Military spouse employment (more justly military spouse underemployment or unemployment) has been a conversation in and out of the spotlight over the past decade, but remains a timeless conversation from within the community itself. Government sponsored programs, corporate partnerships, private companies, and non-profits have all joined the space in hiring military spouses. While successes have come along the way, there is still a lot of work to be done. Thanks to the deep efforts, research, and growth initiatives of organizations like IVMF, BlueStarFamilies, and Hiring Our Heroes, we have sound, relevant data to support the narrative around the issue. The concern still remains that the data and research are always the same and the conversation always rounds out the same. Overall, not much has really changed. The same collective “sad sigh” resounds every time new data is released and sadly, it remains a binary tune. But much like a physical epidemic plaguing a nation, the “fix” to this issue is going to require some deep strategy, microscopic research, and unified forces. If we take out a lens, dissect the findings, and start piecing together the components, what would those pieces look like? Maybe if we 'level up' and start talking about the microcosms at play, we can start to see exactly what we need to do.
If you are a person in a position to effect change and you are talking about military spouse employment and hiring military spouses, you MUST know the current landscape from the ground level. The biggest changes happening are currently coming from within the military spouse community itself. These leaders and organizations are rising fast because these research outcomes are being applied directly in daily life conversations and innovations leading to change. If you don’t know these organizations, you need to. ( Instant Teams, MSCCN, Veterati, EMentor, Military Spouse Behavioral Health Clinicians, The Paradigm Switch, The DOD's Military Spouse Employment Partnership, etc…)
Business Ownership on Military Installations
There are currently several pain points in the process for military spouses to own and operate businesses from military installations. This struggle has a direct impact on unemployment rates, military retention rates, and quality of life dissatisfaction within the community. Thanks to an open conversation with AUSA in 2017, this issue was recently revisited by military leadership and there is movement in addressing current laws with a modernized approach to the scope of the types of businesses and regulations governing these opportunities. We should no longer be referring to spouse owned businesses in a collective unit under “solicitations” and most definitely should not be lumped in with governing documents that refer to business as a privilege and not a right.
“It’s not worth the battle.” “I can’t afford to keep doing this.” Lawyers. Nurses. Therapists. Teachers. Business owners. Frequent moves mean great difficulties in initially hiring military spouses and having options for career transferability. Thanks to MSJDN, incredible strides have been made in the transitions for military spouse lawyers and attorneys from state to state, but a lot of work still needs to be done. Legislation for military spouse credentials to move from state to state must be a part of the solution. Legislation has been presented in the past in attempts to help alleviate the financial stressors of state to state licensure (tax credit, etc.) but nothing has ever made it through. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible, it just means we have the opportunity to listen to experiences, gather the stories, present solutions, and crowdsource our way to legislation.
When organizations all supporting the same community do not collaborate for the common good, we all lose. Everyday. Losing opportunities. Wasting money. Wasting time. How is it that spouses on an installation have never heard of MSEP? How is it possible for a spouse assisting other spouses with employment from an installation not be allowed to also run a career networking group for a non-profit in his/her free time? Conflict of interest? NO! It actually makes absolute sense for someone passionate to reach out to all resources at hand and assist those she is obligated to aid to the best of her abilities…or sure, conflict of interest. Active components of the military could NEVER survive if held to the same structure of support currently happening in the military spouse employment space. We have to modernize delivery, be able to see the entire landscape, and innovate and keep up with the age of community being served. That’s just not happening fast enough.
We are fighting some nasty stereotypes. It’s just the way it is. And until we start broadcasting the level of talent, innovation, and untapped talent sitting in a community of 1.1 million human beings (not to mention the 15 million Veteran spouses), the narrative won’t change. About 2 years ago, I had a client tell me that, "Military spouses are a force to be reckoned with.” Yes. They are...and the world needs to know. I recently sat in a room at a military spouse community networking series hosted by three collaborative nonprofits and HERE is the narrative the nation needs to understand about the military spouse community. We are STRONG. We are POWERFUL. We have TALENT. Present in this small conference room were spouses from all branches to include:
A National Nonprofit Program Manager
An Advertising Agency Owner
A C Corp Business Owner
A Freelance Copywriter on a path to politics
A Creative Digital Company owner
A Financial Advisor
A Motivational Speaker
A Social Impact Educator/PhD Candidate
An Immigration Attorney
A Criminal Attorney
A Human Resource Director of Fortune500 Company
A Curriculum Developer/Educator
A Life Coach
A Top Tier Sales Rep
An Art Illustration Business Owner
The beast that is military spouse unemployment seems almost untouchable at times. Most often it’s lumped in as an afterthought to veteran hiring fairs or corporate initiatives and yet the two groups actually have nothing in common other than gainful employment pursuit. Having worked for five years in the veteran transition space, I by no means am discrediting the vast difficulties found in the veteran experience but the climate of hiring military spouses is different. Spouses are still physically moving, still maneuvering the revolving door of spousal presence, still volunteering incredible hours of valuable time to sustain their direct communities, still pursuing education that doesn’t align with career goals yet hoping another degree or another certificate will be the solution - ALL WHILE trying to build a career and running into the roadblocks we’ve already covered.
To my fellow spouses, how can you create, collaborate, innovate, and serve in your role as a military spouse as YOU in a way that fulfills YOU and invigorates YOU. What is your purpose and how can you let the world know about you? How can I help the world know about you and what you offer? If you were removed from the military community today, who would you be? For most of us, someday we won’t be military spouses, and there is no rougher patch in maintaining the quality of life than an active transition from active duty to civilian life. I believe the more we can prepare spouses with personal awareness, skill sets that thrive in current industries, and remote career paths WELL before the transitional period, the better off we’ll all be.
To those who are not military spouses, who don’t know a military spouse, or may not even really care, pay close attention to how you view spouses, your assumptions about who they are, where they belong, what they should be doing, etc. Start thinking outside of the box and taking a hard look at where we can start hiring military spouses in alignment with a fast-paced society trending in soft skills, social consciousness, remote work, and virtual community building. We already have these skills and can help YOU lead the way. Incredible organizations and initiatives exist in support of every side of military life but that doesn’t mean they all work the way they should or that evolutions and iterations shouldn’t be happening in faster cycles.
So whatever way is in your heart, your mind, your soul to serve, create, and innovate, I encourage you to start that journey in sharing who you are and what you bring to the table. If you have the means and connections to share the skills and businesses that are growing in our military spouse community, please share and support as if your quality of life depended on it because for us, it does.
If you’re an employer and ready to explore the option of hiring a military spouse, get in touch with us. I promise whatever you need, I can find you a spouse who does it, makes it, plans it, designs it, or will learn how to given the opportunity.
Erica McMannes is an Army spouse and co-founder of Instant Teams. Her career path started in 2003 working for Army MWR/CYSS in various Director and leadership positions. After 10 years, 6 moves, 2 kids, and limited traditional job opportunity, she had to get creative with a way to find fulfillment and income that meshed well with the transient and unpredictable military lifestyle. After consulting for veteran-owned startups in Silicon Valley for 5 years, she launched Instant Teams in 2016. For more information on hiring a military spouse, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.