The New Perspective: Generating the RCAF Workforce in a COVID Environment

Magazine Article / June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has imposed change and inconvenience on our lives; this is also true for the RCAF and the management of its personnel. Despite the restrictions in place, one thing remains unchanged: the RCAF needs to recruit, train and employ new aviators so that Canada’s air force can continue to meets its obligations now and into the future. Training-related initiatives introduced last year under Op TALENT, aimed at improving our personnel’s quality of life and quality of service, remain a priority.  

The impact of the COVID environment on the generation of RCAF personnel has complicated the RCAF’s ability to move aircrew and air maintainers awaiting training through a pipeline that is already significantly long. From basic training through occupational training, this year’s force generation (FG) pause has not only created a gap in production, but the protection of personnel and limited access to the physical environment will see many training establishments (TEs) starting up again with less than half their normal capacity.  Elongating this gap will challenge the RCAF’s ability to generate sufficient new aviators to continue maintaining the workforce.

In March 2020, schools suspended training and line units temporarily froze the development of their apprentices. Though TEs have resumed training, the capacity is less than what it normally would be due to the requirement to train while adhering to health protocols. Lieutenant-Colonel Rich Kohli at Air Personnel Strategy in Ottawa describes the effect as, “Much like a hurdler leaping over obstacles, once they trip it takes more effort to get up and resume than the entire race would have taken without the interruption.”  This is certainly true for us as well.

As the first wave of the pandemic stabilizes and as public health restrictions loosen, the RCAF must adapt to the “new training normal” in which COVID-19 will remain a threat for the foreseeable future. As part of its resumption plan, 2 Canadian Air Division (the RCAF’s training authority) recognizes that training activities will be conditions-based and guided by regional protective health measures.  This means a combination of remote work arrangements, enhanced e-learning, and other distance learning methods will be a permanent part of this new normal. Meanwhile, Op TALENT directs us to minimize unproductive time in the training system, to find efficiencies in generating forces, and to innovate training delivery including looking at opportunities outside of the RCAF.

While attrition has not increased ─in fact, it has slowed somewhat─ the coming year will see lower direct entry intake and lower numbers of initially trained personnel. A distributed Basic Military Qualification program will see all three of the Canadian Armed Force’s environments conducting limited basic training to augment production, as planners come up with realistic production targets for each occupation to address current operations and future capabilities. The effort to resume training also requires a robust plan for absorption, with new graduates needing appropriate placement into the line units.

Ultimately, the COVID-19 crisis has and will continue to disrupt activities. Set-backs are expected, yet it is crucial that they are not seen as a failures; they are part of the constant need to monitor, assess and realign as the reality and conditions continue to evolve. The RCAF has met challenges in the past and we are rising to meet this one as well.

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