Do MilSpouse Jobs Programs Work?

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Military spouse employment is a fad. Or maybe that’s just my paranoia talking.

Recently, I read about all these programs and I wonder if any of them really work. On my darker days, I feel suspicious of these flag wavin’, red-white-and-blue wearin’ spouse employment program people.

Somehow, I suspect they are far more interested in making military spouses seem like big-eyed, three-pawed kittens in a Sarah McLachlan commercial than employing us to do what we can so competently do.

Then I met Melissa King at a SpouseBuzz Live event in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Melissa is a Military Family Employment Advocate at JobsPlus in Crestview, Fla. She isn’t some big deal testifying before Congress. She isn’t courting Fortune 500 companies to put a sticker on their window. Melissa just goes out into her community and gets jobs for military spouses.

The woman gave me cause to hope. Getting jobs for spouses is supposed to take some kind of practical magic. Surely this jobfinder would be Hermione Granger incarnate. Not so much.

Melissa is simply one of eight military family employment advocates in the state of Florida. In her job, Melissa meets with military spouses who are new to the area. She talks to the newcomers one-on-one about what kind of work they would like to find and how that fits into their Florida community.

“I’m kinda a good judge of character,” said Melissa in a recent interview. “I am surprised how quickly I can figure out people and see what their needs are. If we are talking on the phone and I hear kids crying in the background, I know that childcare is going to be an issue. I can help with that. I can help with all of that.”

Melissa knows what it is like to be a military spouse seeking employment. As an Air Force spouse who is also a veteran herself, she used her GI Bill to go back to school and major in human resource management. When she found the position at JobsPlus as a work/study job four and a half years ago, Melissa promised herself, “I will learn to find a job and I will find a great job.”

She didn’t know then that she would also be finding great jobs for other military spouses. Melissa credits part of the program's success to the way the employment advocates go out into their local community to court employers. Melissa said, “I have employers who say, ‘The last people you sent were terrific -- send me more.’"

This is exactly the kind of military spouse employment program that works for three reasons:

First and foremost, military spouses need a real person on their side, at their side. Our service members have a lot in common, but we spouses all have a unique constellation of skills, education, ambition and family demands. We need a person who is willing to listen and team up with us to make a plan. We can do the work, we just need a little expert help.

Second, we need a local guide. Think Sherpa. We need someone who understands the environment surrounding a particular base or post at an expert level. We need that person to have a reputation with employers for providing good candidates for work so that we can become those candidates.

Third, we need a realist. We need somebody who will tell us hard truths about spouse employment. Read Melissa’s suggestions here. And let’s start looking for some real results from military spouse employment programs.

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