Fort Lee, VEC team up to offer spouse employment assistance
Dwight McDowell, a veteran employment specialist with the Virginia Employment Commission, provides military spouse job-seeking advice and training in the Fort Eustis and Fort Lee areas. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. (July 13, 2021) – Military spouses seeking employment or endeavoring to continue their professional career often face a world fraught with challenges.

Weighty issues such as childcare, fair wages, required work hours, necessary skills (or lack thereof) and portability of licenses/certifications are among the factors that tend to discourage or hinder efforts to enter and/or rejoin the workforce.

Recognizing this challenge, Fort Lee has teamed up with the Virginia Employment Commission to give prospective job seekers a huge navigational aid – in the form of an employment advisor who is able to address various concerns in addition to assessing skills, helping shape goals and providing info on training and job opportunities as they arise. The benefit is free of charge.

In the program that began last year, VEC Employment Specialist Dwight McDowell has been helping military spouses – whether they’re new to the area or getting ready to transition out of the service with their partner – navigate the employment jungle, and clients say he does so with heaping measures of commitment and passion.

McDowell is able to act and speak from experience. He has filled the shoes of active-duty Sailor; military member undergoing the process of transition; and husband whose spouse endured a career change as a result of his military service.

“All of that has allowed me to see what spouses go through and what they need to help them succeed,” he said. “In addition, I have opportunities to speak with military spouses on a regular basis (at employment briefings), which gives me additional insights into the challenges of job seeking.”

McDowell expressed appreciation to his organization for recognizing his relatable experience and connections, and tweaking his job description in a way that allowed him to provide employment support for military spouses in addition to veterans. His obligation is mandated under the Jobs for Veterans State Grant Program.

The program isn’t exclusive to Fort Lee. From his office on the lower end of the Virginia peninsula, McDowell covers an area encompassing a slice of Hampton Roads and much of the Richmond-area. He connects with clients through phone interviews, Zoom meetings, email and text messaging.

“I cover Langley Air Force Base all the way up to Fort Eustis and Fort Lee,” he said. “I visit each of them … monthly (sometimes twice) to sit and talk with spouses, set up appointments and attend the (transition) briefings and participate on the employment panels.”

The first step to gaining support services is to make an appointment, McDowell said.

“I will conduct a phone or virtual interview, go through some basic questions and determine what the needs are,” he elaborated. “A need can be simply transferring a job, or it might be starting a brand new career.”

Whatever the situation, McDowell said he offers job referrals and searches, or some other type of assistance.

“Sometimes, spouses just need a resume critique,” he said. “They need someone to help them enhance it.”

Conducting mock virtual job interviews is one of the more valuable services offered under the program, according to McDowell.

“I’ll talk with them anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour,” he said, noting the questions are tailored for the position sought, and the focus is on identifying problems and ways to improve. “After that, I can set up a (subsequent session) in which the client will be interviewed by one of my counterparts … virtually or by phone. It’s a great way to build confidence and conversation skills.”

Workshops also are available on subjects such as helping spouses dress for interviews to preparing resumes for private and federal employment. Information about the range of services offered is shared during a virtual overview that’s routinely scheduled for the first Friday of the month from 10 a.m. - noon. Organized itself as a “workshop for spouses,” it features job referrals and a wide assortment of employment information.

“I encourage every transitioning and active duty spouse to attend the virtual workshop,” he said. “They can call or text me directly at 757-503-3885 to make arrangements.”

McDowell is among a handful of former military members working under the Jobs for Veterans State Grant Program. Those who want to learn more can also contact him through email at dwight.mcdowell@VEC.virginia.gov.