Military spouses face unique career situations
March 29, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 20, 2013) -- Military Families are 10 times more likely to move across state lines compared to non-military families. And 57 percent of civilian spouses of active-duty military members participate in the labor market, according to a report called "Supporting our military Families: Best practices for streamlining occupational licensing across state lines," by the Department of Defense and Department of the Treasury.
For spouses wanting to maintain a career, the high frequency of moving means he or she will more than likely face difficulty including gaining promotions, benefits and tenure. Nonetheless, many spouses find a way to make it work even if it means taking another route than the one they planned.
Sophie Shafter, a 26-year-old military spouse pursuing a career in public relations, met her husband during her last year of college in 2008 and continued to date him while he attended Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course and Ranger School. Eventually, he received orders to PCS to Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Originally, she said, the plan was for her to continue to work in San Francisco while he was in Alaska. But the plan fell apart quickly.
"I think any Army couple that has tried to stay afloat long-distance knows the challenges," she said. "Time together is just too valuable, especially in light of a looming deployment."
But moving to Alaska turned out to be a great career decision, she said.
"This was in 2008, right when the economy tanked," she said. "Hiring freezes took effect in the lower 48 (states of the) continental United States, but Alaska's economy remained strong and I landed my dream job working in travel and tourism PR within weeks."
For other spouses, the transition to finding a new job may not be as easy.
Cornelia Dobson, a 45-year-old military spouse with five children, is pursuing her education to become a registered nurse at Columbus Technical Community College. Part of her decision was being unable to find a job, she said.
Dobson said she's also faced roadblocks for being a military spouse.
One reason employers may shy away from hiring a military spouse is because of the high turnover due to PCSing. Being the primary caretaker for children, as 72 percent of military spouses have children competition for jobs on post and the obstacles of getting a new license or certification in a new state if required, can hamper career opportunities according to the joint report by DoD and Department of the Treasury.
However, there are resources to help spouses find jobs, including the Military Spouse Employment Partnership and the MyCareer Advancement Account Program. MSEP connects participating companies with military spouses seeking flexible job opportunities tailored to their unique circumstances. MyCAA is a self-managed education and training account for spouses married to junior service members and is designed to help spouses gain the skills they need to develop a career they can take with them.
Shafter said a positive for her is the flexibility of being a public relations professional. And starting over may not always be a bad thing.
"The upside to starting a new job or multiple jobs every few years, is the opportunity to diversify my resume," she said. "By living in opposite corners of the country, I've gained corporate, agency, private sector and even entrepreneurial experience in a range of industries from real estate to hospitality, insurance, health care, higher education and more."
Taking the time to pursue an education is another option, and is what Dobson is doing in the face of unemployment. But with two children remaining at home, it requires some juggling. She said she tries to keep her schedule aligned with theirs so that she is at home when they are. But she hasn't given up on her goal to eventually be employed.
For spouses unable to find employment, 39 states provide unemployment compensation to military spouses who lose income due to relocation.
"My advice would be to obtain an education that is in demand and to stay current on any certifications or licenses you have, because every state is different," Dobson said.
Thirty-five percent of working military spouses are in career fields that require a license or certification, such as being a teacher, accountant or nurse, according to a report done by DoD and the Department of the Treasury on best practices for streamlining occupational licensing across state lines. Currently, many states are working to ease the license and certification requirements for military spouses in jobs that require them to renew them every time they move to a new state, such as Colorado and Alaska.
According to the report on occupational licensing, the process for becoming certified or licensed in a state can be costly and time-consuming because of fees, exams and background checks.
Despite the unique situation military spouses face, know that you are not alone.
"Learn from other spouses, talk to them about their experiences and don't be afraid to ask for advice," Shafter said. "Also know that no spouse -- no matter how many years of experience -- has all the answers. Career decisions are so very personal and what's best for one spouse may not be ideal for another."
Uncertainty, Shafter said, is her biggest challenge.
"We wait for months to learn of our assignment, all the while knowing there is nothing we can begin doing to prepare or make plans," she said. "This applies to career and other life factors. When do I give notice at work? Will my employer be understanding? Will an employer overlook me for another candidate because my timeline is temporary?"
What helps Dobson get through hard times, she said, is acceptance.
"I'm not the actual Soldier but sometimes I feel like I joined as well. Military spouses and the children all wear the uniform," she said. "We learn to be prepared for anything, we become very versatile and flexible. I let God be the general and I follow his orders."