Military spouses can now apply for a new paid fellowship employment program operated through private employers and sponsored by the Department of Defense.
The fellowship, which will pay most users $18 an hour, aims to place "career-ready spouses with civilian employers for 12 weeks of professional training, networking and hands-on experience," according to a program announcement sent via email Dec. 22.
The Military Spouse Career Accelerator (MSCA) Pilot, the formal title for the program, will be administered through a contract with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program. Since 2017, that group has run a similar fellowship program that placed 336 spouses into fellowships at 99 different companies this year, said Allison Chamberlayne, the deputy director of the Chamber's spouse fellowship program.
"We want to represent military spouse talent like we know it is with these highly diverse, highly skilled, able to upskill talent pool that we know they are," Chamberlayne said.
The $18 rate for the DoD-funded program is the same as the pay received by fellows in the Chamber's spouse program, Chamberlayne said. Some fellows in both programs with SalesForce certifications and experience will instead be paid $25 due to the highly technical nature of that work.
While the DoD program and the Hiring Our Heroes fellowships are separate, Chamber officials will use some common staff and processes.
Applicants will be placed in both in-person and remote roles with companies on a rolling basis as positions come available, Chamberlayne said. Fellowships will "span various industries and locations," according to the emailed announcement.
The fellowships could also lead to permanent employment, with the notice adding that “spouses who excel in the program and are a fit for their host company may be invited to join the employer as a direct hire at the end of the fellowship.”
Employers interested in hosting a fellow can apply on the Chamber of Commerce Foundation's website. To qualify, companies must be looking to fill open roles, not simply be on the hunt for free labor, Chamberlayne said.
Of the fellows who completed the Chamber’s version of the program this year, 91% were hired full time after their fellowship, and the average annual salary of those hired is $70,000, according to the Chamber.
A Pentagon spokesperson did not return a request for comment Friday.
The fellowship pilot program was ordered by the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which annually sets policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon. The pilot will run for three years, with program spending capped at $5 million. Chamber officials said they've been told to expect about 600 fellows over the first year.
Within less than 24 hours of its announcement, however, the Chamber had already received "several hundred" applications, Chamberlayne said. But she added that not all of those applicants will be "career ready." Those who are not prepared to start a fellowship will be funneled into other assistance programs, including the DoD's spouse career coaching service operated through Military OneSource or the Chamber's various support programs.
The program is the first of its kind for military spouses operated by the Pentagon. A similar program known as SkillBridge funds fellowships for service members within 180 days of their transition out of active duty. Unlike the set hourly rate for the DoD's spouse program, those workers are paid their military salaries over the course of their fellowships.
The program is open to all spouses of currently serving members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Force, as well as currently serving Guard and Reserve members. Because the Coast Guard is a component of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon, the program is not open to Coast Guard spouses.
Applicants who don't qualify for the DoD program, including spouses of retirees and Coast Guard spouses, likely do qualify for the Chamber's fellowship program, Chamberlayne noted.
The DoD spouse fellowship application can be accessed on DoD's Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities website.
The DoD's fellowship application process funnels users from an initial data entry point on that website, which must be accessed through the Pentagon’s DS Log-in system, and into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes website, a Military.com test showed.
There, a second application collects a variety of background information on the applicant's career history. Users are prompted to select positions in which they are interested from a list of about 92 diverse options, ranging from "writer" to "hospital administration." They are then given the chance to select three preferred industries from about 13 options and list any professional certifications which they hold. Three more fields collect data on whether applicants have any experience with Sales Force systems or certifications.
Finally, applicants are asked for demographic information, the date they are available for work and to upload a copy of their professional resume. Users are also given the option to upload a headshot photo, though it is not required.
After submitting their application, users are notified via email that "a program representative will respond to your application via email in early 2023 to provide more information about the next step in the application process."