RCN focused on quality of life for sailors

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Navy News / April 16, 2019

People are the foundation of the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) strength and success.

To fully support them, the RCN is continuously developing new initiatives designed to improve quality of life, training and recruiting.

These initiatives include championing a culture that emphasizes resilience, physical fitness and total-health wellness; more efficiently monitoring and addressing time away; enhancing and modernizing the RCN training system; enabling Wi-Fi and other technologies at sea; and recruiting focused on diversity and inclusion.

These new policies are being implemented by chains of command from coast to coast.

“This mind-set has enabled our sailors to deliver outstanding effects on global operations from the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Gulf of Guinea, Euro-Atlantic and Mediterranean to the Arabian Gulf, Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Basin,” says Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander RCN.

In fact, the RCN was recently recognized by Forbes Media as one of Canada’s Top Employers.

“This achievement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Naval Staff to adapt and implement strategies, policies and frameworks that support and enable our sailors to excel – particularly those policies that have a direct impact on our people,” adds VAdm Lloyd.

Ensuring total-health wellness

To ensure continued total-health wellness, a new Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Physical Performance Strategy called “BALANCE” has been developed to provide a comprehensive approach to operational and health-related fitness that is tailored to meet the unique needs of the CAF.

The strategy focuses on operations, balances the role of leadership with individual accountability, and actively promotes improving the spectrum of programs and practices available to achieve success.

“For the RCN, the Physical Performance Strategy is a key enabler towards continued excellence in operations and training, either at sea or ashore, by ensuring that members achieve the highest level of physical/mental health and wellness in order to perform at an optimal level,” explains Lieutenant-Commander Tracy Versteeg at the Directorate of Naval Personnel and Training (DNP&T) in Ottawa.

Specifically, the CAF Physical Performance Strategy focuses on enhancing the physical performance of sailors, soldiers and aviators as an essential and critical component of both operational readiness and lifelong wellness. Efforts are concentrated on physical activity, performance, nutrition, sleep/rest and injury prevention.

For the navy, part of this means creating a culture that encourages sailors to dedicate time to physical fitness at sea during off-watch time.

“The RCN is fully supportive of the CAF’s Physical Performance Strategy,” says LCdr Versteeg. “It’s not just about physical fitness, it recognizes that we must foster a culture that values all aspects of health, promotes measures to prevent harm, increases wellness, and provides care and support to the ill and injured.”

The RCN already has many strategic initiatives under way which support BALANCE, including the creation of dedicated gym space in ships; the annual Navy Bike Ride; the Navy Run at Canadian Forces Bases Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C.; Maritime Forces Pacific’s Health and Wellness program; studies looking at the sleep habits and fatigue of sailors; healthier menu options at bases and in ships; and new steam ovens aboard ships that make healthier eating easier. 

Diversity and inclusion

The RCN has also reworked its recruitment strategies. As in Canada itself, the principles of diversity and inclusion are core RCN values. They help contribute to the well-being of the team and help ensure naval forces reflect Canadian society.

Every person has a place within the organization and can pursue a career in a variety of occupations that will take them aboard ships and submarines. The RCN has set ambitious goals to attract more women, members of visible minorities and First Nations people.

Life aboard naval vessels has improved significantly as new innovations are introduced. For example, the RCN is in the process of rolling out Wi-Fi connections in its fleet of Halifax-class frigates and Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessels. As a result, sailors at sea will have access to an Internet connection and can communicate with their families and friends, reducing the hardship and isolation inherent in the life of a sailor. For the chain of command, it also provides a new way to communicate directives internally.

“This, along with new physical fitness initiatives, aids in attracting members of the public seeking to improve and maintain a high level of physical fitness, and demonstrates that the RCN respects quality of life/work balance,”  explains Commander Dave Mercer at DNP&T. “This is demonstrated by the addition of state-of-the-art physical fitness equipment on board ships and ship’s schedules available to sailors and their families to allow for planning. The adoption of innovative watch rotations also provides greater rest and relaxation during time off duty.”

To attract new recruits, the RCN has also introduced new products that reflect today’s online world. From 360-degree virtual reality walk-throughs of ships and submarines to videos and websites that highlight available occupations, enrollment allowances for applicants with qualified previous experience, job fairs and school visits, the RCN wants to increase its interaction with the Canadian public.

Knowing that a career in the RCN is demanding and requires sailors to be away from their families for long periods of time, families will also be able to rely on the many resources available at naval bases. Personalized assistance is offered to families to identify their needs and guide them through the range of services, including childcare, second language training, arts and sports activities, and more.

One Team Navy

Once joining the navy team, education, occupational management and training are designed to ensure that jobs add value to the RCN and Canada.

“Accrediting previous education and experience allows the RCN to recognize what each potential recruit brings to the RCN,” says Cdr Dennis Witzke at DNP&T.

He adds that recognition of education and experience, as well as stronger ties with academic institutions, allows the RCN to identify the value of what each potential recruit brings to the table.

“This can reduce duplication of training, the time it takes to gain RCN qualifications, and possibly the time to promotion,” he says. “Occupations are proactively assessing sailors’ previous education and, where warranted, initiating a Prior Learning Assessment on behalf of the sailor to grant qualifications.”

Modularized training has been introduced to improve scheduling, reduce training wait times, and enable remote access to required training. Complementary to that is the “two coast model” which allows sailors to train where they live, reducing time away from home.

The number of days that personnel are away from their families is tracked and Flag Officer oversight is required for those sailors who will deploy for more than 180 days in a 12-month period. As well, in order to give sailors and their families the ability to make longer term plans and to have confidence in their ship’s program, leadership has ranged out in the operational planning schedule and de-classified the schedule itself.

The continuous improvement of occupational structures, along with a streamlined process will also enable easier movement from part-time to full-time service.

“This will allow Canadian citizens to try out the RCN part-time in the Naval Reserve, gain qualifications and experience, and then transfer those skills to the Regular Force if desired,” says Cdr Witzke.

The RCN is committed, however, to ensuring the Naval Reserve is an integral part of the One Team Navy.

If sailors decide to stay in the Naval Reserve, employment opportunities will only be limited by qualification and availability, and they will have the opportunity to serve both at sea and ashore, including on the Naval Security Team. Creation of Reserve components in Regular Force occupations will also broaden the employment opportunities for Reserve members and for Regular Force members who wish to release and transfer to the Reserve Force.

All of these new initiatives are aimed squarely at improving quality of life for both sailors currently serving in the RCN, and those Canadians who wish to join the team.

“We have a vibrant, healthy naval force that our sailors are proud of,” says VAdm Lloyd. “As we look forward, we must continue to adapt so that we enable and support our sailors and their families to ensure we remain: Ready to Help, Ready to Lead, Ready to Fight.”