Estimates indicate there are roughly 1 million spouses of active duty service members and half a million spouses of Reserve and Guard members in the United States. A 2010 survey by the Veterans Administration's indicates more than 15 million veterans' spouses in the United States and more than 5.8 million surviving spouses of veterans in the U.S.
What do these numbers mean for employers today? The large number of military spouses indicates a tremendous opportunity for hiring managers seeking to recruit talent with exemplary skills, qualities and characteristics. The military spouse plays a significant role in the life and morale of the service member: The spouse stays home and keeps the family grounded, safe, and functioning while the service member performs their duty. Many spouses also work full time, pursue their education, and help raise the family.
Recruiting Military Spouses
Employers looking to recruit, hire and retain military spouses should take note of some important facts:
- Not all spouses stay home with the kids. The idea that every military spouse is a woman who stays home raising children is not accurate. Yes, the majority of military spouses are women, but they do not all stay home and do not all have children. In my work with veterans and spouses over the past several years, I have met many spouses who are full time students, have robust careers, did not have children, and who are (or were) active duty service members themselves.
- Many have advanced degrees. A 2013 report by the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University reveals: "Overall, military spouses have been shown to exhibit the effects of an economic disadvantage compared to civilian spouses with respect to unemployment, income, and career advancement, while at the same time possessing, on average, more advanced education than their civilian counterparts." While many military spouses have put their careers and education on hold to manage the family while their spouse is deployed, others have pursued advanced education and enter the workforce with experience, degrees, and certifications appealing to employers.
- Have a service mindset. I often refer to a military spouse as someone who "serves out of uniform" because the lifestyle, commitment and sacrifices they make are military service. Military service includes selflessness, support, and leadership. Service means giving up their sense of self for the betterment of those who serve alongside them, and the mission at hand. The military spouse also lives a life of service, dedication and sacrifice, sometimes in the ultimate way. Military widows are a growing population in the U.S. and should have their commitment to service noted when transitioning to the civilian workforc
- Are often under-employed. Whether it is because employers undervalue their experience and talents, or because the military spouse sometimes lacks the confidence and training to assert herself/himself into roles where they can grow a viable career, many military spouses find themselves in jobs that are below their capability and competency. Over time, under-employment erodes one's self-confidence, enthusiasm, and feelings of self-worth. Employers who leverage the talents and skills of the military spouse help raise their value to the organization.
- Have lived in the shadows. The military spouse is, admittedly, not the focus of news reports of returning soldiers, or the subject of attention and gratitude by most civilians. In many ways, the military spouse lives in the shadows of the service member. This is not only an American issue. Heledd Kendrick, Founder and CEO of Recruit for Spouses Ltd, in the United Kingdom shares her perspective: What is important to stress is that many people who have a career break to raise children feel this disconnection to their achievements and abilities. The added pressure of relocation for the military spouse can make seeking employment seem like an arbitrary task, particularly when it is coupled with feelings of perceived rejection.
Employers who seek a workforce of hard working, committed, and resilient talent should consider military spouses. Multiple relocations, the stress of the unknown (fear during spouse's deployment), and the pressure of managing a complex life without your partner, make military spouses highly adaptable, resilient, and committed to a greater cause than themselves. These qualities add tremendous value to the civilian workplace.