Military spouses and their employment challenges: What employers can do

July 20, 2014 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

What employer doesn’t crave a pool of applicants with a strong work ethic, a reputation for being skilled, diverse, motivated, tech-savvy, mobile, and well-educated? Those qualities typically top the list of desired characteristics, but when candidates with those assets are military spouses, employers often pass them up.  MilitarySpouse

Department of Defense statistics claim that 85 percent of military spouses want or need work, but one in every four is unemployed and looking for work. Eighty-four percent of military spouses have some college, 25 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 10 percent have an advanced degree, according to the statistics, but military spouses earn 25 percent less than their civilian counterparts.

The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University recently studied the military spouse employment picture. The results of that study, titled the 2013 Military Spouse Employment Survey, were released in February.

The survey includes a striking statistic: 90 percent of responding female spouses of active-duty service members reported being underemployed, meaning they possess more formal education/experience than needed at their current or most recent position.

Moves a problem

The survey found no lack of desire for work among military spouses. More than 55 percent of respondents indicated they “need” to work and 90 percent said they “want” to work.

“The results of the 2013 Military Spouse Employment Survey demonstrate a need for concerted efforts to improve the employment issues currently faced by military spouses,” MOAA President Vice Admiral Norb Ryan said in a statement accompanying the release of the study.

A major impediment keeping spouses from reaching their full employment potential centers on the frequent moves required of military families. The study examined the challenges caused by the “Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves, licensure constraints, and lack of career-enhancing opportunities that come as a result of their spouse’s service,” Rosalinda Maury, director of research for IVMF, said when the research was released.

The study found that military spouses are more likely to have moved within states, across states, and abroad compared to civilians and veterans, and those moves compound the problem. In addition to frequent relocations, employer perceptions of military spouses, inability to match skills and education to jobs, inflexible work schedules, and high child-care costs also hold back spouses, according to the survey.

Other highlights of the survey:

  • In 2012, 18- to 24-year-old female spouses had the highest unemployment rates at 30 percent, almost three times higher than their civilian counterparts (11 percent). Armed forces female spouses between the ages of 25 and 44 had the second-highest unemployment rate at 15 percent, again almost three times higher than their civilian counterparts (6 percent).
  • More than half of respondents indicated their chosen career field requires licensing or certification, and 73 percent require renewal/reissuing after PCS moves, costing an average of $223.03.
  • Respondents reported being underemployed with respect to education (33 percent), experience (10 percent), or both (47 percent).
  • Income significantly differs based on educational attainment and whether military spouses are working in their preferred career field.

Ideas for employers

A publication of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, an organization that provides a career portal for spouses and a network of employers, includes ideas employers have used to tap into the military spouse pool of potential employees. Here are some of those ideas:

  • Form affinity groups and business resource units for military spouses that promote career advancements, mentoring, and business and community service opportunities for group members.
  • Offer scholarships for military spouses for either distance or on-campus courses.
  • Offer tuition reimbursement for military spouses.
  • Design free training programs for spouses that serve as a fast track for upward mobility opportunities.
  • The Navy Exchange Service Command, Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Defense Commissary Agency have programs to help military spouses find and maintain jobs at their facilities worldwide. The goal is to keep spouses in their workforce despite the challenges of relocation and deployment.
  • Various employers partnering with the Military Spouse Employment Partnership are using military spouses in virtual business models since technology has made it possible for them to work from a variety of locations using flexible work schedules.
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