A new survey shows a majority of military spouses believe being married to a service member has hindered their ability to be employed.
While organizations like Home Depot offer scholarships (apply here) that make it easier for military spouses to get ahead, is there a bigger blocker than education in the way of military spouses finding jobs?
The findings, released by Blue Star Families (BSF) – a nonprofit organization who conducts the survey annually, state “75% of active duty spouses reported being a military spouse had a negative impact on their ability to pursue employment.” Cristin Orr Shiffer, Senior Advisor of Policy and Survey for BSF, said the top factors cited as the cause were job market alignment and the overwhelming demands of a military career. The organization briefs the Department of Defense (DoD) on its findings to provide a snapshot into what military families are facing.
“To DoD (the data) says, you have a problem … the job market alignment, it’s a structural problem around the spouses. (Job market alignment) is an umbrella kind of term – there are no jobs in their specific field in the area they live, no job openings of any type, or a lack of qualifications for the jobs that are open,” Shiffer said. She added the issue is maximized because military spouses, unlike their civilian counterparts, cannot move to where the jobs are.
In order to be successful, job seekers need to turn the negatives into tools to make the geographic location they are in work with their goals.
When military families are on the go
Chris Pape, an Air Force spouse who lives at Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph (Texas), said frequent military moves make it nearly impossible for someone to establish themselves in the career they want. On average, military families relocate every two to three years.
“Unless someone is in a portable career field, a working military spouse will always be forced to start their career over every few years,” Pape said. “Constant moving severely limits earning potential over time and creates a ceiling for upwardly mobile-career minded spouses.”
Pape says there have been several periods throughout his wife’s career that he had to pause his own profession in video production, and although he got creative by taking odd jobs, it impacted his morale. He sees lack of employability as a major factor in family readiness issues.
“Lack of quality, meaningful employment options for any career-minded military spouse, or family member, is a long-term, life-sucking, soul crushing experience. Give me a deployment any day of the week before having to PCS and search for another job,” he said. “I truly believe that divorce rates among active duty military members, especially those families with male military spouses, would be much lower if finding and maintaining career employment was easier.”
Experts say there are opportunities in place, throughout any communities, to make the world shrink. Sherrill Curtis, a Senior Certified Professional for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) – the world’s largest human resource (HR) membership organization, outlined key steps that can assist with networking when moving to a new area:
- If you have a specific profession, join the professional organization for your field,
- Research meet-ups in your area to connect with others who have similar interests, both personal and professional interests,
- Attend town hall-type meetings to familiarize yourself with what happens in the area,
- Connect with the local chamber of commerce to find out who the top employers are, and
- Set up an appointment to meet with the local veterans’ representative at the Department of Labor office.
Plus, Curtis said that military spouses have a great asset in their local SHRM chapter because the human resource professionals for that area will know the job market, employers, and who is hiring. Five hundred and seventy-five affiliate chapters can be searched at: http://www.shrm.org/.
When flexibility isn’t an option
The other leading factor referenced by survey respondents as an obstacle to employment was the overwhelming requirements of a service member’s career. For example, deployments, trainings, and long work schedules can leave a military spouse with limited availability for a work schedule, especially if children are involved. With the rising costs of childcare, spouses like Sheila Rupp said it just wasn’t worth it to work.
Rupp, who lives in the Los Angeles-area, said the childcare costs are astronomical and the alternatives, such as a CDC, are limited. When she factored in what costs would be associated with her working, it didn’t make sense economically for her family.
“I love being a stay-at-home mom, but I went to school for communications and it can be dissatisfying and frustrating to not be able to work because we don’t have childcare options, or the luxury of having grandparents to pick them up after school,” Rupp, trained in public relations, said. “Granted, I could find a fulfilling career and make it work, but at the end of the day, when I subtract childcare costs, drive time, etc., it’s not financially worth it for me to work and spend less time with my daughter.”
Like most spouses, Rupp decided to keep her skills current by volunteering in her desired field, and Blue Star Families’ Cristin Shiffer says employers find volunteer experience “exceedingly valuable.”
“Military spouses volunteer at high rates in civilian communities. It is an asset for the local area, a huge amount of unpaid labor that the military benefits from. Those skills should be translated to corporate America,” Shiffer said. “We found through the survey that they (spouses) weren’t placing the value on their volunteer positions that they should.”
In response, the organization created a Military Spouse Employment Toolkit to assist spouses in translating the skills they are earning in volunteer positions into language an employer can appreciate. The toolkit can be downloaded on the website at https://www.bluestarfam.org/resources/career-development.
When there are no jobs
In some instances, the well-prepared job seeker may be in a situation they cannot overcome: no jobs. Sugin Musgrave, a military wife who has been stationed in Germany for eight years, said the overseas job market has presented a host of trials that discouraged her from continuing the job hunt. She said the application process for jobs is so confusing that classes had to be created, there are more job seekers than jobs, and daycare costs are exceedingly high. All in all, she agrees that the struggles spouses face in securing employment hurts the military family as a whole.
“It is a major morale killer,” Musgrave said. “So many families are super excited to be going overseas. They are not ready for the costs, they go in debt from the move, then not finding or getting job, no daycare, no unit understanding. The divorce rate … is really high. There is a big problem with correct information and the attitude. I had to learn on my feet you can too.”
Employment challenges have been a long standing topic for military spouses, especially as those carrying the dependent title have evolved the types of goals they pursue. Certain components of being married to a service member cannot be changed – moving, the job market around installations, the career requirements – but many of the factors preventing spouses from being hired can be combatted.
Listen to the experts. Use the resources. Don’t give up on the hunt for personal and professional achievement.
From the experts …
Military Spouse reached out to staff from the leading military-affiliated employment organizations to find out what advice they had for spouses facing hurdles in their careers. Here’s what they had to say:
Cristin Orr Shiffer, Senior Advisor of Policy and Survey for Blue Star Families –
Get out there, no one ever gets a job from their couch. Even if it is volunteering, it can lead to a job. Leverage LinkedIn. Use spouse sourcing, ask spouses online about an area. Always shoot for the stars.
Amanda Crowe, Executive Director for In Gear Career –
Network everyday by telling EVERYONE what kind of work you’re looking for. You never know if it will be the person in the school drop-off line or your new neighbor who will introduce you to the person who will get you your next job!
Erin Voirol, Chief Operating Officer for Military Spouse Corporate Career Network –
No one is going to ring your doorbell and offer you a job. You have to put the time, effort and energy into your job search. Be proactive and network. Let everyone know that you are looking for work and it just might help you find your next position.
Sue Hoppin, Founder/President of National Military Spouse Network –
Always be prepared and have your resume ready. You never know when an opportunity will present itself. This is just as relevant for volunteers and entrepreneurs as it is for jobseekers and those who are already employed.
Employment resources for military spouses:
Blue Star Jobs: offers the Military Spouse Employment Toolkit; Facebook groups for spouses in the fields of healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. https://www.bluestarfam.org/resources/career-development
In Gear Career: provide career development, networking opportunities, and chapters in various military-affiliated communities. http://ingearcareer.org/
Hiring Our Heroes: career fairs and resume assistance at locations around the country. https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/hiring-our-heroes
Military Spouse Corporate Career Network: employment specialists who will review resumes, take applicants through mock interviews, and connect spouses to job openings. http://msccn.org/
Milspo Project: organization that provides live events, online resources, and local chapter meet-ups for military spouse entrepreneurs. http://www.themilspoproject.com/
National Military Spouse Network: a networking, mentoring, and professional development organization for career-minded spouses in any field. http://www.nationalmilitaryspousenetwork.org/