A growing number of Canadian workers are taking on double duty as the nation increases its military presence on the international stage.
With about 2,300 troops deployed in Afghanistan on the first rotation of Canada's renewed commitment to the international campaign against terrorism, 23 per cent of the staffing requirements are coming from the reserves.
But while some businesses are more than willing to give reservists in their employ time off to serve their country, others don't know enough about the system or the role their companies can play, officials say.
About 45 per cent of the country's 32,600 primary reservists are also employed in a wide range of civilian jobs, including executive professionals, automotive workers, teachers, salespeople and warehousing staff.
|Photo courtesy of Lt. Chris Hunter|
|Saskatchewan Dragoons Lt. Chris Hunter is on active duty.|
"Reservists are often called 'twice the citizen' because they are exceptional individuals serving civilly and militarily," says Peter Liba, chairman of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) for Manitoba and Northwest Ontario and a former lieutenant governor of Manitoba. "They receive the same training and perform the same roles as their 60,000 full-time colleagues, but must also balance that against a civilian job or school and family commitments."
The CFLC is a national group of about 80 business people that encourages employers to hire and support reservists.
It promotes the advantages employers can gain by recognizing the training and skills that reservists receive.
This, in turn, helps the reservists by making it easier for them to leave their job temporarily to serve their country.
Today's reserve training isn't just weapons-handling, boot-polishing and marching, says Liba.
"From Day 1 in uniform, a reservist learns core skills that are transferable to his or her civilian job," he says.
"Think about having an employee who is a strong leader, recognizes leadership, attends to detail, understands and takes responsibility, delivers initiative, is attentive, is versatile, anticipates job needs, uses time and resources well, is a team player, and takes and follows precise instructions.
"These are the military skills every reservist absorbs and practises daily, and these are the skills he or she can bring to a civilian job. For everybody, this is a win-win situation."
However, there have also been concerns from some reservists that if they tell their employer about their dual role, it could hinder their chances for advancement in their civilian careers.
Gary Agnew, a partner with Calgary-based human resources and business consulting firm Cenera, says many employers don't realize the excellent training their staff can get in the Armed Forces and how that can translate into increased productivity in their organization.
"We're spending a great deal of energy trying to convince employers to recognize those who are playing a dual role in their organizations - as an active member of the team with the organization they're working with and as an active member of the Canadian Forces in the reserves," says Agnew, who is a director with the CFLC in Alberta.
Agnew notes some employers may hold a stereotypical view of reservists as having a military rigidity in their approach, or perhaps see them as not well suited for the business community.
There's also an attitude, he says, where reservists in Canada are not held in the same high esteem as their American counterparts.
It's that attitude that got Saskatchewan businesswoman Vaughn Solomon Schofield more involved in promoting the reserves.
The president and CEO of Western Ltd., a Regina-based property development and management company, lived in the United States when soldiers were returning home from Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. She says she was extremely moved by how the American soldiers were honoured, but saw a completely different attitude to military personnel on this side of the border.
"When I came back to Canada, there was such a dead reaction to the military, kind of an attitude to push the military to the back and pretend they don't exist. I don't think that's right," she says.
Now chair of the CFLC for Saskatchewan, Solomon Schofield has made it part of her personal mandate to see that more is done for those who choose to serve in the reserves.
"The reserves are the best- kept secret in the country," she says. "I find that once people in business learn about the reserves, what they do, how they become reservists - and most important, the training they can take back to the business - business leaders are more than willing and eager to have them in their companies."
Agnew notes that employers are agreeable to make concessions to staff if they're dealing with personal issues, "but we're not rewarding the individual who is actually taking additional training because it is not in line with (the standard) 'corporate training.'" While he says the CFLC is making progress on this front, it hasn't yet won the battle. "I've talked to several very proactive organizations and they don't know how many reservists they have," says Agnew. "There aren't (enough companies with) policies or information saying that, 'if you're part of the reserves we will give you time off, or time off with compensation.'" Darren McCrank is a systems engineer with the Calgary-based Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which is charged with the responsibility of operating the province's power grid. He's also a captain in the reserves with the 33 Field Engineer Squadron in Calgary, and believes his training and experiences gained through serving as a reservist for 12 years have been invaluable for his civilian career.
"Leadership techniques are taught and practised at all levels of the military, from the junior members to the most senior members," he says.
"These leadership qualities have certainly aided me in my business career. It has given me the confidence and drive to take the initiative and contribute to tough decisions while always maintaining the highest level of teamwork."
McCrank says he has been fortunate to work for companies that allow him time off for his military duties.
He completed an operational tour in Bosnia in 2000 as an engineer with Canadian peacekeepers providing stabilization to the war-torn country. At the time, he was working for Edmonton software firm Tigrsoft, and despite being away from his job for six months, it was waiting for him when he came back.
"I've found that my employers have been very supportive over the years," he says.
"They've recognized the contribution the military performs and I think they recognize the training and experience that I receive."
