Bringing Military Spouses, Employers Together Helps Both
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 16, 2012 Military spouses need only the focused attention of employers to improve hiring for the benefit of both sides, a military family advocate who works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said today.
“This is all about finding those spouses and helping those spouses find you,” Laura Dempsey, an Army wife and director of the Chamber’s spouse employment programs, told dozens of business representatives who gathered here for two days of meetings as part of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched the program last summer as part of her “Joining Forces” campaign with First Lady Michelle Obama.
The partnership program provides a digital recruiting platform for employers to have direct access to military spouses seeking jobs. At least 134 companies have signed on to the partnership with a pledge to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses in portable careers, Defense Department officials said.
“A life of service will wreak havoc on a military spouse’s career,” Dempsey told the audience. “But luckily for all of us in this room, military spouses are finding clever and creative ways of dealing with it, and they are finding ways to connect through DOD and service organizations to employers like you.”
Improving spouse employment also is important to retention in the military services, Dempsey said. “If a spouse can’t find a good job, that spouse is going to talk their service member out of the military,” she said.
Dempsey told her own story of employment challenges. She graduated from law school in 1996 and married her husband, Jason, a U.S. Military Academy graduate. The couple has two young children, and they’ve moved seven times for Jason’s Army career.
That didn’t keep Laura from trying to maintain her work as a civil rights attorney. Just six years out of law school, she was licensed to practice law in four states. “But by 2006 – 10 years out of law school – I was no closer to a partnership or a lucrative law career,” she said. “I took a slow-moving crash course in military spouse employment from the get go. I am not atypical.”
In fact, Dempsey said, the average military spouse moves eight times in a 20-year military career. Making matters worse, she said, in the past 10 years of war, a service member’s average time away from his or her family has been two to three years.
Dempsey co-founded Blue Star Families nonprofit support organization in 2008 and has helped draft legislation in support of military families. She is a leader in the Chamber of Commerce’s “Hiring Heroes” campaign to hire military veterans, but she said it’s important for military spouses to have their own hiring programs and events.
“Spouses need a room of their own, and if you give them that, they will use it,” she said, adding that “if you give employers a chance to meet with spouses,” they will find ways to overcome challenges such as frequent relocations because military spouses make great employees.
Dempsey said she took part in 100 hiring fairs for spouses last year and plans to increase that to 400 this year. At least 20 of those will be on or near military installations, she said.
Dempsey assured employers they will receive a high return on investment by hiring military spouses.
“If you hire one military spouse, you’re going to hire another,” she said.