Recent survey findings are fueling calls to expand employment support for military spouses in niche career fields, including entrepreneurship.
The ongoing national push to help spouses obtain entry-level jobs and secure financial aid for undergraduate education has left professional military spouses with higher education degrees and/or executive-level careers feeling isolated in the military community.
Sue Hoppin, founder and president of National Military Spouse Network, is the spokesperson in front of the organization’s recently released White Paper, “Milspouse Employment: 5 Recommendations for Removing Barriers to Entrepreneurship.” In it, the survey covers the now widely known statistics of military spouse underemployment (55 percent) and overall unemployment (28 percent).
The survey also covers strategic actions NMSN is planning to make headway on within 2019 to remove barriers to military spouse entrepreneurship initiatives: (1) collect information so people can know what the real issues are; (2) call on 116th Congress to support military spouse working initiatives; (3) help the departments of Defense and State become transparent on what spouses can and cannot do; (4) inform spouses about rules of operation pertaining to their business operations; and (5) push for consistency of rules and operations across all military bases.
“I consider the White Paper as a call to action,” she said. “A call to action to people who can actually invite change.”
The word “entrepreneur” does not make the survey all-inclusive to one kind of business owner, either. As Hoppin points out, these people include, but are not limited to, designers, marketing experts, and engineers.
“We are not to ever going to be 100,000 strong because we are very niche and our interests are narrow, but at the same time we are the wave of future,” she said. “The trends are that professional spouses are growing in numbers and this will not be going away. Military spouse entrepreneurship is growing because we began to realize that in order to maintain a portable career, military spouses are going to have to wear several different hats.”
In 2011, former first lady Michelle Obama and second lady Jill Biden formed the “Joining Forces” initiative that had a large focus on expanding employment and career development opportunities for military spouses. It made headway on allowing spouses to transfer teaching and licensing credentials from state-to-state without always having to retake a bar exam or pay exorbitant licensure fees. But that still left a large niche of the professional network needing help.
One of the things Hoppin is excited to work on is extending the Work Opportunity Tax Credit that currently incentivizes employers to hire veterans (and brought the veteran unemployment average to below national levels) to also include military spouses.
“That’s all we’re asking for military spouses. We’re saying, ‘We’ll incentivize you to hire military spouses and once we get there we will prove our worth,’” she said with confidence that military spouse worth is as strong as veteran’s have proven their own.
Nicole Vogel, senior program manager for USO’s Military Spouse Programs and military spouse, is also well-versed in the challenges professional military spouses face and what resources are becoming available to them.
“It’s becoming more of a discussion now within the past five or six years, the fact that military spouses are such an asset to organizations and corporations, and because we are shining a spotlight, people are saying, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense, let’s take a look at this,’” Vogel said.
The USO also newly released its own survey, “The Backbone of Our Military,” that identifies four different types of spouses in addition to highlighting the unique challenges the spouse community faces. Most notably, the “My Dreams, My Path” profile most closely aligns with professional spouses, citing how being in a military marriage creates constraints in pursuing their own path, which is often a career.
“It’s starting to catch on that we are not the 1950s military spouse anymore,” Vogel said. “People are going to have to catch on with that because if the spouse isn’t happy with what’s going on in his/her world, in the professional space, then more than likely they’re going to have their service member spouse get out, and then we are going to lose some really important players in the military space.”
Vogel made note of the many sources available to professional spouses, like the USO Pathfinder program, Hiring Our Heroes, Military OneSource, Blue Star Families, and American Corporate Partner’s new military spouse mentoring program, but says knowing where to go to for help can be overwhelming.
“There are so many resources out there, it’s almost hard for military spouses to know where to start,” she said, but suggested a spouse start with a reputable organization they trust.
“Finding your network as a military spouse is one of the most important things, especially for professional military spouses, but even for the not professional military spouses because everybody needs someone to rely on,” Vogel continued. “Just reach out to other military spouses and talk to them. You need to find a super connector that can connect you and maybe help guide you in the right direction, which also turns to mentorship and trying to find a mentor out there that might be able to help you get your feet wet and get started, or help you find what you’re looking for.”