The topic of military spouse unemployment continues to trend, as a recent report reveals a jobless rate of nearly four times that of adult women in the U.S.
The 2017 findings, published by Hiring Our Heroes (HoH), caught the attention of the current White House. Ivanka Trump, advisor to President Donald Trump, and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, joined roughly 300 attendees at the “Keeping a Career on the Move” Military Spouse Symposium at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 3. The event, a partnership of the MOAA Military Family Initiative and HoH, was “designed specifically for military spouses planning to enter or reenter the workforce or those looking to take the next step in their professional career.” The venue showcased the top-tier challenges spouses face — including frequent moves and availability of jobs at duty locations — when trying to maintain a career while married to a servicemember. Part of the agenda included the panel “Real Spouses: Real Stories,” which allowed the audience to learn about the ups and downs from spouses who eventually found a formula to land a successful career. In each of the examples, joblessness emerged as an issue that sees no rank and affects new and seasoned military spouses alike.
When you finally get a dream job
Jennifer Korn, special assistant to the president and deputy director for the office of public liaison, knows a little bit about what it takes to grow a career as a military wife. Her husband served 21 years in the Marine Corps across several duty stations. At many points during his service, his location assignment proved to be an obstacle to her chosen field within politics. She shared with the audience that the couple had to make the decision to live geographically apart after she was hired with President George W. Bush’s administration.
She said the topic of unemployment and underemployment of spouses is a key priority for the current administration, especially after learning of the double-digit jobless rate of 16 percent. Korn hopes by sharing her personal story that spouses will recognize their own resiliency to push past the challenges.
“There’s always going to be ups and downs in your career, and when your spouse moves — and you need to move with him — that is an added challenge,” Korn said. “So, what you need to do, what I always tell people, is you can be … down on it, but I say, embrace the terror. Then, you need to dust yourself off, put that résumé together, [and] go out and start networking with as many people as you can. A door will open, you have to be persistent and just make sure you make good use of the resources around you.”
Find tips for cultivating a network at your new duty station in “Networking in a New Place.”
When your career field requires a license
Some careers offer an added benefit of existing in most places. Nursing, teaching, and law are a few examples. Yet, they too are not PCS-proof. If they require a license or certification, reciprocity becomes a problem because states have varying standards — a topic Alicia Hedelund knows all too well.
The Marine Corps wife recently moved back to the U.S. after living in South Korea. Her husband serves as commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, and she spoke about having an established career prior to getting married.
“I am an attorney,” she said. “I was working as an attorney when I met my Marine and he whisked me off to Yuma, Ariz. I took another bar exam, swore it would be my last.”
She then found herself taking bar exams in several different locations, a process that requires time and money. Hedelund now is licensed in three states but no longer working in her field. Instead, she volunteers with her unit’s family readiness program.
Read more about military spouse license portability, including resources and tips for a smooth career transition.
When you create your own job
Entrepreneur Lakesha Cole, owner of She Swank Too Marketplace in Jacksonville, N.C., opened her business after trying to maintain a traditional career throughout continuous moves. The mom of three, who is married to an enlisted Marine, explained that one of her biggest challenges through her husband’s constant relocations was trying to reinvent herself and stay marketable. Instead, she decided to take her skill sets and employ herself.
(Many military spouses, like Cole, are turning to entrepreneurship. Read about five ways entrepreneurship differs from outside employment and tips for adapting in “Making the Leap From Employee to Entrepreneur.”)
“I was intrigued by the business side of retail,” Cole said. “I just couldn’t get enough of learning all things business. I later developed a passion for children’s apparel after becoming a mom and decided to marry the two.”
She says opportunities can present themselves unexpectedly, so spouses should remain open-minded.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things,” she said. “You may not always find the dream job with the dream salary. I tried everything, from being a writer to working in government and mental health. Experimenting allowed me to gain new skills and earn an income while I figured out what I really wanted to do.”
Military life has plenty of unknowns, but some constants likely are guaranteed. There will be moves, there will be times of separation, and there might be orders to lackluster locations.
Many resources are available to military spouses, so take advantage of them. This list of military-spouse-specific career resourcesis a great place to start.
Learn more about the MOAA Military Family Initiative’s Military Spouse Professional Development Program and stay up-to-date on upcoming spouse career events and information at www.moaa.org/spousesymposium.