As military spouses it seems like we are always getting ready for change: change of address, change of schools, change of social support and perhaps, change in employment. It is that last category that I will explore in greater detail. The informed spouse may already be “plugged in” to a variety of resources to ease that transition but my aim is to bring these means to the forefront in hopes that even more spouses will benefit. Let’s explore how we got here and where the movement is heading.
So how did we get here?
Before the age of Internet, there was no immediate connectivity with like-minded individuals in a particular career field. Spouses accepted a PCS, arrived in a new town and sought job opportunities from the local paper or by word of mouth. Sometimes they landed a job in an area that interested them, other times they took what was available. While the Military Spouse Preference (MSP) program has been in effect for almost thirty years (1986), it is limited in qualifiers and restricted to only a few candidates. Fast forward, however, to the new millennium and we see the explosion of a variety of social media tools that give us access to so much more. This was a game changer in employment opportunities for all people, not just military spouses. Uploading resumes, attending online workshops and creating professional profiles helped society as a whole present their “best qualified” self to the world.
Assessing the climate
Immediate access and instantaneous feedback allowed for widespread use of surveys/questionnaires. Of particular interest to us was the Department of Defense’s (DOD) first Active Duty Spouse Survey (ADSS) in 2006. The recent charts compare data from the 2006, 2008 and 2012 surveys. In addition, the first Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey came out in 2009; they currently post the results of their fifth edition while actively seeking completion of 2015’s survey. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), in collaboration with the Institute of Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, also implemented a survey to specifically assess employment challenges: the Military Spouse Employment Report. All of these assessments are great climate tools and help shed light on the issues currently felt by military spouses; the goal for each is to recognize challenges and implement change.
It’s not surprising that military families have a lot of stressors; but perhaps now, more than ever, focus on spouse education and employment is crucial. The military is downsizing, benefits are being revisited/reduced and active duty members are facing effects due to both the physical and psychological stress of a 14-year war. Military spouses are sensing a need to be ready and marketable and therefore it’s essential these needs are recognized and addressed. No wonder that education, finances and employment are highlighted concerns on all spouse surveys. Spouses have the desire for education but not the financial readiness, spouses want to work but have concerns with childcare or limited job availability and sometimes, spouses are working but are overqualified for the position. Other concerns include the portability of licenses across state lines (24% of the respondents from the ADSS reported a greater than 10 month wait) and other issues with obtaining training credentials to meet state requirements.
Enter the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a solution that would enable military spouses to balance their roles as a spouse with their dreams of a career. In 2011 the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program emerged. As part of the SECO initiative, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) began connecting spouses with corporations willing to recognize their diverse talents. Key players of this push included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the White House’s Joining Forces outreach program and the DOD. In fact, as of right now, MSEP holds over 250 partnerships in support of spouse career potentials!
So there was a shift…a perceptual shift in how spouses were perceived…an acknowledgment that spouses are educated, driven and not to be minimized based on how many times they have moved or based on whom they happened to have married! A quick search online will yield a multitude of hiring fairs and organizations in favor of seeing spouses succeed! Time will tell if these programs will serve their intended purpose. We are still only a few years beyond their inception and there has not been enough feedback from such opportunities to state their effectiveness. Right now we need to raise awareness of these programs, encourage discussion and take the surveys intended to assess our lifestyle. Look to leaders in the movement: SECO, MSEP, Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN), Blue Star Families, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and MOAA for your next step!
Web pages tagged: The Official Homepage of the United States Army Civilian Personnel: http://cpol.army.mil, Military OneSource: http://www.militaryonesource.mil, Blue Star Families: https://www.bluestarfam.org, The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF): http://vets.syr.edu, The White House’s Joining Forces: https://www.whitehouse.gov, The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN): http://www.msccn.org and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA): http://www.moaa.org