National Defence and the Canadian Forces

4th Canadian Division

31 Canadian Brigade Group


Military Volunteers a Hidden Resource

There is a hidden training resource available that many employers may not be aware of. The Reserve Force of our Canadian Forces arms its enlisted people with many of the business skills found in civilian jobs. And many employers may not even know these individuals are working for them right now.

There are two parts of the Canadian military - the Regular Force and the Reserve Force. Both work together to defend Canada and maintain international peace and security. The purpose of the Reserve Force is to support our deployed troops.

Reservists are military personnel who usually work at full-time civilian jobs and perform military service and training in evenings, on weekends and during their summer vacations.

They have been referred to as &Quot;citizen soldiers." They volunteer to be deployed when their services are needed. They are ready to help in national disasters, such as ice storms, floods and fires, and offer recovery services and operate search-and-rescue missions.

At times they may chose to go on peacekeeping missions abroad, such as in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti.

Sometimes they do the same job for the military as they do for their employer, but not always. Often their military work is quite different from their "day jobs," which means they bring added skills to their civilian boss.

A common misconception about the military is the soldiering aspect of the training. While important and essential, this is only a small part of the many skills acquired during military training. Reserve Forces learn emergency preparedness, sound decision-making, leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution and teamwork - all skills needed in the business world. Furthermore, they get job-specific training in such fields as finance, information technology, computerization, teaching and communication. Health and safety skills, such as firefighting, CPR and first-aid training, are all provided to reservists as well.

Often, employers are unaware of the skills their reservist staff might have, and from which their businesses could benefit.

One way to find out is through ExecuTrek, a visitation program offered to employers by the military. Leo Desmarteau, executive director of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council in Ottawa, cites an example of a business manager of a large Canadian city who went to Bosnia to see first-hand the work reservists do. There he saw one of the city's engineers working as a "staff officer." When the manager asked what the job entailed, the engineer replied, "I am the eyes and the ears of the commanding officer. I report back on any issues we need to deal with and I negotiate resolution with the community."

The word "negotiate" resonated with the manager, who wondered where the engineer learned these skills. "The military trained me in collective bargaining."

At the time, the manager needed another person for contract negotiations back home and here was an employee with the skills he needed, but hadn't known about. The manager proclaimed to the group: "He's not going back to Canada as an engineer; he's going to work on my negotiating team."

There are currently 4,200 employers across Canada who do see the benefits of supporting reservists and have human resource policies in place to address their needs.

Jean Taillon, vice-president of sales for Bell Enterprise in Ontario, says employees who are in the military reserve are "totally reliable." When he was Bell's vice-president of operations he had several reservists working as technicians in the testing unit.

"Without exception, they were there for us 24/7. Always on time and available, they demonstrated leadership skills and would readily tackle independent assignments. They come to work as young as 19 years old with the commitment to do a good job. It is ingrained in them already." Another aspect of military training lauded by employers is that skills are practised, not just taught in theory. In the army, soldiers are assigned tasks and then evaluated on their performance to make sure their skills are sound. Compare that to some of the high-priced training offered by employers that never quite delivers.

Cost can be another factor that makes reservists attractive hires in the business world. Training is expensive to an employer so if a reservist can acquire training through the military that will benefit the employer, it is often worthwhile to the company even when the worker needs time off for military duties.

"I was so impressed with the training I saw there, I came back and looked up those individuals on staff who were reservists," said Michael Bator, chief executive and director of education for the Catholic Dufferin/Peel School Board who six years ago took an ExecuTrek trip to the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa, Ont. "I discovered I had 13 on staff. I met with these teachers to find out what, in their view, the military experience offered them. It became apparent to me very quickly the benefits these individuals brought to the board of education. Their leadership skills and their attention to detail are astounding. And they are exceptionally effective at communicating with the public, which is so important in the work we do as educators. Plus, they have genuine concern for the community in which we live."

The training reservists get in the military is applicable in a variety of work settings. Staying competitive means tapping all the resources available within an organization and employers would be wise to survey their staff to discover the in-house skills they already have in reservists. They could take an ExecuTrek trip to see those skills first-hand. And, they should inquire whether they have a human resources policy that accommodates reservists' training needs and, if they don't, employers can access one through the Canadian Forces Liaison Council at http://www.cflc.forces.gc.ca.

As good corporate citizens, Canadian employers would do well to support the men and women who dedicate themselves to our safety and continuing our proud tradition as a peacekeeping nation. After all, they are there for us.

Quick Facts

  • Active reservists usually serve part-time and are paid for their service. They train on evenings and weekends but most need two weeks of full-time service a year, and periodically need to take courses to progress in rank.
  • There are hundreds of units across Canada, with a strength of about 23,000 personnel.
  • Up to 55 per cent are estimated to work either full-time or part-time in civilian employment; about 28 per cent are students.
  • They participate in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions around the world, such as in the Middle East, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, as well as attending to emergencies at home. In the past, up to 40 per cent of all peacekeepers have been reservists.
  • Most employers of reservists grant two weeks of annual leave and many grant extra time for courses and training. Some offer up to 12 months unpaid leave for long-term missions.

DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE

Ann Eby is an independent job trends specialist. She can be reached by writing Ann Eby, The Toronto Star, Careers, Business, 1 Yonge Street, Toronto M5E 1E6
Originally published in the Toronto Star, May 1, 2004 .
© Ann Eby
Republished with permission. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or republished or redistributed without the prior written consent of the copyright holder.