Career Fair Draws 1,000 Job-seeking Spouses
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2012 More than 1,000 military spouses were on the job hunt today at the nation’s largest hiring fair and career forum dedicated solely to career-seeking military spouses.
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, explains the many skills military spouses bring to the employment table at the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Career Forum, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2012. DOD photo by Elaine Sanchez
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dressed in suits and with resumes in hand, spouses from all branches of service browsed more than 100 employer booths -- from banks and credit unions to medical and technology companies -- at the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Career Forum, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center here.
The chamber launched the Hiring Our Heroes program in March as a nationwide effort to help veterans and spouses find employment. While the chamber aims to host 100 veteran and spouse career fairs across the nation in a year -- with 83 undertaken so far -- this spouse-only fair was the first of its kind.
The turnout exceeded even the chamber’s expectations, said Laura Dempsey, senior advisor of military spouse employment for the chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program.
“Your presence here in such huge numbers sends a powerful message to the country of the value of its military spouses,” said Dempsey, a 14-year military spouse.
Military spouses serve alongside their service member, she noted, and shoulder career challenges unique to military service. They move an average of nine times over the course of their service member’s career, and struggle to juggle careers and families with multiple deployments, state licensing requirements and a lack of career networks and mentors.
Despite these challenges, however, military spouses endure, and do so with grace, Dempsey noted.
“When there’s no job at our next duty station, we volunteer at three times the national average,” she said. “Our unemployment rate may be stuck at 26 percent, our resumes may look like a hodgepodge of jobs, and we haven’t slept well in about 10 years. But not only do we press on, we create and share a wealth of compassion, experience and wisdom. We are the spirit of enterprise.”
Military spouses aren’t seeking job preference, but job empowerment, noted Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy.
“We have been at war for 10 years,” he said, “and we know you need assistance in being empowered in finding the kind of, not only employment, but careers that you seek.”
Hiring spouses is mutually beneficial, he noted, as they bring a wealth of experience to the employment table. They’re highly educated, responsible, mature, loyal, skilled at a wide range of professions, adaptive, resilient, strong team players, effective under pressure, and have an unparalleled work ethic. “That’s what our companies have to tap into,” he said.
Gordon lauded the chamber’s pledge to host 100 spouse and veteran career fairs in a year, and urged the spouses to also look into the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership. MSEP, he noted, has 96 partners across the nation seeking to hire spouses, with 78,000 jobs on its site. Since June, 13,000 spouses have been hired through this partnership.
“I am committed, … and my great team with these great partners, to ensuring you are empowered to achieve and succeed,” he said.
These combined efforts will help to achieve a lofty goal put forth by President Barack Obama last year, noted Patty Shinseki, wife of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and senior advisor to the Joining Forces campaign, the White House’s initiative to raise awareness and support for troops, veterans and their spouses.
The president issued a challenge to the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013, she said, and called on First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to lead the way through the Joining Forces campaign.
In just five months, she noted, the private sector has hired more than 30,000 veterans and spouses, and 1,500 companies have pledged to hire an additional 135,000 veterans and military spouses in the next two years.
“Never, ever underestimate your capabilities,” Shinseki told the spouses.
With remarks aside, the career-seeking spouses rushed the rows of employer booths, gathering information. Some had on-the-spot interviews.
Sabahat Johnson, wife of Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Johnson, came with one goal in mind: a job that will enable her to help people.
She has a wealth of job experience in her native Turkey. She worked for the Turkish health ministry for about 18 years, as a nurse for about 12 years, and for nearly six years in program management. She’s currently earning her master’s degree in leadership at Georgetown University.
“I have a good background,” she said. “Now, I want to combine my education with my experience and find a good job in America -- maybe work in government and serve like my husband.”
Johnson lauded the effort behind the fair. It’s been difficult since she moved to America, she said, especially as an international military spouse. “People like me don’t know where to go, how to start,” she said. “We just need a chance, opportunities.”
Across the room, Minette Johnson, wife of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Travis Johnson, was getting a free makeover as part of the fair’s “Face Time” image workshop. As makeup artist Mavis Kinney readied her for the job hunt, Johnson explained the frustration she’s had in finding a local job.
She and her husband moved here about six months ago, she said. For the past 12 years, she’s been in the casino industry, and for the first time in four duty stations, she’s unsure of what she’d like to do.
“Hopefully, I’ll have some luck and get a job,” she said.
Over at an employer booth, Charita Mariner and Marci Goodnight of Wal-mart passed out information about job opportunities. The company is seeking spouses for leadership roles, Goodnight said.
As a military spouse, Goodnight said, she understands the challenge of incorporating frequent transitions in a positive way on a resume. “We understand you move a lot; we understand you transition a lot … and we want to help bring [you] into our workforce.”
Sheila Casey, wife of retired Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., along with other seasoned military wives, stopped by to mentor spouses. “This effort is unbelievable,” she said. “Growing up through the military, I always had my own career. But I never had this. We had to find our own way and get our own job.
“The opportunities you have today and the amount of effort being put forth by companies and organizations to open their doors to you, I say is unprecedented,” she said. “Take advantage of it.”
Navy Capt. Bradley Cooper, executive director of Joining Forces, also stopped by the fair. He lauded the massive effort behind the forum as he surveyed the crowded room.
“Today jumpstarts a process that really makes military spouse employment a visible priority,” Cooper said. “Through the partnership of over 100 companies teamed with the chamber and others, they’re enabling the process to get spouses employed.”
With vast talents and abilities, it’s good business sense to hire military spouses, he noted. “When you see 100 companies come out to hire military spouses, it’s clear they get it,” he said.
Cooper gestured to the hundreds of spouses, resumes in hand, crowding employer booths. “If you’re a company looking to hire talented people, military spouses represent that talent,” he said. “This is great opportunity to kickstart in 2012 a great focus on spouse employment.”
Dempsey said she intends for the chamber’s military spouse effort to be ongoing. She announced the chamber’s new Military Spouse Business Alliance, composed of nonprofit, government and corporate partners dedicated to lifting military spouses out of unemployment and underemployment.
The alliance has a host of efforts planned, she said, including up to 20 more military spouse career forums and hiring fairs across the nation and overseas this year.
The alliance also has launched the MilSpouse eMentor leadership program, a joint effort by the chamber and the nonprofit organization AcademyWomen, she said. This online mentoring program – located at http://www.eMentorProgram.org/p/MilSpouse -- offers spouses an opportunity to connect with experienced military spouses and military spouse-friendly employers worldwide.
These efforts, chamber officials noted, have one measure of success: jobs for America’s veterans and military spouses.