Some military spouses will soon begin testing another option for a portable career thanks to a pilot program that will offer free training to become a Salesforce administrator.

The initiative, called Blue Star SpouseForce, provides Salesforce administrator training to military spouses; that training usually would cost $5,000. The pilot program will start small Feb. 8, with about a dozen military spouses in the San Diego area.

The next training is expected to start in May in the San Antonio area; others will be rolled out later. Salesforce is a customer relationship management platform that businesses and other organizations use to manage customer data and interaction, and access business information, as well as a variety of other applications.

The average salary for a Salesforce administrator is more than $80,000, and the growing field has room for upward mobility, according to Kathy Roth-Douquet, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Blue Star Families, which is a partner in the SpouseForce initiative. She said there is a shortage of Salesforce administrators. Applications are being accepted for the San Diego area; visit Roth-Douquet encourages spouses to apply even if they are not in San Diego, so that Blue Star Families officials can gauge the interest in this career field and keep spouses informed when opportunities for this training open up in the future.

The eight-week, virtual training will provide spouses with the knowledge and tools to prepare for the Salesforce Certified Administrator exam. These careers can move with spouses.

The initiative is a partnership between Blue Star Families and the Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative. The company Salesforce is donating the training for the spouses during the pilots, and the Walmart Foundation is providing funding for the programmatic aspects of the initiative, Roth-Douquet said. The Clinton Foundation is helping with the design and strategic evaluation.

Salesforce is the top customer service relationship tool used by a number of large and small organizations to help manage their customer service, including Blue Star Families, Roth-Douquet said. "It's an excellent tool that's broadly used."

Salesforce administrator jobs are available in a variety of fields, from nonprofit organizations to financial institutions, health care and sales — creating reports that help the businesses meet the needs of their customers. Serious candidates first will take a three-hour online course to determine if the training is suitable for them.

To illustrate how a Salesforce administrator might work, Roth-Douquet used the example of a real estate company. Sales agents enter data into a system about the people they've met and the features of houses being sought. A Salesforce administrator helps set up the fields for each of those searches. A house might come on the market with a unique feature, and an agent might ask the Salesforce administrator to search the database for people looking for that particular feature.

Even though the training is online, the partners want to pilot the program in the same geographic location, to foster a peer group with mentors to answer questions, Roth-Douquet said. "We'll see if they want to physically get together, or if that doesn't work out for their lifestyle," she said. "We're trying to design it to be as helpful as possible." SpouseForce partners will  take lessons learned in these pilot programs before scaling up the initiative to a larger number of spouses, she said.

"We're trying to do wraparound services to set up spouses for a positive experience and success in the end," she said. That will also include webinars, and there will be help in connecting spouses to employers with jobs available, once spouses finish the certification.

"I think we at Blue Star Families will be hiring some of these. We use Salesforce, and it's hard for us to find people, too. So we see an immediate benefit. Our current Salesforce administrator is a military spouse. She started with us as a technology fellow, and trained in Salesforce. She had a great aptitude, and we hired her and promoted her," Roth-Douquet said.

The Clinton Foundation will work with the communities and help with the implementation, said Rain Henderson, chief executive officer of the Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative. "We make sure the community has a plan in place, that all the right partners are convened and have a plan of action over a period of years to make sure it's implemented and evaluated for success," she said.

The foundation has been working with Blue Star Families for a number of years, she said, with an entire track focusing on military families and veterans. Employment is a large factor affecting health, she said, because of the stress involved when a person is unemployed.

"We know that military spouses have a harder time finding jobs" she said.

Studies and surveys, including the Blue Star Families' Annual Military Lifestyle Survey, have found that female military spouses experience unemployment at nearly three times the rate of their civilian counterparts.

"Although military spouses are not necessarily trained to do technical jobs, we don't see why not," Roth-Douquet said.

The nonprofit aims to identify problems in the military community and find ways to address them, including other initiatives related to spouse employment.

 The problem of unemployment in the military spouse community has a negative impact on military families. "But it’s solveable, and we’re excited to be part of that solution," she said.  

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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