U.S. businesses are hiring again and we would like to remind managers and hiring authorities about an underutilized, remote workforce that is available and ready to work: the highly skilled military spouses located all over the world.
The military spouse unemployment rate typically hovers around 24 percent, but the pandemic has been even more devastating to this overwhelmingly (92 percent) female group. In fact, a flash survey conducted by Hiring Our Heroes (HOH), an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, found that the military spouse unemployment rate had jumped to 38 percent as of March 2021.
The military spouse unemployment rate persists despite the fact that they are more educated than most working Americans; according to a recent HoH survey, 75 percent of military spouses have at least a bachelor’s degree. And approximately 80 percent of military spouses reported having pursued additional training or education. These men and women are masters of adaptability, ingenuity, and perseverance due in part to the impact that life as an active duty military spouse has on their personal and professional endeavors. If you give a project to a military spouse, it will get done and it will be done efficiently. They are also fiercely loyal — to their employer, their family and their country. And military spouses have high levels of cultural sensitivity and awareness due to living and working in a variety of environments.
If these attributes are so common in this workforce, why is their unemployment rate so high? We believe that military spouse resumes are often overlooked due to unusual gaps in employment, unclear career paths when compared to their civilian counterparts, and periods of un- and under-employment. This is due to a range of factors including frequent moves and being placed in rural areas or other locations where job prospects may be fewer and narrower and where military spouses’ professional ties may be weaker.
Military spouses frequently express frustration about having to “start over” with each new location, according to Hiring Our Heroes’ 2020 Military Spouses in the Workplace research. This research also found that among those who were unemployed, 31 percent of military spouse respondents reported experiencing long-term unemployment — a rate that is three times higher than the civilian long-term unemployment rate.
As an international company where more than 70 percent of our employees identify as military spouses or veterans, WWC Global’s workforce has been one of the greatest assets to our growth over the last 16 years. Transcending time zones, WWC Global staff members — consisting of highly educated military spouses working remotely — support overseas client sites, meet short-term deadlines effectively and complete round-the-clock projects.
Now, this brain trust must be leveraged on a wider basis.
For years, frequent relocations have been the reason for high military spouse unemployment. The only impediment to employment for this group is their disbursed locations. What would happen to the military spouse unemployment rate if we removed the relocation factor? What would happen if time zones and area codes were not contingency factors for employment? This year, the shift to remote work provided the answers to those questions.
Even prior to the global pandemic, our innovative use of a virtual workforce set us up for success, and it was our safety net when offices sent people home. This past year, remote work became essential for many businesses to stay afloat. Our military spouse staff members relocate due to military moves, many continue to work for our organizations, enabling the historical knowledge and processes to remain intact. Many employees have been with us through five or more military relocations.
More companies are beginning to increase their recruiting of military spouses, but they are still an underutilized workforce. Military Spouse Appreciation Day is May 7, and while it is important to recognize military families in May, it is not enough. We must actively recruit them for jobs — not for some patriotic duty, but because they are an effective workforce that businesses can benefit from. Together, we can bring increased economic opportunity to the military spouse community at the same time that we are cultivating a workforce of diverse, team-oriented individuals for our companies.
As business and nonprofit leaders, we must recognize the success of virtual work, demonstrated by COVID-19, as a reason to add military spouses to a corporate inclusion plan. It is not enough to say “we hire veterans and military families” — we must actively recruit and retain them. This last year proved it is possible for Americans to work from home successfully, now is the time to hire military spouses regardless of location.
Meredith Lozar is executive director of programs for Hiring Our Heroes. Hiring Our Heroes is an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Lauren Weiner and Donna Huneycutt are senior leadership of WWC Global, the top woman-owned government contracting firm headquartered in Tampa, Fla. Over 70 percent of their 300-employee staff is a military spouse or veteran. Weiner and Huneycutt co-founded two non-profit organizations: In Gear Career for professional military spouses and Homefront Rising, a bipartisan organization that educates military spouses for roles in politics, policy, and advocacy.
Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, email@example.com.