Blue Star Families Blog #2: May is the Month of the Military Spouse
The Other Sacrifice
Rosemarie Tracy, RN, BSN
Many military spouses miss career goals as they follow their service member. Here are tips for riding it out.
First, the facts:
The DOD 2021 Survey of Active-Duty Spouses found that spouse employment remained consistent since 2019. However, the percentage of spouses employed in their area of education or training rose significantly over the same period. The survey also found that the unemployment rate among spouses, 21%, remained unchanged since 2015. According to the survey, spouses spend an average of 19 weeks looking for work, and 16% chose to remain in place and not move with their spouse at least once during their spouse’s career.
The employment situation for spouses who want to relocate with their service member did not improve.
Many military spouses are K-12 teachers, child care workers, and registered nurses, all of which require licensing and certifications. State licensing and certification requirements create complications for relocating military spouses. There are often waiting lists and costly out-of-pocket expenses, especially for teachers, associated with fulfilling certification requirements every time a family moves. Imagine spending money on school and incurring loans to take lesser-paying jobs outside your chosen field to repay those loans? That isn't very encouraging, and the DOD understands that is what many of you are doing.
The DOD state liaison office works with state legislatures to enact laws to remove the barriers military families face when moving to a new state. Nevertheless, half of the states have yet to pass favorable military spouse credentialing legislation, according to the DOD's USA4MilitaryFamilies.org.
So, do you have to sacrifice?
Start your job search before the PCS orders drop. Keep a notebook, and date and document everyone you talk to or send resumes to. Keep current certifications from lapsing. It's difficult in this inflated economy, but if you can, create overdraft protection by squirreling away some money to fill the gap between jobs. Be persistent and do not give up despite unpromising encounters. Keep your resume up to date and create or optimize your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn statistical data reveals that 1 out of 5 jobs do not require a four-year degree, and eight people per minute are hired on LinkedIn.
Job hunting should be an exciting endeavor. But it can also weigh heavily on your confidence, contribute to high anxiety, and lead to depression. I was raised with a strong work ethic encompassed with civil servant notions. My parents encouraged it and as I was growing up, I often heard, “get a state job, you’ll have a pension and health care,” in addition to other decent benefits. What they didn’t tell me was I would be subject to things like mandatory overtime and seniority privileges. Trying to get days off for my children’s school events or to line up vacations with my husband was sometimes near impossible.
While civil service is absolutely a smart career path, and I encouraged both my adult sons to take that route, it’s not the only option. COVID-19 lockdowns saw a rise in freelancing jobs, increased e-commerce sales, and the rise of virtual meetings. Create an online presence. Start a blog or think about entrepreneurship and go freelance. There are numerous ways for teachers to sell lesson plans and materials to other teachers. For example, you can use Etsy to market your online resources until you're ready for your website. Or become an online teacher, curriculum developer, or educational consultant.
Many burnt-out nurses moved away from the bedside, turning to freelance work in different capacities, such as medical content writing, health coaching, and legal consulting, to name a few. Nurses can also find remote jobs with major health systems and other entities such as triage, nursing informatics, and nurse education. Travel nursing is another option. The Nursing License Compact (NLC) agreement allows nurses to practice with their original issued license in the state they’re moving to. However, only some states recognize the compact. Even if a state you'd like to work in is separate from the NLC, attaining a license is simple. You don't have to be a nurse or teacher to make this work. About one-third of U.S. workers work remotely across different career fields, offering excellent opportunities.
Among the career fields working remotely are:
Medical coding and billing
Social media managers
And much more
Abundant online material can help you research how to start a small business and equally abundant ways can pivot your current career in a new direction. Another way to increase your revenue stream is as an Amazon affiliate. You share brand links and products on your social media accounts and earn a commission based on sales. Of course, this requires a lofty following, but it's not impossible. Be advised, if you take advantage of affiliate marketing or self-employment, it’s wise to diversify your income streams and also set up your own retirement account.
Military spouse employment remains the top concern for active-duty families. With rising inflation burdening family housing and food budgets and intensifying the pressure for spouses to obtain and maintain jobs, many feel discouraged and depressed. There are several civilian employment programs to support military spouses:
Blue Star Families; Military Spouse Employment Initiative
This alliance aims to identify the barriers military spouses face and solutions for long-term military spouse employment. In addition, blue Star Families offers employment assistance.
Military Spouse Employment Partnership
MSEP is an initiative of the Department of Defense’s Spouse Education and Career
Opportunities (SECO) program that aims to help military spouses find jobs. The
partnership includes more than 440 partners or military-friendly employers.
DOD Military Spouse Preference Program
This program offers opportunities for spouses seeking priority consideration for competitive service positions at DOD activities in the U.S., its territories, and possessions.
The Military Spouse Noncompetitive Appointing Authority can be used by agencies to noncompetitively appoint certain military spouses to positions in the competitive
service on a permanent, temporary, or term basis.
In March 2023, the DoD added six new initiatives to strengthen support to service members and their families. Among the changes:
Expanded Spouse Eligibility for My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) Financial Assistance: Eligibility for spouses extended to E-6 and O-3 ranks. This program provides up to $4,000 in aid for obtaining a license, certificate, or an associate degree.
Portability and best practices for professional licenses:
Continued efforts to make professional licenses portable for military families, working with states to encourage sharing of licensure best practices and approval of occupational licensure compacts is ongoing. This initiative aims to reduce barriers to employment for military spouses. Other changes will make moves easier, support military spouses, careers, strengthen support for military families, and ensure economic stabilization.
Your sacrifices are not overlooked.