal Court Approves $900M Deal to Settle Canadian Military Sexual Assault, Harassment Cases,” Global News, November 25, 2019,

20 Andrea Lane, “Women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” in Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice, eds. Thomas Juneau, Philippe Lagassé and Srdjan Vucetic (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 357.; Furthermore, in 2019, 23% of women in the CAF have been sexually assaulted, there is a class-action lawsuit against the CAF for its harassment issues, and the Senate was called to review the situation and decided that “the Canadian Armed Forces is not doing enough to understand, respond to and prevent sexual harassment in the military”. Sharron Adams, “The Price of Sexual Harassment in the Military,” Legion Magazine, March 13 2018, Epiq Class Action Services Canada Inc., “CAF-DND Sexual Misconduct Class Action Settlement,” 2020,  Senate of Canada, “Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Canadian Armed Forces, May 2019,; In comparison, in 2018, 19% of women have been sexually harassed at a Canadian workplace.  Darcy Hango and Melissa Moyser, “Harassment in Canadian Workplaces,” Statistics Canada, December 17 2018,

21 Ibid., 356-357.

22 In June 2020, in response to the killing of George Floyd (and, presumably, the growing Black Lives Matter movement), Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance wrote to defence staff about the issues the CAF faces with systemic racism and how they plan on addressing concerns about racism and discrimination within the CAF.  They committed to providing a welcoming, safe, and respectful environment for all defence staff members.  Deputy Minister of National Defence and Chief of the Defense Staff, “Message to Defence Team Members from Deputy Minister Jody Thomas and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance on Racism and Discrimination,” June 19, 2020,; Before July 2020, the CAF had yet to define “hateful conduct” and so it was even difficult to determine when conduct fell within or outside this parameter, allowing racist or discriminatory conduct to continue. David Pugliese, “Analysis: After Racist Incidents Spanning Decades, Canadian Forces Still Can’t Define ‘Hateful Conduct’,” Ottawa Citizen, March 3, 2020,; In July 2020, the CAF released new orders to take a harder stance against hateful conduct (defining slightly), but it is still unclear how offenders will be punished, if at all. Lee Berthiaume, “Canadian Military Issues New Orders in Effort to Crack Down on ‘Hateful Conduct’,” CBC, July 19, 2020,

23 Examples of such movies are The Hurt LockerAmerican Sniper, 12 Strong, Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down, Green ZoneLone Survivor, PredatorAct of ValorBravo Two ZeroShooter and Tears of the Sun. Examples of TV shows are SEAL Team and The Brave. “Best Special Ops Movies and Documentaries,” IMDB, February 16, 2017,

24 Canadian Armed Forces, “Dare to be Extraordinary,” Video, August 10, 2017,; Ibid., “Ready When You Are,” Video, January 14, 2016,; Ibid., “Fight with the Canadian Forces 1,” Video, 2006,; Ibid., “Fight with the Canadian Forces 2,” Video, 2006,

25 Lee Berthiaume, “Military Must Nearly Double Annual Female Recruitment to Reach Target: Study,” CTV News, January 22, 2020,

26 This fits with the new military personnel strategy at the strategic level (branding, publicity, and accomplishments), the operational level (social media, attraction team, targeted publicity/events, influencer visits) and the tactical level (social media clips/pushes, attraction team and recruiter/e-suite, school visits). Gagné, Canadian Armed Forces, presentation. 

27 Although the CAF lays out the process for applying, it does not provide a specific timeframe in which applications will be processed. Canadian Armed Forces, “Joining the Canadian Armed Forces: How to Join,” accessed March 20, 2020,; It appears from informal online sources that the application process can take from three months to two years to complete. Indeed, “National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces,” accessed March 20, 2020,

28 George Belch, Michael Belch and Michael Guolla, Advertising & Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2014), 2-370.  The model used to rebrand the CAF is demonstrated in this textbook and in Professor Michael Guolla’s classes given at the University of Ottawa at the Telfer School of Management.

