Forces deterring enlistment

The Toronto Star, May 18, 2002. Rob Faulkner

Minorities discouraged, secret study says

A nationwide undercover survey has found that Canadian Armed Forces recruiting centres discouraged some visible minorities from joining.

According to documents from the internal study, “secret shoppers” who visited nine recruiting centres last spring found four locations, including Toronto, fell below “industry standard” in terms of being welcoming, exciting and organized places to seek work. Some shoppers said recruiters made derogatory comments.

Results of the military's “secret shopper” pilot program were obtained by the Hamilton Spectator through a Freedom of Information request.

“Just because you are native, we aren't lowering our standards. Aboriginals have to meet the same standards as every one else,” one military recruiter reportedly told a First Nations secret shopper, who found the statement “derogatory.”

A 28-year-old First Nations man was told he'd feel uncomfortable in the Forces due to his age. Another shopper said a recruiter made “disdainful comments to me” about physical fitness, and another about his education level.

Results of the “secret shopper” pilot program surfaced just one month after Canada's auditor-general revealed a military staffing crisis that could take 30 years to fix. The program was an attempt to get independent information about how well recruiters treat people of diverse backgrounds.

“What they were specifically looking at was whether the message they're putting out is being followed through in the recruitment process. And obviously we found that is not the case,” said Martin Hoffmitz, sale director at SQM Inc., the Toronto-based firm that conducted the undercover survey.

“In my opinion, they seem to be judging who is appropriate and who is not, and it seems a shame because they're trying to open up and are looking at massive shortages.”

The Forces contracted SQM to send 10 shoppers of various backgrounds to offices in many of Canada's major cities. Shoppers later filled out a 22-question survey about their visit, which helped rank the offices and describe the recruiting experience. On customer service questions, Vancouver's recruiting centre scored best (88.7 per cent) of the nine centres, while Toronto (69.4 per cent) came ninth. The industry standard is 80 per cent.

The surveys found recruiting centres must become more “dramatic and inviting” places rather than impersonal “hospital” type places where recruits feel unwanted.

The spokesperson for the recruitment program didn't return calls yesterday.

“With the initial pilot results, I think they were very surprised, and we find this all the time when what the head of the organization thinks is going on is very different from what really is,” Hoffmitz said.

“I call it the slap-in-the-face-with-the-cold-wet-fish effect.”

Leon Benoit, Alberta MP (Lakeland) and the Alliance defence critic, said the recruiters' First Nations comments were “naïve” but well-intentioned since they underlined unwavering standards in Canada's military ranks.

“But there does seem to be a disconnect between the excitement and pride in the ads—about being part of the military family, being a good soldier—and what, in the report, the recruiters presented,” Benoit said.

To avoid the stigma as “the employer of last resort,” the Forces now offer large signing bonuses for trained technicians, police officers and doctors. They have also launched a high-octane $15 million ad campaign to rebrand the Forces as a “strong” and “proud” place where recruits will find teamwork, technology and themselves.

Auditor-general Sheila Fraser reported last month about 3,000 positions are vacant in the Forces, which netted just 3,655 recruits in 2001, well short of its target of 4,800.

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