While a strong focus on veteran hiring has significantly lowered the unemployment rate of U.S. veterans, many employers are now starting to focus on another challenge. Military spouses still have a difficult time finding employment that matches their skill sets.
According to a study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the unemployment rate for military spouses has hovered around 20 to 25 percent over the last decade. This means that military families are more likely than average to rely on a single income.
As employers work to support the military, the focus should now shift to the entire military family. While many employers have built robust veteran hiring programs, military spouse hiring programs struggle to gain traction despite the help and stability employment can provide for military families. By focusing on military spouse employment, organizations have the opportunity to not only support the military but also hire strong employees. In this article, we will dig into the demographics of who military spouses are, the challenges they face and how employers can hire and retain these valuable workers.
Who are Military Spouses?
In order to effectively recruit military spouses, it’s important to understand who they are. Military spouses form a diverse group with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets, but there are some commonalities.
They’re Overwhelming Young and Female but not Exclusively
A White House report on Military Spouses in the Labor Market shows that 92 percent of military spouses are female, and the average age is 33-years-old. The average American working age is 41-years-old.
This means average military spouses are within their prime working years. While the population is mostly female, employers should also recognize that male military spouses face many of the same challenges as female military spouses, but often lack support groups or feel overlooked.
They May be Veterans Themselves
According to the White House report, 12 percent of military spouses are active duty military themselves. Male military spouses are much more likely to be veterans. Nearly half of all married female active duty military members are in dual-military marriages.
They are Highly Skilled and Highly Educated
Military spouses are more likely to hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree than the general population. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study, 34 percent have a college degree and 15 percent have a postgraduate degree. In the general population, according to census data, those numbers are 32.5 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
They Often have Children but not Always
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study finds that 41 percent of military spouses have dependent children, and more than 70 percent of those children are 7-years-old or younger.
Having young children in the home can increase the pressure on military spouses to find flexible work, but military spouses without children can also benefit from flexible work arrangements.
They Manage Stress Effectively and Work Well Under Pressure
Because of the pressures associated with being a military spouse, including frequent moves, managing change and running a household through a deployment, military spouses learn to effectively manage stress and deal well with pressure.
According to Military.com, military spouses are quick learners, committed to service, adaptable and they bring a diverse set of skills. Military spouses pick up these skills dealing with the high stress of the military lifestyle, including managing and adjusting to frequent moves and taking on extra responsibilities and stress during a deployment. These traits often make them strong employees.
The Challenges Faced by Military Spouses
The issues faced by military spouses have broad implications. Finding work and managing a career is one of the top stressors for military families, just behind deployments and moving away from friends and families.
That stress plays a significant role in a veteran’s decision to leave the military, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study, and impacts the military’s readiness and ability to recruit.
Increased Difficulty Finding Work
When searching for a job, military spouses say the most frequent issue they face is that employers don’t want to hire them out of fear that they will move. They also struggle explaining gaps in their resume and often need a more flexible schedule while their spouse is deployed.
Because of these challenges, about a quarter of military spouses say it has taken them more than a year to find a job after a move and many work part-time or seasonal jobs or work more than one job when they want permanent, full-time employment.
Need for a Flexible Work Environment
Military spouses may move frequently. In the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study, more than half of the military spouses surveyed report having moved more than 50 miles three times due to their spouse’s military career.
Additionally, more than 80 percent of military spouses have experienced a deployment during their spouse’s career. A deployment, especially for a family with children, can be disruptive to work life and make it more difficult for a military spouse to maintain a strict schedule. Because of this, positions that allow for remote work or flexible hours are ideal for military spouses.
When military spouses find employment, about 70 percent report that the job does not take full advantage of their work experience and education. Nearly two-thirds of military spouses say they have taken a decrease in pay or responsibilities in their current role.
Most military spouses with post-secondary education say that the military lifestyle does not support career opportunities for both spouses.
Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Military Spouse Employees
Identify Ideal Positions for Military Spouses
Because of the unique pressures faced by military spouses, organizations should determine if any positions would be an ideal fit for a military spouse or if any adaptations can be made to help a position fit better with the military lifestyle. Flexible working hours and the ability to work remotely should be considered.
Set Hiring Manager and Recruiter Expectations
Military spouses may have long resume gaps or short tenures at previous jobs. They may also have taken positions outside their area of expertise or made lateral career moves. Organizations should educate recruiters and hiring managers and set reasonable expectations. These factors alone should not disqualify a military spouse candidate.
Find Military Spouses Where They Are
Organizations looking to hire military spouses should post to job boards that target military families and partner with military advocacy organizations. A variety of national and local veteran organizations have job boards specifically targeted to military spouses. Employers should research to determine which are most often used in areas they are targeting. While job posts targeting veterans should use language that reflects their military experiences, military spouses have a wide range of experience and expertise. Because of this, employers don’t need to use military-specific language, but highlighting job benefits that are appealing to military spouses and stating a commitment to hiring military spouses can be beneficial.
Establish an Affinity Group for Veteran Spouses
Hiring a military spouse is just the first step. Much like veteran affinity groups, a military spouse affinity group can help new employees feel welcomed. An affinity group is a voluntary, employee-driven group of people with a common interest or goal. An affinity group is an opportunity for military spouses across a workplace to connect and support each other and help with the stress and pressures of being in a military family.
Focus on Retention Through Life Transitions
Because of the military lifestyle, a military spouse may need to relocate to follow their partner or adjust work hours to take care of their family if their partner deploys. In order to retain strong military spouse employees, organizations should determine what types of adjustments can be made to retain these employees through times of personal change – including remote work, temporarily reduced hours or a flexible schedule. This can increase employee engagement and help the military family through transitions.
Find a Partner with Experience Hiring Military Spouses
Organizations without experience hiring military spouses should consider turning to an RPO partner with experience hiring veterans and military spouses. RPO providers can bring their strong connections with partners like Hiring our Heroes and share their expertise in veteran and military spouse hiring.