The Defense Department's Military Spouse Employment Partnership program expects to add more than 70 new companies to its roster during the upcoming "MSEP Engage" event next month.
Currently, more than 540 government organizations, nonprofits and private sector companies have made a commitment to the Defense Department to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses, said the associate director of military community support programs.
"Annually we bring all of our partners together for what has traditionally been a two-day event," Eddy Mentzer said. "The first day is spent with our new partners — this year, we have a class of more than 70 new MSEP partners that will be joining us. We conduct a number of orientation sessions with those partners that focus on how they can engage with the military spouse community and we have a formal induction ceremony."
The second day of the event, Mentzer said, is typically spent in several networking and breakout sessions focused on areas such as recruiting military spouses, understanding the challenges that military spouses face, and making their companies more military friendly and specifically, military spouse ready.
This year's MSEP Engage event kicks off October 25 in Arlington, Virginia. For the first time, Mentzer said, a third day has been added to the event where military spouses looking for work can meet with potential employers.
"This is the first time that we've actually done an event that includes our employer partners and spouses together," Mentzer said. "We're going to host our first-ever MSEP in-person hiring fair. We'll have a number of our MSEP employer partners that are present, and the opportunity for military spouses to come and meet with those companies that have really made this commitment to open that aperture and hire military spouses."
While the MSEP Engage event in October will mostly serve military spouses in the Washington, D.C., area, Mentzer did say that the program's primary method for matching spouses with employment opportunities is through the program's website and events that allow spouses to meet virtually with employers. The program plans to host several virtual hiring events in 2023, he said.
Since the MSEP program began in 2011, the program's partnering efforts have helped 220,000 military spouses find work with more than 540 partners, Mentzer said. And right now on the MSEP website, there are more than 600, 000 jobs posted. It's important to understand that each of these jobs has been posted by a committed, engaged MSEP employer partner.
Mentzer said helping military spouses find work is an important aspect of military readiness because while the military recruits individuals to join the service, it must create an environment that retains that service member's family.
"The challenges faced by military spouses are not new," Mentzer said. "This is a historic challenge. Over the last decade, our unemployment rate for military spouses has hovered well above 20%, which is more than five times the national average. And it presents a huge challenge for our military families."
Family satisfaction, Mentzer said, plays a big part in the retention of married service members, and the Department wants to ensure that it's doing everything it can to keep those families strong. Part of that means ensuring that military spouses can be employed if they need to be.
"We know that the majority of military families want or need to be dual-income families," he said. "That's not different than the rest of society. And we want to make sure that our spouses have those opportunities."