This New VA Hiring Program Is Hunting for Military Spouses

Military spouses speak at a hiring symposium.
Tamara Rose Olson-Harper, Military Spouse Employment Partnership, speaks during the military spouse education and employment panel during the second annual Spouse Symposium at Dover Air Force Base, Del. U.S. Air Force/Aaron J. Jenne

The Department of Veterans Affair recognizes that military spouses not only have a passion for serving, they also have a talent for it. Recently, they announced a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program to champion military spouse hiring.

As military spouses, we have firsthand knowledge of the importance -- and meaning -- of service. While debate after debate dissects whether or not spouses serve, there is no question that we intimately know what it means to sacrifice.

Most of the time, that understanding is something we witness through the eyes and the commitment of our service member. We send them off to war, knowing the magnitude of the circumstances, feeling the pride that comes with our unique call of supporting something bigger than ourselves.

But what if we could serve outside of our service member? What if we, as military spouses, had the opportunity to directly contribute to "the cause?"

While many military couples both serve on active duty, most spouses find themselves unable or unwilling to sign on a line that may leave both parents deployed at the same time or risking separate orders that divide families across oceans. And yet, so many spouses feel this call to give; it's apparent in our high volunteer rates.

Couple that with the fact that our unemployment rate is 4x the national average of our civilian counterparts, and the VA is seeing not just an opportunity, but a responsibility. It's why, when well-known consulting firm, Grant Thornton, approached the VA with this data, and suggested that the VA spearhead an initiative aimed at capitalizing on the military spouse talent pool, the VA was immediately receptive.

Sharif Ambrose, a partner at Grant Thornton who helps lead Grant Thornton Veterans and Allies Business Resource Group said in an email, "Grant Thornton believes that there is a place for military spouses in federal service -- either as a public servant or as a contractor. We recognize the mobile reality of active duty families and in order to retain top military spouse talent it is necessary to create opportunities and leverage flexible policies that will continue to best serve our clients."

To better leverage the military spouse talent pool, the VA is launching a Military Spouse Network to create a pipeline of military spouse talent. Their goal, they said in a release, is not just to hire military spouses, but to retain them throughout the course of their moves and to develop them throughout their career.

Finding the Talent

VA officials said they are committed to creating communication strategies to educate internally and externally. From within, they'll create materials that educate their teams on why military spouses are excellent hires, they said. Outside of their walls, they'll conduct outreach to ensure their target population -- military spouses -- are aware of their initiative. They've also committed to conducting research on best practices within public-private partnerships to benchmark what others are doing, learning from their mistakes and leveraging what works.

Hiring the Talent

The Military Spouse Network knows how to find military spouses. Often, our resumes are full of gaps that preclude us from even getting in the proverbial door of a hiring software. While automated processes might not recognize the incredible life experience that comes from moving every two years, the Network will.

From project management to logistics, military spouses can do it all, whether or not their career history reflects it. 

Keeping the Talent

One of the best ways to retain talent is through cultivating understanding. By conducting live and in person events for the military spouses in government, VA officials said they hope to share the message that military spouses are wanted, needed, and not alone in their quest to serve.

"This type of intergovernmental collaboration to promote the hiring and retention of military spouses, is important not only for current servicemen and women and their families, but also for Veterans and their families," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release. "Military spouses bring a unique perspective to the federal workplace, and I am proud that VA is leading the charge in this area."

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