That clearly is the case, says McCrank's current boss, John Kehler. "When we started with Darren, he worked with us for a little while before he requested any leave," says Kehler, a senior technical specialist at the AESO. "What I saw in Darren was certain attributes that came from being in the reserve, certainly that was my belief."
Most of McCrank's time off for the reserves has not affected his AESO job - he serves one night a week, one weekend a month and two weeks for military training. While some reservists may need to use their vacation time for part of their training, AESO has chosen to give him additional time off so he can still spend vacations with friends and family.
Ontario provincial CFLC chair Sonja Bata, a director of Bata Ltd., has suggested a tax incentive that will allow employers to deduct, from their taxable income, double the salary cost of the participating reservist as a business expense during the period of active duty.
Bata says this would provide the employer with an inducement and have a positive financial impact since it would permit the employer to pay some of the recruiting and training expenses of any replacement.
A draft proposal was sent to former defence minister Bill Graham in October 2005. "The minister at that time seemed to agree with the concept, but no action was taken before the election," says Bata. "Our new minister, Gordon O'Connor, has just recently been informed about this initiative. If he is in agreement, the proposal will then go to the minister of finance."
For Lt. Chris Hunter, now in Afghanistan on an extended tour of duty, getting the time off from his civilian job as a business systems analyst for the Regina-based Saskatchewan Wheat Pool didn't prove difficult.
"They're pretty supportive about it," says Hunter in a telephone interview from his base in Kandahar. "Mike (boss Mike Brooks) is a retired army guy. When I asked for the time off, he was really supportive."
Up until 2003, the Wheat Pool granted requests from reservists for time off, but they still had to dip into their vacation time.
"We would try to work within their schedule, so they would have priority if, for example, they needed the middle two weeks of July," says Brooks, general manager of information technology at the Wheat Pool.
Things changed when it came time to renegotiate the company's contract with its employees in 2003. Now Wheat Pool employees who are reservists get an additional two weeks off for their summer training, and are allowed a non-paid absence if they opt for a foreign assignment such as Hunter's.
They're also guaranteed their position when they return. The company will top off their pay if they're deployed outside the country, covering the difference between their reservist salary and what they would have made in their civilian job.
"The payback for an employer of reservists is certainly greater than the cost," says Brooks. "They receive training, they're more confident and they're better able to cope in difficult situations. They're just a more rounded employee."
Hunter, an armoured reconnaissance officer with the Moose Jaw-based Saskatchewan Dragoons Reserve Unit, works with the infantry battle group as the second-in-command for the headquarters company at the Kandahar airfield. He has been on duty since February and is slated to return home in August or early September.
"I've been in (the reserves) for 10 years now and always wanted to get in on a tour. It seemed the right thing to do," says Hunter. "Somebody else has got to be doing something so we can have the freedoms we enjoy - you've got to do your part."
Canadian business people have the opportunity to boldly go where they usually don't - to a Canadian Forces base or vessel.
Called ExecuTreks, these excursions provide invited employers, supervisors and human resources professionals a first-hand view of the calibre of military training and the benefits employers can gain from the training reservists receive.
Mike Brooks, general manager of information technology at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, took part in ExecuTrek in 2003 at CFB Suffield in Alberta. He went on to become part of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, a group of volunteers from the business community to promote the benefits of employing reservists.
"The council definitely had a need to get the message out to other employers. The message is a lot better if it's peer to peer. It carries more weight from one business person to another," says Brooks.
There's No Life Like It
* Comprised of air, army, communications, medical and navy troops, more than 32,600 primary reservists serve the country on a voluntary basis. The Primary Reserve is the largest sub-component of the reserve force. Its officers and non-commissioned members train regularly on a part-time basis with occasional periods of full-time service. The Primary Reserve is divided into five elements: Naval Reserve, Army Reserve, Air Reserve, Communications Reserve and the Medical Reserve. The Primary Reserve exists to augment, sustain and support deployed regular (or permanent) force personnel in operations. The primary reservists are the largest contingent of the total 48,635-member reserve.
* Job protection for Canadian reservists is not legislated. Since military service for reservists is voluntary, the belief is that job protection should also be voluntary.
* Mandatory legislation for job protection has been considered but ruled out in Canada. Officials say that based on experiences from other countries it can result in discrimination in hiring practices and career advancement for reservists.
* Employers are not obliged to give reservists time off for routine training, attendance of military courses or any missions for which they volunteer.
* Reservists are not called up to duty as are regular members of the Canadian Forces. All missions are voluntary.
* Reservists will typically spend one night a week, one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer on routine training annually.
* The reservist/civilian employer relationship is primarily the responsibility of the reservist. When employers know about the benefits they receive by supporting an employee's request to attend military training, they'll usually allow the time off.
* The Canadian Forces Liaison Council, a group of influential business people from across Canada, has volunteered to spread the message that reservists make better employees. It has programs in place to help educate the business community about the benefits of employing reservists and is there to assist reservists in educating their employers.
- Source: Canadian Forces Liaison Council
See the related story "Gas plant operator/reservist heeded call of the sea"
(Laura Severs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)