Military spouses face major employment challenges
Alex Masick lives in Virginia but was in the Dayton area Thursday hunting for job leads.
The future military spouse plans to marry his Air Force fiancee, a second lieutenant assigned to the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson, and wants to move here with a job in hand to be with her.
“It’s very challenging to communicate remotely with an employer because you don’t want to mess up your first impression,” said Masick, 32, of Falls Church, Va., and who has experience in sales and training. “I spent hours agonizing over the phrasing of an introduction email to make sure someone just doesn’t click delete within the first couple of seconds.”
Military spouses often face not only higher rates of unemployment but underemployment, one study found, as they search for a job when their husband or wife in uniform is transferred to a new and different base every few years.
“They quite often will come to somewhere that the job opportunities are quite limited and companies find it difficult to see the value of somebody who’s only going to be here for a couple of years,” said Gillian Russell, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation associate with the Hiring Our Heroes program, which connects employers with military job seekers and their spouses.
In a 2013 review, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University found 90 percent of female spouses of active-duty service members reported they were underemployed, or had more education and experience than the jobs they had required.
“That was the biggest finding and probably gave a broader picture of the employment situation of a military spouse,” said Rosalinda Maury, IVMF director of applied research and analytics. “It’s not just unemployment, it’s underemployment.”
The analysis, conducted with the Military Officers Association of America, cited 2012 American Community Survey data that showed military spouses earned 38 percent less on average and were 30 percent more likely to be unemployed compared to their civilian counterparts.
Courtney R. Taylor, 26, who is married to an Air Force staff sergeant at Wright-Patterson, knows the difficulty of a civilian job search in a new community.
She’s searched for weeks, hoping to find a job in financial management that would coincide with her studies at Wright State University.
“It’s very, very difficult,” she said. “… I haven’t been able to find a job. I’m just trying to get my foot in the door somewhere and it’s a little difficult to find that opportunity.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative held a job fair Thursday at Wright-Patt. Some 50 companies and agencies were represented — from Starbucks to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
The goal is to show employers the skills spouses can bring to the workplace, Russell said. “They might not be working, they might have flaws in their resume, but what they are doing is they are volunteering, they are helping to run the bases, they’re helping to make sure that families are looked after while service members are away, and all of these skills make them absolutely fantastic employees.
“We work with our national sponsors and local partners to make sure that those military spouses are being recognized and they’re getting meaningful jobs,” she said.
Chris Phillips, a PNC Bank diversity specialist who recruits military spouses, said they have organizational and leadership skills useful to employers.
“It’s not just the veteran, it’s the spouse,” she said. “They’re the caregiver, they’re the ones that manage the household so they’ve very loyal to an employer and it makes good business sense to us.”
Explaining gaps in work history to employers and finding a job in their career field are the most common complaints from military spouses, said Shonte Gonzalez, an Airmen and Family Readiness Center community readiness specialist who counsels job-hunting spouses at Wright-Patterson. The center offers tips on resumes and preps spouses with mock job interviews.
“Their gaps in employment are probably one of the biggest things that are stressful to them,” Gonzalez said. Many Dayton area employers understand the work history gaps that may accompany military life as a spouse, Gonzalez said.
Unemployed spouses can boost their resume by stressing their volunteer work, she said.
“It’s not paid, but it’s a job,” Gonzalez said. “People like to see that people are busy.
“We encourage them to volunteer,” she added. “We try to get them out in the market because the only way you’re going to meet people is to network.”
Kendra Mustain, a recruiting coordinator at Comfort Keepers, a business that offers home care to the elderly, said she’s a former military spouse who understands the challenge of moving frequently.
“I personally think that military spouses would make excellent caregivers because they are by nature supportive people,” she said.
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