The Multi-Career Perspective: Meet Major Mike Richards

Magazine Article / February 5, 2021

Major Mike Richards’s military career spans more than 24 years and has provided a wide range of interesting experiences that come from serving in different occupations. He first joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in 1987 as a Reserve Force Infantry Soldier, where he served two years in the Princess of Wales Own Regiment in Kingston, Ontario. Following some time spent working in the public sector and going to school, he enrolled in the Regular Force in 1996 as a Gunner in the Artillery. Following that, he served in the First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery at Shilo, Manitoba. The desire for new experiences saw him apply for a Voluntary Occupational Transfer (VOT) in 2000 to become a Land Communications and Information Systems (LCIS) Technician. In 2014, and under the Commissioning from the Ranks Plan (CFRP), he transferred to the Communication Electronics Engineering (CELE) Branch. Currently, Maj Richards works in the RCAF’s personnel strategy directorate in Ottawa, as the Acting Personnel Production Section Head and RCAF Officer Occupation Manager.

Major Richards, your military occupation before you released was Infantry, yet when you returned you joined the Artillery. Seeing as both are occupations in the combat arms, why the switch?

I was a Reserve Infantry Soldier in the Princess of Wales Own Regiment, in Kingston [Ontario] from 1987 to 1989, and loved it. After I released, I spent some time working on post-secondary education and working in the public sector. My wife and I were married in 1994 and our daughter was born in 1995. We decided that my working a mix of three part-time and seasonal jobs was not going to provide the job stability or sufficient time to spend with my wife and daughter. I went to the recruiting centre in Kingston to start the application process. My experience and familiarity with the combat arms made my initial career choices fairly easy. My first choice was Infantry, followed by Artillery and Armoured. Artillery was the choice available and so I accepted the offer. Looking back, this occupation change could have been an indicator of things to come.

Please tell us a bit about how you came to be a LCIS Technician, and what was it that attracted you to this occupation?

I loved my time in the Artillery. There is a camaraderie in the combat arms that is difficult to find anywhere else; however, family and future was still a big motivating factor for me. At this point in my career I was unsure how long I wanted to stay in the military and was looking for something that would be suited for possible post-military employment. I completed an Artillery Communications course and the systems we were using caught my attention; I wanted to understand how they worked, not just how to use them. Having been interested in electronics for a long time and taking some related courses in college, LCIS seemed like a good fit.

Had the VOT option not been available, would you have stayed in the CAF?

I really don’t know if I would have stayed in the CAF. Around this time, I was considering my options for a career after the military. Voluntarily changing occupation turned out to be a fantastic opportunity for me. I learned a new trade and it reinvigorated my desire to make the military a career. As a LCIS Tech, I spent most of my time in satellite communications and deployed several times to provide Rear Link services, enabling communications back to Canada from the strategic / command level all the way to the individual being able to phone home.

Changing occupation generally means starting a career over again. What was the main driving force behind your decision, not once but three times?

It does seem like starting over, but only to the extent that some of the applied skills, training and immediate work location change. Unlike changing careers on civvy street, in the military the overall work environment doesn’t really change that much. Our co-workers across the CAF share similar values and experience; we don’t have to fit in all over again with a new company or organization with new rules and policies. I would say the driving force behind changing trades was the opportunity to continue to develop professionally, seek new experiences and challenges. The opportunities available in the CAF to make the kind of big career changes available through VOT or other In-Service Selection plans, while staying within the organization, are something you aren’t likely to find anywhere else.

When you applied for the CFRP, what made you switch from a land occupation to an air one?

I had actually been nominated for CFRP to Signals Officer (Sig O) three times before I checked the CELE box instead. And, that came about almost by accident. I was on a bus in Ottawa just after a CFRP Selection and ran into the CELE Career Manager at the time, who also happened to be a former Troop Commander. He told me of a sergeant who had been selected for CFRP to CELE. This was an option I had been unaware of to that point. So, the following year when I was nominated, I selected CELE instead of Sig O and haven’t looked back.

In your own opinion, what are the benefits of changing from one occupation to another? Any drawbacks?

I think there are some big advantages of pursuing trade changes. Both as an individual and for the gaining occupation. It gives members an opportunity to pursue new interests and career options in a familiar environment. The gaining occupation gets someone who is keen and interested to be a part of their piece of the organization, and can bring new insights and points of view that can be beneficial.

When I joined the Regular Force in 1996, I definitely did not envision the path my career has taken. The ability to change occupations through both the VOT process and CFRP have been excellent for me. I have had some fantastic experiences throughout my career and many of them may never have happened if I hadn’t taken all of the opportunities available to pursue my interests.

A potential drawback, on an individual level, is progression expectations. A change of occupation can slow down your promotion stream. Personally, I’ve found this to be a short-term delay, because if you possess the leadership skills and have the motivation to succeed, you will catch up to where you were relatively quickly. The keys for progression in the CAF don’t change. If you were advancing well in your previous occupation, you most likely will be again. 

What words of advice or encouragement would you have to those thinking of undertaking a change of occupation? How should they prepare?

I think the biggest thing, if you are considering a change, is to look for something that will interest and challenge you. Don’t lock yourself to an element [i.e. Land, Sea or Air]; you might miss a great opportunity. The recruiting page is a great place to get an idea of what occupations suit your goals.

Once you think you’ve found the occupation for you, talk to people who are already there. Use the DWAN to access entry standards and job specifications; gather as much extra information as you can. Be prepared to answer questions about your prospective trade during an interview. Talk to a Personnel Selection Officer; they are an excellent resource who can help you situate yourself to best pursue your goals.

Are you considering a change to your CAF career?

Your local Personnel Selection Officer is your best resource for information and guidance!

Voluntary Occupation Transfers:

A voluntary occupational transfer (VOT) occurs when a member voluntarily requests to change occupations.

An officer or non-commissioned member (NCM) who has not completed training in their current occupation can seek a VOT-Untrained (VOT-U). This involves the choice of up to three occupations as well as a willingness to accept an offer to any of the desired occupations. For more information on VOT eligibility for untrained personnel, the required documents, and additional criteria and references, review CANFORGEN 091/20 (accessible only on the Defence Team Intranet or on the CAF App).

Trained officers and NCMs who want to transfer occupations are able to apply through the annual in-service and selection competitions.  The first step in requesting a VOT is through the submission of a written request (memorandum) through the chain of command. Your commanding officer will make a recommendation to the approving authority. They will consider your application and refer you to your local Personnel Selection Office (PSO) to ensure you meet all requirements and specific eligibility criteria.

The VOT application process involves several steps described in the annual CANFORGEN. For more information, including application deadlines, consult with your local PSO.

IMPORTANT: Given the competitive nature of VOTs, members are expected to carry on with their current career progression as selection for the requested occupation is not guaranteed.

Date modified: