Family Forum: Employment Partnership Marks New Chapter
By Deborah Mullen
Wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2011 On June 29, I attended the launch of the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership, a program that will expand career opportunities for military spouses among companies that are eager to hire them.
Fifteen companies joined the partnership, giving MSEP a total of 72 employers who have committed to hiring America’s military spouses.
The ceremony, co-hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, marked the beginning of a new and important chapter in the story of military spouse employment. But, sadly, that story has not always been a happy one.
Many spouses seeking jobs have been turned away, not for lack of qualification or training, but because their loved one’s work requires them to move so much.
Many have had to accept jobs for which they were over-qualified and conversely, been denied employment for the same reason.
Many never had the chance -- and still don’t -- just to be interviewed, to have the opportunity to tell a prospective employer how much of an asset they could be to the company.
More than one spouse has told me: “All I wanted was to get in the door -- to be judged on my merits, my qualifications and my strengths.”
Those living overseas face a similar set of challenges, as they struggle to compete with regulations that prefer the hiring of local nationals.
And too many of our wives and husbands here at home -- including Gold Star spouses -- have found the rules governing the Federal spouse hiring preference difficult to navigate, even when a job for which they are applying is listed as unfilled.
Surely, these challenges can be overcome. Most of them are bureaucratic, crafted with the best of intentions but perhaps with little thought to the unintended consequences they impel.
Any decision to hire someone represents a risk. We all know that. That’s why it’s such an important decision for any employer to make. They are taking a gamble on someone they don’t know.
Our spouses understand that, too. They aren’t asking for rules to be broken or for regulations to be cast aside. They know the economy is tough out there -- that other really good, really smart people are looking for work.
This isn’t about entitlement for them. It’s about opportunity. Military spouses just want the same shot everyone else gets to take.
With the launch of this partnership, we are instituting change on their behalf. We’re making it easier for them to find work, and perhaps a little less frightening for employers to take that gamble and find the talent so resident in our ranks.
We all know that a job is so much more than a paycheck -- it is respect and dignity and self-empowerment. It is the triumph of ability over disability, and the defeat of impoverishment -- not just the impoverishment of one’s finances, but also of one’s spirit.
If this partnership lives up to expectations, we’ll go far to enrich that spirit.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Deborah Mullen, a Navy wife and mom and a military family advocate, has been married to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for 40 years.)