29 Meaningful work includes purpose, values and goals, spirituality, relationships, service, autonomy, commitment, challenge, achievement, competence, and self-realization. Paul Fairlie, “Meaningful Work is Healthy Work,” in The Fulfilling Workplace: The Organization’s Role in Achieving Individual and Organizational Health, eds. R.J. Burke and C.L. Cooper (Surrey, U.K.: Gower Publishing, 2013), 188.

30 The study found that workers would be willing to stay in a job that had 20 percent less earnings if their perception and that of their bosses was that the work was meaningful and appreciated. Shawn Achor, Andrew Reece, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Alexi Robichaux, “9 Out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to do More-Meaningful Work,” Harvard Business Review, November 6, 2018,

31 Canadian Armed Forces, “Current Operations List,” November 26, 2018,

32 Ibid., “Dare to be Extraordinary.”

33 Annelies E. M. Van Vianen, Jan A. Feij, Moshe Krausz and Ruben Taris, “Personality Factors and Adult Attachment Affecting Job Mobility,” International Journal of Selection and Assessment 11, no. 4 (December 2003): 255-256 and 260-262.; After Afghanistan, there were concerns about retention due to the fact that the next strategic challenge the CAF was to take on was the Arctic, which was expected to be less adventurous.  In fact, in 2016, the CAF admitted it was having major issues with retention. Murray Brewster, “Canadian Army Mission in Africa ‘Coming Soon,’ Says Defence Chief,” CBC, July 14, 2016,

34 Canadian Armed Forces, “Life in the Canadian Forces,” Video, October 23, 2017.

35 “Support Our Troops: CAF Appreciation Games,” Support Our Troops, accessed March 22, 2020,

36 Derek Thompson, “Which Sports Have the Whitest/Richest/Oldest Fans?” The Atlantic, February 10, 2014,

37 Sorilbran, “Marketing to Sports Fans: Viewership & Demographics [Infographic],” The Shelf, May 16, 2019,

38 Ibid.

39 Culture Trip, “Toronto Named the Most Diverse City in the World by BBC Radio,” Culture Trip, February 9, 2017,; Thompson, “Which Sports Have the Whitest/Richest/Oldest Fans?”

40 Canadian Armed Forces, Facebook home page, accessed March 22, 2020,

41 Ibid., YouTube home page, accessed March 22, 2020,; Ibid., YouTube videos page, accessed March 22, 2020,

42 Ibid., Instagram home page, accessed March 22, 2020,

43 Ibid., “#Fact Friday,” Instagram page, March 6, 2020,

44 Ibid., “CAF Story – ‘I Love Going to Work’ – Dream Job Becomes Reality for Base Surgeon,” YouTube video, January 17, 2020,; Ibid.,  “CAF Story – Rebekah’s Fight,” YouTube video, December 24, 2019,; Ibid., “Women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” accessed March 22, 2020,

45 Jeanette Settembre, “Employees Would Rather Make Less Money than Tolerate Bad Office Vibes,” MarketWatch, June 25, 2018,

46 Ibid.

47 Jungwee Park, “A Profile of the Canadian Forces,” Statistics Canada, January 5, 2015,

48 The Minister of National Defence has recognized that this is the baseline and that changes must occur within the armed forces, but so far, there is little progress. Minister of National Defence, Strong, Secure, Engaged, 19-31 and 104-108.

49 Even if the absence of women is not intentional, it means that “women-specific skills” like collaboration, interpersonal communication and empathy are lacking from the capability toolbox available to the CAF when dealing with security issues facing Canada. Lane, “Women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” 354.

50 Achor, Reece, Rosen Kellerman and Robichaux, “9 Out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to do More-Meaningful Work.”

51 Elizabeth Lightfoot, Amy S. Hewitt and John K. Sauer, “Creating Organizational Change Initiatives,” in Staff Recruitment, Retention & Training Strategies for Community Human Services Organizations, eds. Sheryl A. Larson and Amy S. Hewitt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2012), 272,

52 Achor, Reece, Rosen Kellerman and Robichaux, “9 Out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to do More-Meaningful Work.”

