News: Providing the tools to help military spouses find employment
Story by Spc. Jennifer Spradlin
FORT BLISS, Texas – Families across America have felt the strain of slow economic progress, and military families are no different. According to figures put out by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Robert L. Gordon III in September 2011, there were approximately 250,000 spouses either unemployed or underemployed.
Military spousal employment is an important issue to the military because of the huge impact financial strain has on the health and happiness of military marriages and families. Military spouses have the added challenge of finding employment after each permanent change of duty station or PCS.
“We have a lot of dual working couples. So the Army wants to make sure as they are moving the soldier around the world, there’s the ability for the spouse to continue on with their career progression,” said Col. Joseph Simonelli, Fort Bliss Garrison commander. “When a spouse does go to new duty station with their soldier, they want to have some confidence they will have a great opportunity to find employment and maintain the lifestyle that they’re used to.”
In June 2011, the DOD initiated the Military Spouse Employment Partnership or MSEP to help spouses find employment through corporate partnerships. In September 2011, the website featured a database with 55,000 job listings from 72 different corporate partners and the list has continued to grow.
Simonelli said the biggest difficulty for military spouses finding employment is matching their particular skills and talents to the job market of the installation location. Certain jobs may or may not be hiring in that area. Spouses might have to take lower paying jobs until they find work in their field or retrain to learn entirely new skills.
“Personally, my wife is a school teacher and most of the times that we PCS’d she was able to find jobs but there was one time when we went to Virginia, and she was not able to find employment as a teacher. That’s very challenging and frustrating,” said Simonelli.
He encouraged spouses to be proactive and to take advantage of opportunities to network with other spouses through Family Readiness Group meetings or through unit or installation Facebook pages, attend the hiring fairs on post, and use the Employment Readiness Program through Army Community Services.
The ERP features free classes and individualized counseling sessions to provide military spouses with the job hunting skills to increase their marketability. The classes offer resume, interview, and job search tips, and the individualized appointments help the spouses stay motivated and accountable for finding employment.
“I’m a military spouse, and I understand the challenges. They get here and don’t know where to start,” said Ted Rivera, Fort Bliss Employment Readiness program manager. “Our main focus is military spouses, and not just with trying to get them employed but to give them the job search skills so when they PCS next time, they have those skills and they can start working right away.”
Here at Fort Bliss, the ERP is co-located and works in conjunction with Workforce Solutions Rio Grande, a civilian job placement service, which helps military spouses find potential job opportunities. All clients are registered into the Work in Texas database which pairs them with a local company looking for their job skills. This process significantly increases the chances of finding a job when compared to sending out blanket resumes.
“A lot of military spouses think the way to find employment is to sit at home and fill out applications on the Internet, but all that’s going to get you is an interview -- if your resume is up to par,” said Rivera. “I’ll go out to visit with Family Readiness Groups and I’ll ask how many have heard of the Employment Readiness Program and a lot of spouses haven’t heard of it. This should be their first stop.”
Rivera said he sets a goal to help 30 to 35 military spouses find employment a month but the program is currently exceeding those standards. In October, 81 military spouses found employment as a result of their participation in the program. The ERP averages more than 400 visits a month and allows soldiers, veterans, and families to use their computers, fax machines, scanners, and printer paper in the pursuit of employment. Spouses who lack professional attire for the interviewing process are given clothing donated by the military community through the Attire For Hire program. Spouses from all experience levels and job fields have found employment through the ERP.
He also advises spouses to take advantage of educational programs and stay committed to finishing their degrees. If a spouse was forced to resign because of a PCS, they could qualify for the Workforce Solutions Dislocated Worker Program which pays for spouses to receive field specific certification training in hirable areas like medicine, computers, and criminal justice. Additionally, Texas requires certain fields to receive state specific certification and the program also covers those fields.
Another benefit of the ERP at Fort Bliss is the co-location of the rest of the ACS programs. Military spouses need not travel all over base to receive the service they need, said Rivera. Spouses can go for financial counseling, apply for an Army Emergency Relief Loan, or sign up for parenting classes.
“I wish I could have somebody out on the streets with a billboard saying ‘come to employment readiness, come to employment readiness!’” said Rivera. “Looking for work is a job in itself. It depends on how bad you want the job. We do have spouses who get discouraged, but you just have to keep battling, stay connected with us, network with us. Use our services.”
To learn more about military spousal employment programs visit militaryonesource.com or the Fort Bliss webpage.