Military spouses have struggled for decades with difficulties in moving their careers with them as they follow their service member from base to base. And over that time, the Defense Department and the services have tried to help spouses prepare for the job search and to find jobs.
But in the last 10 years or so, there has been a shift in efforts, both within DoD and in the private sector, with attempts to drill down into solving pieces of the problem: removing barriers, identifying portable careers that can make a military move, connecting employers to the spouses they want to hire, and providing assistance with education and training.
One of DoD's efforts is the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, where companies and organizations that want to hire military spouses connect with spouses who have the skills and experience they need. A number of efforts are underway in the private sector, too, born of spouses' frustrations and their determination to do something about the problem themselves. For example, the Military Spouse JD Network, which supports military spouses pursuing careers in the legal profession, is working to educate states about the hardships of military spouse attorneys on the move, including some who have taken three or four bar exams through various moves.
A new initiative is underway to give military spouses an edge on some lucrative and portable technical careers. The Blue Star SpouseForce initiative provides Salesforce administrator training to military spouses for free; the training normally costs $5,000. The pilot program will start small Feb. 8, with about a dozen military spouses in the San Diego area. The next location will be San Antonio, expected in May. The training gives students the knowledge and tools to prepare for the Salesforce Certified Administrator exam.
Salesforce is a customer relationship management technology platform that businesses and other organizations can use to manage customer data and customer interaction, access business information, and for a variety of other applications. It's all about making connections, in a technical way.
"It's very appealing. It's about fostering relationships," said Kathy Roth-Douquet, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Blue Star Families, which is a partner in the SpouseForce initiative, along with the Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative and the company Salesforce. WalMart Foundation is also funding the programmatic aspects.
It's also appealing that the average salary for a Salesforce administrator is more than $80,000. There's a shortage of employees in this growing field, which also has room for upward mobility. These careers can move with spouses.
Applications are being accepted for the San Diego area. But spouses are encouraged to apply even if they are not in San Diego, Roth-Douquet said, so that Blue Star Families officials can gauge the interest in this career field, and also keep spouses informed when the opportunities for training open up for them 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.
These technology jobs are available in a wide variety of fields: nonprofit organizations, financial institutions, health care and sales. Essentially these jobs allow companies to automate complex business processes, creating reports that help the businesses meet the needs of their customers.
Blue Star Families' mode of operation is to research the need, and work with other groups to find a solution. Some programs for military families are designed with the organization itself in mind. This one is designed with the family member in mind, Roth-Douquet said.
The pilot program provides extra resources — a local peer group of others going through the training, as well as mentors. Perhaps most importantly, there will be help finding an employer once spouses finish the certification. Even though the training is online, they're providing these extra resources because they help spouses be more successful, Roth-Douquet said.
"We're trying to do wraparound services to set up spouses for a positive experience and success in the end," she said. "We're trying to design it to be as helpful as possible."
Roth-Douquet and other spouses like her are paving the way for military spouses in the future, understanding that the Defense Department can't — and shouldn't have to — provide every solution.
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life, and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at email@example.com
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.