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Companies Help Soldiers' Spouses Find Jobs
Associated Press  |  December 16, 2005
Amid debate on the war, employers are mounting a military campaign of their own: Helping Soldiers' spouses find jobs.

A growing number of big employers have begun actively seeking to hire the wives and husbands of armed-forces enlistees. In partnerships with branches of the military, companies such as Boeing, Trammell Crow, Sears Holdings, Dell and CVS, among others, are signing accords to improve job opportunities for spouses, posting jobs on Web sites for military families or setting up resume-sharing systems with military bases.

The trend signals a breakdown of old prejudices against military spouses, who have been stereotyped as too transient or unskilled to be good employees. Among the 60 percent of the nation's 694,000 military spouses who are in the work force, one-third are transferred each year, says the National Military Family Association, an Alexandria, Va., nonprofit. Military spouses also have been seen as less-educated than their civilian counterparts, a prejudice proven false by recent research.

Now, a tightening labor market, pro-military sentiment and increasing mobility in the work force in general are changing employer attitudes. The Pentagon, recognizing that dissatisfied spouses are helping drive the military's high attrition rates, has been stoking employer interest by promoting recruiting partnerships. "The decision to re-enlist is often made around the kitchen table," says a Defense Department spokesman, Maj. Michael Shavers.

Companies say they're pleased with the results. Concentra Inc. of Addison, Texas, an operator of 300 occupational-health clinics, started interviewing military spouses 18 months ago via a not-for-profit hiring partnership it co-founded called the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network. The applicants were uniformly "good, qualified, solid candidates who are punctual, well-trained and well-educated," says Richard Parr, general counsel. Concentra has since hired 40 military spouses in jobs ranging from data entry to physicians.

Hopping from employer to employer, following their spouses in serial transfers, has doomed many military spouses to the margins of the working world. A 2004 study by the research concern Rand Corp. found military wives are less likely to be employed than civilian wives, and earn an average $5,500 to $7,400 less a year. The Rand study, based on Census data and interviews with 1,100 military spouses, also found military wives are better-educated, on average, than civilian wives.

Jessica Perdew, the wife of a Marine Corps major, has a bachelor's degree in physics but has had to reinvent herself repeatedly during her family's seven moves in 15 years. She has taken jobs from finance manager and substitute teacher to administrative assistant, bank teller and systems administrator. While Ms. Perdew stresses that she isn't complaining, she admits that her career is "not where I would be if we were a civilian family that had settled down and stayed" in one place.

The new recruiting partnerships are drawing big, multistate employers that can offer the "portable jobs" military spouses need. The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network, for example, has Concentra, Boeing, Trammell Crow, Magellan Health Services and Brass Ring, a human-resource information firm in Waltham, Mass., as partners - plus the support of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps, says Deb Kloeppel, president, founder and herself a Navy wife.

It links job counselors on military bases with employers through Brass Ring's information-sharing software. This allows employers to search spouses' resumes quickly, and encourages spouses to apply directly to member employers. By targeting military spouses, "we're confident that we'll find folks with hard-to-find skills," says Don Ceresia, a regional staffing manager for Boeing.

A venture between the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Adecco, a Melville, N.Y., staffing company with 6,600 offices in 75 countries, has placed 12,730 military spouses in jobs since it began in 2002, an Adecco spokeswoman says. As employees of Adecco, the spouses are eligible for benefits and can transfer without losing vacation time or credit for experience.

A growing number of big employers are signing onto another initiative, the Army Spouse Employment Program, agreeing to actively recruit military spouses and post jobs on a Web site, http://www.militaryspousejobsearch.org. Dolores Johnson, director of family programs for the Army, says about 11,000 military spouses have been hired by partner companies since the program began in 2002, based on employer reports, and the number of partners has grown to 21 from 13.

One partner, pharmacy retailer CVS, with 5,200 stores, has interviewed more than 1,000 military spouses and hired a majority of them into jobs ranging from $10-an-hour entry-level positions to $80,000-a-year pharmacist jobs, says Stephen Wing, CVS's director, government programs.

Executives at other partner companies, including Home Depot, Sprint, Dell and Sears, report good results. Dell plans to expand a pilot program in which it hired Army spouses from Fort Hood, Texas, to work from home as customer-service agents, a spokeswoman says.

The Defense Department also has a new venture with Military.com, a unit of online recruitment site Monster.com. The Web site http://www.military.com/spouse, launched last April, lists jobs from Monster.com, plus government jobs and openings from employers seeking to hire military spouses. Employers can scan military-spouse resumes, and spouses can search for job openings near their military bases by name. The site next month will begin "aggressive outreach" to employers, says Chris Michel, Military.com founder and president.

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