Navy Wife Applauds Military Spouse Employment Program
Last week I attended the Military Spouse Employment Partnership launch at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The MSEP is an amazing program, spearheaded by the Defense Department’s office of military community and family policy, that’s designed to connect military spouses to careers by creating a gateway for military spouses and corporate and nonprofit organizations to interact.
Military spouses can search for job opportunities on the MSEP website, which hosts a database drawn from the partnering employers. One sure sign of the strength of the initiative is that there are already over 70 employers who have joined the partnership, including heavy hitters such as Microsoft, Johns Hopkins Medical, Amazon.com, Bank of America and Booz Allen Hamilton.
To become a partner, these companies have to be vetted, which includes signing a statement of support that includes tangible metrics such as committing to post job openings on the MSEP web portal; offering transferable, portable career opportunities to relocating military spouses; and, perhaps most effectively, documenting and providing employment data on military spouses actually hired.
The care and thought that went into creating this partnership is evident when you look at military spouse employment statistics. According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, 85 percent of military spouses want or need to work, but military spouses have an unemployment rate of 26 percent – the national average is around 9 percent. And, the military spouses who are employed earn 25 percent less than their civilian counterparts.
These numbers aren’t surprising to military spouses, who often find themselves unemployed, underemployed, or crunching the numbers to decide whether it is worth attempting to find a job in a new location, taking into account deployments, a permanent change of station, and affordable, quality child care options. The numbers also support findings from last year’s Blue Star Families survey, where 49 percent of spouses felt that being a military spouse had a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career. Additionally, of spouses who felt their careers had been negatively impacted by their military affiliation, 13 percent felt they had experienced some type of discrimination because of their status as a military spouse.
It is because of these disheartening statistics that one of the best aspects, perhaps THE best aspect of the MSEP, is the shifting paradigm of the worth and perception of military spouses in the professional field. Too often, as the statistics highlight, being a military spouse is seen as a disadvantage, as something to hide, or considered a liability during the hiring process.
Deborah Mullen, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, speaking at the launch, said more than one spouse had told her, “All I wanted was to get in the door to be able to be judged on my merits, my qualifications, and strengths.”
Mrs. Mullen continued, highlighting an oft-heard sentiment in the military spouse community, “This isn’t about entitlement, it is about opportunity.”
Because military spouses DO have the qualifications, the drive, and the capability to be huge assets and resources to their employers, if only given a chance. Essential work force attributes like being responsible, mature, flexible, adaptive and resilient, team members, leaders, and the ability to work well under pressure are, coincidentally, essential life skills that military spouses develop through the military family experiences of moving, volunteering, deployments and reintegration, all while balancing family, work and community commitments. As Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said in her remarks at the launch, “The fact is, if you’re looking for hard-working, highly skilled, educated and dedicated employees, our military spouses are precisely the employees you need.”
As a military spouse, to see the paradigm shifting to a place where military affiliation is seen as an asset, and employers, both private and nonprofit, are actively seeking out military spouses because they see the potential for successful employees, is extremely empowering. The military community has relied on the innovative and intrepid nature of military spouses since … well, since there has been a military. And, no one in the military sphere would argue that spouses and families are the foundation of a strong military community and a sustainable military force. However, it is nice to see a burgeoning recognition in the civilian sector of the worth and merits of a largely untapped national resource – our military spouses.
I see a real potential in the MSEP, and the larger discussion surrounding it. It is a tangible outcome of our leaders within the DOD taking stock of what military spouses have been saying about employment issues and taking the lead, as only they could, to bring the all the major players like corporate America, the Chamber of Commerce, and other federal agencies to the table, and then combining that with thoughtful analysis of military spouse employment issues, reflecting valuable military spouse input. To adapt a famous Humphrey Bogart quote, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful partnership.”
Vivian, a Navy veteran and spouse, regularly guest blogs for Family Matters and shares her experiences as a wife of a sailor and a mother of two. Her husband, a Navy lieutenant, recently returned from a deployment, and she has two boys who, she says, “enjoy peanut butter, trucks and air shows.”