Empowering Military Spouse Education & Employment
Millions of service members fulfill vital roles, put their lives on the line, and further the interests of America each year. While their service should not go unnoticed, it’s also important to remember that a significant number of these servicemembers have spouses who travel with them and make sacrifices along the way – often in areas of employment and education. According to a 2017 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, approximately 56 percent of military spouses identify themselves as unemployed or underemployed. A further 25 percent work multiple jobs to help ends meet, despite 73 percent of them holding at minimum a bachelor’s degree. Pursuing education or maintaining suitable employment can feel like a challenge, but this guide exists to provide concrete and actionable steps that can be taken to overcome these issues. Keep reading to find career resources, education and training support, and advice from an expert.
Barriers & Challenges to Military Spouse
Employment & Education
Before military spouses can begin thinking of more effective ways to find/maintain employment or complete higher education, they need to take a moment and identify the various barriers that have prevented them from doing so in the past.
Changes in duty location
While members of the military have little say in their first duty stations, this can also be true for future assignments as well. After receiving training, branches of the military take into consideration the ideal location of the service member, but can’t guarantee they get their first, second, or even third pick. They also can’t guarantee that you won’t have to move every one or two years.
Caring for children while military spouse is deployed
For those whose spouses receive orders to deploy overseas, caring for children can quickly become more than a full-time job. While operating as a single parent during their time of absence, the thought of finding a more fitting job or attempting to go back to school can simply feel out of reach.
Dealing with irregular schedules
Though some military members may follow more set routines as they move up the chain of command, chances are they will be required to work shifts that are not conducive to spending time with their loved ones, helping around the house, or watching kids. This became an issue in 2017 for the Navy after realizing crew members were exhausted from a lack of consistent sleep schedules.
Transferring licensure/credentials to different states or countries
Military spouses working in areas that commonly require licensure – such as healthcare, education, legal services, library sciences, social services, or personal care – often spend months working to have their new state/country recognize the license/credential their earned and maintained in the previous location.
Inability to maintain academic progress when leaving school for the above reasons
While many colleges and universities provide part-time learning paths to accommodate busy schedules, they do require students to finish the degree in a set number of years. If unable to do so, the school dismisses the learner from the program.
Career Resources for Military Spouses
In recent years, more and more career resources specifically created for military spouses are popping up, but often they don’t know about them or where to find them. The following sections take a look at some of the most helpful support systems for accomplishing employment and education goals.
Partnerships & Programs
Finding educational and professional contacts in a new place can be difficult, but the resources in this section exist to help military spouses make the transition more quickly and confidently.
Military Spouse Employment Partnership
The Department of Defense partners with approximately 100 companies throughout the world to provide jobs to qualified military spouses in a variety of industries. If they do not possess the skills or training needed initially, spouses can receive up to $4,000 through the Military Career Advancement Account to cover these costs. Some of the companies currently involved include Amazon, Bank of America, CVS, The Home Depot, Lockheed Martin, Starbucks, Verizon, and Walmart.
As part of Hire Heroes’ overarching mission of empowering veterans to find employment, the organization also provides the Serving Spouses program. Military spouses who sign up are paired with a transition specialist who helps them find roles that fit with their lifestyle. Applicants are also paired with other military spouses in the program to receive support and advice.
Recognizing the difficulties faced by military spouses in the employment arena, USAJobs provides a non-competitive application process for individuals who want to work in the federal government. To receive consideration, applicants must either relocate with their partner through Permanent Change of Stations orders or identify as a military spouse whose partner is either 100% disabled due to a service-injury or who died while in active duty.
USO Military Spouse Networking Events
In 2016, the United Service Organizations (USO) launched this program to help military spouses connect with professional and social networks whenever they move. In addition to meeting other military spouses, the group invites local companies and provides spouses with business cards and ideas for elevator pitches.
Licensing & Credentialing
Thousands of roles exist which require professionals to gain and maintain licensure/credentialing, but military spouses may find it more difficult due to moving frequently.
After completing any required education and/or training program required for the job they hope to attain, many positions require individuals to sit for an exam to demonstrate their knowledge and receive licensure/certification. Whether operating as a teacher, architect, social worker, nurse, lawyer, or doctor, each requires this extra step. Most individuals apply for credentialing when finishing up academic requirements, but military spouses may be unsure how to proceed – especially if they know they’ll be moving out of state soon and the license they receive will no longer be valid. Fortunately, the military and some state governments are working to make the process easier for military spouses.
Under license portability allowances, many states now provide pathways making it more easily for newly arrived military spouses to transfer licenses. A spectrum of allowances exists. Some states provide both temporary and in-state licenses in all cases; others may provide in-state or temporary licenses in some cases. A few states do not provide a comprehensive recognition statute, meaning it may take longer or require more paperwork in these states than others. The U.S. Department of Labor provides an interactive map of the U.S. that helps military spouses understand the laws of each state.
