By Jennifer Hlad
Military spouse employment is a key retention, readiness, and quality-of-life issue, and the Army is working to better understand and improve access and opportunities to work — including launching a new Army civilian military spouse survey — experts said during the Association of the United States Army’s AUSA Now event last week.
The survey seeks insight and experiences from civilian Army employees who are married to active-duty or retired troops about how they began and continue working for the service. The results will be used “to identify new and improved ways to further improv[e] military spouse employment in the Army,” said Karen Wolfe, chief of the staffing and classification division in the office of the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel. The survey is open now through Nov. 4.
“The Secretary of the Army has made clear that people are the Army’s No. 1 priority, and that includes Army families. Improving military spouse employment contributes to the financial stability and overall well-being of the military, and so therefore contributes to Army readiness, as well as soldier retention,” Wolfe said.
Meredith Lozar, director of military spouse programs for Hiring Our Heroes, said her organization has surveyed military spouses and learned that 70% “face resource confusion every time they go to look for employment and training opportunities,” and that a third of military families are living or have lived apart to support the civilian spouse’s career.
“As we look at what we need to do to support today’s Army family, supporting military spouse employment remains top of mind,” Lozar said. As the services work to “retain this all-volunteer fighting force, we simply can’t ignore the fact that today’s military families continue to seek professional success for spouses.”
The Army does already have many resources available to families, linked from the spouse employment section of its Army Quality of Life website, Wolfe said. It also is “pursuing an initiative that will increase the speed with which military spouses are hired,” by allowing officials to hire spouses without a vacancy announcement.
Max Wyche, deputy chief of staff for personnel at Army Materiel Command, said one of the ways that command is a program to help spouses by “easing the geographic employment transition” for non-appropriated fund employees, making PCS moves easier.
“Bottom line, our goal is for the spouse to have secured employment at the new site well before they actually move,” Wyche said, “and we want the spouse to, at a minimum, retain their current grade level, and pay level, when moving to the new location.”
The Department of Labor also has been working on a military spouse employment-focused curriculum to add to the Transition Assistance Program, and some of the pilots are launching this month, with expected delivery of the first modules in 2021, said Sgt. Maj. Kristopher Rick, senior military fellow with the Department of Labor’s Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS).
The department intends for the program to be open to spouses of retiring servicemembers as well as military spouses who are moving from one duty station to another, Rick said.
Jennifer Hlad is a freelance writer and editor and the spouse of a Marine Corps officer. She is former journalist for Stars and Stripes and has lived in Bahrain and Japan.