There is quite a lot of well-deserved discussion and support for veterans who transition to civilian careers after their military commitment is complete–with promising results: the unemployment rate for veterans is now less than their civilian counterparts.
However, many people don’t know or think about the very real struggle that military spouses face when it comes to their careers. Today on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I’d like to bring some light to this topic.
It was almost two years ago when my husband joined the Navy. At the time, my knowledge of military life was pretty limited, but what I did know was that we would be moving–a lot. I also knew it would be incredibly challenging to sustain my career while moving approximately every two years. However, I had invested six years into earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and an additional five years into developing myself as a professional. Work was, and is, a huge part of my identity: when people ask me questions like, “Tell me about yourself?” or even just “How are you?” I have always launched into an explanation about what I do.
Unfortunately, my first Google search on military spouse employment was pretty depressing–so much so that it required a glass of wine! I learned that 90% of military spouses are unemployed or underemployed. Those that are employed earn 38% less than civilians with similar education and experience. A well-established site for military spouses recommended my best career options were babysitting and dog walking. My emotions bounced from feeling incredibly discouraged to incredibly angry. The 1950’s are well in the rear view, so why did it seem that my options were to either choose my career or choose to follow my husband?
After the initial shock wore off, I expanded my thinking and looked for resources and companies that support remote work. To me, telework seemed like the only viable option. Military bases can be in fairly remote locations where the local job market may not provide a lot of opportunities. Even if I were able to find a job where we were stationed I would be setting myself up for a stressful job search every two years.
My second Google search proved to be much more successful than my first. I found resources on work flexibility like 1 Million for Work Flexibility, and I binge-read every blog post on flexible employment that I could get my hands on (this time no wine required). I learned about how remote work is highly beneficial to employers since it helps to reduce turnover and it increases productivity. Global Workplace Analytics reports that a typical business saves an average of $11,000 per remote employee per year! After a few months of searching I was able to land a remote job with a consulting company. My position allows me to continue to grow as a professional in my field while working from home. I can take my laptop and work from wherever our PCS (permanent change of station) orders may send us. It has been a perfect career fit to our military life.
The statistics on military spouse employment are alarming, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to change them. Unfortunately, my story of successfully landing a remote position is rare: finding flexible employment opportunities is something that many military spouses struggle with. However, there are many military spouses working to move the needle. For example, America’s Career Force is working with employers on a campaign to “Hire Just One” military spouse to work remotely, and they do a lot of advocacy work to help bring awareness to this issue.
For those of you who show your appreciation for military service members and spouses every day, thank you. For those of you who show your appreciation by hiring and supporting spouses through their many moves, words cannot express how thankful we are. Your openness to work flexibility has given us the opportunity to do more than just find a job, and instead build a career.
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