Don’t forget military spouses

The first panel of witnesses take an oath before Tuesday's House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing. (Screenshot of streamed hearing)

Businesses seeking a new pool of potential employees may consider one group that is significantly underemployed and unemployed: military spouses.

More than one-fifth (21%) of military spouses are unemployed, according to recently released results of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) 2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses. That figure has remained basically unchanged since DOD’s previous survey in 2015.

Unemployment among military spouses was noted several times during a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday focused on U.S. companies’ efforts to employ military personnel transitioning to civilian life. While there has been a positive shift in how servicemembers transition from the military — thanks to workforce-related efforts to assist them in finding new jobs and careers — helping spouses of active military has fallen short, even though nearly one-third (31%) of spouses have a bachelor’s degree and 18% have advanced degrees.

The issue of military spouse employment is among the top issues for Eric Eversole, president of Hiring Our Heroes (HOH), a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation program that provides career advice and job search training for the military community.

“The inability of military spouses to find and maintain careers is forcing too many military families to rely on a single source of income and is creating economic peril for those families,” Eversol said.

The income factor weighs on the minds of military families. A recent Army survey shows more than one-quarter (27%) of soldiers intend to leave because of the impact that Army life has on their significant other’s career plans and goals. Work opportunities are further limited by issues such as childcare, remote duty locations, state licensing requirements and more.

Internships, certificates and more

At Tuesday’s hearing, Eversole cited several HOH recent efforts to assist spouses, such as the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot Program, which was recently enacted as part of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. The program provides military spouses with 12-week internships at host companies across the country. DOD pays a stipend for spouses who participate.

“While the program has only been going on for 10 months now, we’ve hosted more than 400 military spouses in those internships,” with an 80%-plus job offer rate and average salaries of about $70,000, Eversol said.

HOH has other programs to help military spouses, such as Amplify, a career-focused workshop for military spouses re-entering the workforce or seeking another career. It includes public/professional speaking, salary negotiations, networking skills, personal branding, interview techniques and entrepreneurial options, Eversol said. Amplify has served 2,283 military spouses, with 79% of attendees reporting favorable job outcomes within 90 days, he said.

HOH also has started a program to help spouses attain the skills to earn a Google Career Certificate for jobs as data analysts, IT support and more.

Several major retail companies, such as Home Depot, also are addressing spouse employment. Last year, Home Depot started the Military Spouse Workforce Management Apprenticeship Program, a virtual 12-week paid program that focuses on skills such as customer service, data analytics and more. Completers transition into full-time positions with Home Depot’s customer care group, said Erin Izen, senior director of workforce programs at Home Depot, herself a military spouse and mother of U.S. Marines.

Higher education wasn’t addressed at the hearing, however, institutions such as community colleges could provide the education and training to help military spouses with their career endeavors. According to the 2021 DOD survey, more than one in five (22%) have some college but no degree.

First, ID spouses

A major challenge in serving military spouses — more than 90% of whom are women — is identifying them, which can be difficult as they frequently relocate with their military spouses. Eversol recommended that companies better track military spouse employment and analyze the data and their needs.

“If you don’t understand the unique needs of military spouses because you’re not tracking it and you don’t understand it, it makes it really difficult to create programs and opportunities around them,” and to follow outcomes as well, Eversol said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.