Sailor helps diversity recruitment

PO2 Kenwar Nijjer, co-chair of the Defence Visible Minority Action Group, congratulates one of 85 new Canadian citizens after receiving their official citizenship certificates. Photos by Peter Mallett, Lookout

PO2 Kenwar Nijjer, co-chair of the Defence Visible Minority Action Group, congratulates one of 85 new Canadian citizens after receiving their official citizenship certificates. Photos by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A sailor with over 22 years of experience in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is educating teens and young adults from Canada’s South Asian community about career opportunities in the military.

Petty Officer Second Class Kanwar Nijjer, a Sikh from the Punjabi region of India, is promoting life in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to bolster diversity recruitment.

“Many Canadians, including those in the South Asian community, really don’t know what the military has to offer in terms of a career path,” he says. “They need to be aware the CAF is not all about combat; they can become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a trades person.”

For 10 years he has worked at annual Vaisakhi festivals and other community events in Vancouver and Victoria handing out recruiting information. Part of his focus is mentoring wayward youth drawn to gangs and crime in an effort to change their path.

A few weeks ago he broadened his recruitment scope to JoyTV, a Vancouver cable station, where he talked about his experience in the military and his mentorship efforts during a taping of the Harpreet Singh Show.

“By wearing a turban on the show, it really makes me stand out, and if the viewers see someone like me on TV they realize that I could be them, or their children, or grandchildren, and that they have a place within the CAF,” he says.

At 15, PO2 Nijjer moved to Edmonton from his birthplace in a small northern India village. Beyond the culture shock of 1981 in Canada, language was his greatest hindrance. His enrolment in a second language English program through the local public school system was key to overcoming the barrier.

“When I came to Canada education meant a better way of life. The other students in my class were also new to the country, so it was a great starting point. The learning curve was sharp so I would often stay after classes to learn as much as I could and worked really hard to graduate.”

It is tough, he says, for the children of immigrants who struggle with identity and self-worth because they don’t quite fit in. People in the South Asian community, including his own sons ages 18, 15 and 9, gradually learned to overcome.

“There is no other country on the planet I would rather live in than Canada because we are a country built and united on diversity, tolerance and understanding,” he says. “Canada is a place, more than any other that I know, where so many people from diverse backgrounds live as brothers and sisters.”

It’s a message that PO2 Nijjer says he and others in Canada’s military take to heart when they speak to the next generation of soldiers, sailors and aviators about a career in the CAF.

His work at Naval Fleet School Pacific as a Human Resources Administrator in the Finance Headquarters Division supports his time as co-chair for the Defence Visible Minority Action Group (DVMAG). The group is one of four designated Defence Advisory Groups founded within the legislation of Employment Equity as an effort to overcome discrimination in employment practices, systems and policies against CAF members.

Three other groups on base represent the interests of Aboriginal peoples, women and persons with disabilities and have the same mandate as the DVMAG: to provide advice and information relative to their designated groups to the Defence Team and leadership.

Since joining DVMAG, he has expanded the group from 20 members to 67.

“We need to attract as many people as we can from diverse communities within the military to both support our mandate and mentor others in our ongoing effort to create awareness and cultural diversity in the community.”

Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author: The Lookout Newspaper can trace its history back to April 1943 when CFB Esquimalt’s first newspaper was published. Since then, Lookout has grown into the award winning source for Pacific Navy News. Leading the way towards interactive social media reach, we are a community resource newspaper growing a world wide audience.

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