October 03, 2011
By Jacey Eckhart
At the end of every month, at least one young mom pictured with a dumpling sweet baby puts a plaintive post on a military spouse website. "Does anyone know how to make a little extra money from home? My daughter is eight months old but I'm not really ready to leave her yet. My husband is deployed. We have bills to pay. Do you know of anything???"
With a 26% unemployment rate among military spouses, this isn't a surprise. Of course, we spouses are quick to offer solidarity: I'm so sorry this is happening to you ;(. Can you try cutting back your expenses? Have you tried Mary Kay? Etsy? Answering surveys online?
I usually sit at my keyboard frozen, not a good job idea in my ideahamster head. Who knows how a military spouse can get a real job? One that she can work from home? One that doesn't require selling anything to your friends or intense magical thinking???
Well, uh, I do. This month I am going to be the one responding to that post telling her to go to www.msepjobs.com
The Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) is the new Department of Defense job program for military spouses. In the first three months of the program, the DoD has already vetted 96 corporate partners like SAIC, Amazon, AT&T, 3M and George Mason University with more to come. So far 5600 military spouses have been hired for a mix of different jobs, from entry-level stuff and barista/cashier positions to careers in technology that require a masters degree. In fact, an outside auditor found that more than 40% of the job listings in the program require a college degree, which reflects the rising level of education found among military spouses.
"This really is about establishing careers, not just jobs," said Robert Gordon, assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy in a telephone conference last week. Gordon said that portability and telecommuting are essential, although not exclusive, features of the kinds of jobs MSEP is looking for from their partners.
So I went online to check out the job offerings available. What did I find? Like on all job hunting sites, I found out that I was not qualified for most of the jobs offered. After all, I'm not a Chinese linguist. I do not currently live in Stuttgart, Germany. I did not major in accounting - shoot, I couldn't even make myself attend an accounting class any time the sun was shining. But I did find a few jobs for which I was qualified. I even found a couple of jobs that interested me to which I could telecommute.
What didn't I find? I didn't find anyone with a handout for military spouses. In my brief search, I didn't find anyone advertising for young moms with absolutely no skills who could seal envelopes at home for big money. But I did find opportunity. I did find jobs where a military spouse could get her foot in the door and maybe get a follow-on telecommuting job later. I did find a pattern of jobs that might be reason enough to go back to school seeking a particular major using GI Bill money.
Military spouse employment is a complicated issue, I know. It isn't going to be solved by a simple jobs board. It isn't supposed to be. But this new pattern of negotiating with employers, championing military spouses in the job search, discovering quality jobs that can offer military spouses portability and/or telecommutability, that is a big step forward, I hope. For all of us.
Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.