Working Remotely: Career Spotlight for Military Spouses
Despite the limitations placed on military spouses by the lifestyles of those in the armed forces, today’s ever-growing connectedness via the internet makes it possible for individuals to earn livings from anywhere in the world. Read about some of the remote jobs listed below to get a sense of the possibilities.
Because their products/services exist wholly within the digital space, many software developers work remotely or in a freelance capacity. So long as these professionals can access a secure and strong internet connection and possess the skills and knowledge needed to complete their tasks, it doesn’t matter where they are located.
As the field of telemedicine continues to expand – especially in rural areas lacking proper medical facilities – more and more qualified nurses are needed to provide diagnoses and treatments to patients. Military spouses with nursing licenses can benefit from the flexibility of this role while still getting to use their skills to help others.
No matter whether starting a handmade greeting card company or offering remote tax preparation, online businesses allow military spouses to set their own hours, work remotely, and create a schedule that works with their family’s lifestyle.
Military spouses with existing administrative skills often qualify for roles as virtual assistants. Though they perform many of the same tasks as those working in an office – answering emails, organizing travel, scheduling meetings, and taking notes – they can complete them from anywhere.
Whether working as an in-house designer for an individual company or freelancing for a variety of clients, graphic designers enjoy lots of work flexibility as their products exist in digital formats. Military spouses with skills in this arena can set hours based on family needs and do their work from any location with internet.
Writers often have much flexibility in their working lives as they don’t necessarily need to be based in an office. Some may provide in-house copy to a single organization or ad agency, while others may work on a freelance basis and manage multiple clients. As long as individuals are focused and organized, this path offers much flexibility.
As more primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools provide online learning options, military spouses with the required educations and licenses can do this job from any location with Wi-Fi. Learners should try to find classes taught synchronously if they want the most flexibility.
Those with specialized knowledge in their given field can act as consultants to help organizations function more effectively. Some may use their skills in technology to provide IT consulting, while those with experience in organizational management can work with companies to identify issues surrounding efficiency and effectiveness. Some travel may be required, but most work can be done remotely.
Education & Training for Military Spouses
Many military spouses possess long-held dreams and aspirations about their careers but may find it difficult to fulfill those goals if they don’t already possess the required education. Fortunately, numerous options exist to help military spouses with unique schedules complete courses and move closer to their ideal jobs.
As college costs continue to rise each year, the realities of paying for a degree often cloud military spouses’ resolve as they consider the financial obligations for their families. Fortunately, a number of programs exist to help lessen this financial burden. The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) provide individuals with up to $4,000 over the span of two years to continue their education or receive licensure. The Military Spouse Education & Career Opportunities (MySECO) website, meanwhile, provides a range of tools to help spouses research prospective career paths, find scholarships, locate schools, develop their resumes, and find jobs. If their partner doesn’t plan to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill funding, these funds can be transferred to the spouse in order to help cover educational costs. Under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program, spouses of permanently disabled veterans or those who passed away on active duty/from a service-related condition can receive funding for degrees and/or training. Lastly, military spouses should always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
According to a study by the Babson Survey Research Group, approximately 30 percent of all postsecondary students took at least one online class at one of the 4,700 U.S. colleges and universities now offering them. While some learners initially questioned whether online courses were on par with those offered at brick-and-mortar campuses, today’s technology allows for meaningful and robust classes available at some of the best institutions in the country. Because coursework can be completed anywhere that has a steady internet connection, military spouses move towards degrees regardless of location or time zone. They may also be able to transfer credits from previous institutions attended, thereby making it possible to finish more quickly. Lastly, accredited online colleges qualify for many of the same financial aid options as campus-based degrees, helping learners cut their overall costs.
Completing a degree takes significant time and dedication, but military spouses shouldn’t let that deter them from enrolling in a program. Many online degrees allow students to listen to lectures and complete assignments at times best suited to their schedules rather than signing in at specific times. Because of this, those with children or work commitments need not worry about conflicting schedules. Learners can also lower their stress levels by finding a military-friendly school, working ahead when possible, and communicating with your professors if something unexpected comes up.
Military spouses unsure of what to study should think in terms of practicality. Because they move often and need to maintain flexible schedules, consider which degrees lead to careers that can be done from anywhere. Examples of programs to consider include computer science, education, English, accounting, or foreign languages. Because individuals with these skills are always in demand in a variety of industries, they can typically find work easily wherever they go.
With so many schools now offering online courses and full degree paths, some prospective students may feel overwhelmed by their options. Because so many online programs maintain both institutional and programmatic accreditation, that doesn’t necessarily help narrow the choices. Fortunately, students can use the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) website to find a list of schools approved by the organization for educational funding.
From the Expert
Charlene Wilde is both a veteran and a military spouse. She currently works as the assistant secretary of AAFMAA, our nation’s longest-standing not-for-profit association. Wilde is also a regular contributor to SpouseLink, an online community created by AAFMAA to inform, support, and inspire military spouses around the world.
