OTTAWA - Canada's top military commander has a message for job-seekers in tough economic times: We want you.

General Walter Natynczyk says as a recession looms and jobs get scarce, the Canadian Forces is still hiring.

Despite a flurry of recruiting ads and the spotlight on the Afghan war, the military missed its expansion goals last year even though it signed up thousands of new recruits.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press, the chief of the defence staff says the problem is not recruiting, but rather attrition.

He says meeting the growth targets set out in the Conservative government's Canada First Defence Strategy is his greatest challenge.

The target for filling out the ranks with new recruits has not been a problem over the last few years.

But since 2006, the attrition rate -- the number of uniformed members opting to take early retirement, or not renew their contracts -- has climbed to 9.2 per cent from the long-standing average of just over six per cent.

As a result, the overall size of Canada's thinly stretched military grew by only 650 people in the last fiscal year, instead of one-thousand that had been planned.