53 “For employees who experience both social support and a sense of shared purpose, average turnover risk reduced by 24%, and the likelihood of getting a raise jumps by 30%, compared to employees who experience social support, but without an accompanying sense of shared purpose.” Ibid.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 185.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid., 186.

59 Ibid., 185.

60 Ibid., 185.

61 Benefits Canada, “Employees Value Meaningful Work over Benefits, Compensation: Survey,” October 23, 2019,

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.

64 Sapolsky, Gholz and Talmadge, US Defense Politics: The Origins of Security Policy, 79-84.

65 Leuprecht, “The Demographics of Force Generation,” 183.


About the Author

Paxton Mayer is a doctoral student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.  Her research focuses primarily on Canadian national defence and international security organizations.  She is particularly interested in the operations and effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council.  Paxton is also a graduate of the University of Ottawa with commerce degrees specializing in international management and marketing.


Canadian Global Affairs Institute 

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute focuses on the entire range of Canada’s international relations in all its forms including (in partnership with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy), trade investment and international capacity building. Successor to the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI, which was established in 2001), the Institute works to inform Canadians about the importance of having a respected and influential voice in those parts of the globe where Canada has significant interests due to trade and investment, origins of Canada’s population, geographic security (and especially security of North America in conjunction with the United States), social development, or the peace and freedom of allied nations. The Institute aims to demonstrate to Canadians the importance of comprehensive foreign, defence and trade policies which both express our values and represent our interests.

The Institute was created to bridge the gap between what Canadians need to know about Canadian international activities and what they do know. Historically Canadians have tended to look abroad out of a search for markets because Canada depends heavily on foreign trade. In the modern post-Cold War world, however, global security and stability have become the bedrocks of global commerce and the free movement of people, goods and ideas across international boundaries. Canada has striven to open the world since the 1930s and was a driving factor behind the adoption of the main structures which underpin globalization such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and emerging free trade networks connecting dozens of international economies. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute recognizes Canada’s contribution to a globalized world and aims to inform Canadians about Canada’s role in that process and the connection between globalization and security.

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  • Luka Dursun
    commented 2021-09-01 14:38:50 -0400
    Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the author actually watched the “Dare to be Extraordinary” campaign advertisements on Youtube. The author claimed that the ad was “very male-dominant with few women and visible minorities represented”, and yet the ad features a female narrator, with approximately half of all visible occupations filled by women. As well, most of the men present are not white. If anything, the ad is very much a misrepresentation of the reality (which may be for the best, I’m not disputing that). I’m not sure where this criticism is coming from, in this case.
  • Sarah Scott
    commented 2020-11-16 11:15:29 -0500
    20% (7 million +) of the population is french and this study fails to mention them completely; “Two Solitudes” as Hugh MacLennan said in 1945. Let face it; the RCAF and RCN operate striclty in english and francophones are thereby under represented in operational positions (pilot, MARS O etc) and overrepresented in support trades (cook, clerk, aircraft maintenance etc). With the exception of Bagotville, francophone members of the RCN and RCAF have to get posted to english speaking (often remote) locations with zero support. Military Family Resource Centre personnel often doesnt speak a lick of french and the only language courses offered on base are french courses so that english speaking members can learn to count to dix and get promoted. Try to get a job as a french speaking spouse in Goose Bay. CF french social media pages have, proportionally speaking, significantly lower engagement numbers than their already low performing english counterparts; video material is often just english with subtitles and posts are generally poorly translated. I think we would have more success with recruitment and retention by, among other things, making it attractive for Québécois to serve and giving them the equal opportunities promised to them in 1995 than by trying to attract people based on their skin melanin levels, sexual preferences or make believe religions.
  • Chloe
    commented 2020-10-10 09:06:26 -0400
    I’d be interested to know what the impact on recruitment would be if the CAF also focused on environmental and disaster relief efforts in their campaigns. These are big areas of concern for younger people, often leading to feelings of hopelessness. The CAF could capitalize on this malaise by highlighting jobs in these areas.
  • Cgai Staff
    published this page in Policy Perspectives 2020-10-06 16:33:54 -0400

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