Q: How can online education and the flexibility of learning from anywhere help with the issues discussed in this guide?
A: Historically, the military has done a great job of offering these types of benefits to service members through the GI Bill, online learning and physical campuses on-post or on-base. However, for a while, similar opportunities for spouses were not as easy to come by. Luckily, we’ve seen this change in a big way recently. Flexible learning and employment options are a huge game-changer for military spouses and offer an opportunity to really take off in a new career at your own pace. Online learning is ideal for a military spouse, particularly one who might be juggling responsibilities at home and childcare while their spouse is deployed. And, of course, the ability to be enrolled in a “virtual” campus makes it easy to continue your coursework even if your family moves to a new base hundreds of miles away. The same goes for flexible work positions, we’re seeing more and more military spouses pursue full- or part-time positions that allow them to work remotely.
Additionally, if you are interested in starting a new career that might not require you to go back to school, there are many opportunities for military spouses to learn on-the-job through military-friendly training programs which are offered in a variety of industries. For instance, the MilHousing Network is a great organization that helps spouses pursue careers in real estate to help other military families make sense of the home buying and moving process. The Spouse and Education section of Military One Source also provides extensive lists of job opportunities and resources.
Q: What advice do you have for these individuals?
A: The biggest piece of advice I give to my fellow military spouses who are considering going back to school is to be honest with yourself and realistic about whether your current lifestyle is suited to this type of commitment. Remember that embarking on a new education or career path is an investment and involves your entire family. Discuss your options and interests with your family and assess your current situation to identify areas where others in the family may need to step up and take over some responsibilities while you are studying.
Once you’ve determined that you and your family are ready to take this step, create a dedicated plan for your studying and course requirements and hold yourself accountable to it! Find what works best for your family’s schedule. This might mean declaring two nights a week “study nights” when you will stay up later after young children are asleep to complete assignments. If your spouse is local, perhaps they can change their schedule and come home earlier a few evenings to handle household chores while you study. Seek out help from friends and local family members, if needed. Perhaps every other weekend a friend watches your children on Sunday afternoon so you can work in a quiet house. And don’t forget about tapping into your resources! As I shared, there are more options than ever available to military spouses, both in-person and online. Many bases offer counseling and seminars to help spouses at all steps of the process, including the USO’s Pathfinder Program. Become familiar with the online military spouse community as well, you never know when you’ll encounter a spouse living on the other side of the country who went through a similar situation who can offer advice. Organizations like SpouseLink offer a tremendous amount of online resources as well as chances to connect with other spouses in Facebook groups and message boards.
Q: How can spouses who are members of the military best support their partner during this process?
A: The serving spouse should play a big role in this process and they must start by understanding their spouse’s goals and the responsibilities that will come with pursuing a degree. In addition to understanding how to support their spouse emotionally as they take a big step in their career, the serving spouse may need to take on additional responsibilities at home, if they are local. This is where communication becomes even more important. Ask the right questions to understand about how your spouse’s studies and workload might impact home life and find out how you can help alleviate this stress before it becomes a problem that impacts the family. This is where the schedule can also be a big help in avoiding surprises. It can be as simple as asking your spouse them something like “What major assignments or deadlines do you have this month and what can I do to help.” Showing a willingness to take simple tasks such as shopping, laundry and transporting children to activities can go a long way!
Q: What questions should a military spouse ask a potential college/employer when figuring out their next steps?
A: Logistical questions are often the most important. If you’ve received a scholarship or if your education is being sponsored by an employer, ask if there is a certain timeframe you need to complete your studies by as this will impact your study schedule. Since most military spouses chose to enroll as part-time students, ask if there is a minimum or maximum course load you need to adhere to and be careful to not bite off more than you can chew! Since military life can be unpredictable, ask what your options are for taking a break from your studies, if needed and how this might affect your scholarship or timeframe to avoid surprises.
If you are meeting with a potential employer, particularly one who might not be familiar with military lifestyle, be honest about your concerns and any special circumstances that may impact your work to see how they might be able to accommodate. Fortunately, more and more employers are understanding about working parents and willing to offer flexible hours and occasional remote work when you need to attend to family obligations. Once again, to avoid any unpleasant surprises, it’s always important to ask what the company policy is during the interview process to make sure the position will be a good fit for both you and the company.
Q: Why is it important to have this conversation around ensuring spouses receive access to education and employment?
A: Today, more options are available to military spouses seeking higher education and careers that ever before, which is incredibly exciting! But we still have a lot of work to do and it’s important to keep up the momentum by continuing these conversations to raise awareness among not only military spouses but the nation as a whole. We’re already seeing this increased awareness pay off in a big way, with new legislation introduced to aid military spouses in finding employment and tackling debt and major companies, such as Microsoft, exploring partnerships with military bases to help educate spouses on lucrative career paths in science and technology. Initiatives like these are just the beginning and will spark additional discussions around military spouse education and employment that have the potential to empower hundreds of thousands of spouses around the country.