WASHINGTON -- Despite a national unemployment rate hovering at just under 7 percent, a Pentagon program intended to help unemployed military spouses find jobs -- including positions with Fortune 500 companies -- is surpassing its goals, connecting more than 60,000 military spouses with 220 private- and public-sector partners since the program began three years ago.
The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is designed to help military spouses -- whom Defense Department research shows are, on average, better educated than their civilian counterparts -- reach their career goals, said Meg O'Grady, a senior program analyst in the Pentagon's Office of Family Policy and Children and Youth.
This can be especially challenging for people married to active-duty service members because of frequent relocations and other obligations that fall to military spouses, O'Grady noted.
"Eighty-five percent of military spouses actually have some college, 25 percent of them have a bachelor's degree or higher, and 10 percent have an advanced degree," she said. The problem, she said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, is that it's often difficult for large employers who want to hire military spouses to find them.
"We know that military spouses make great employees and businesses recognize that," O'Grady said. "Through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, we provide a variety of ways for businesses to actually connect with military spouses." Companies such as Walmart, the nation's largest employer, as well as other big names in corporate America such as Verizon, AT&T and JP Morgan Chase are marquee brands that O'Grady said also have their eye on service members and their job-seeking spouses.
"When they get a military spouse as an employee, they're very likely to get that veteran service member once that service member decides to transition, and that actually creates security for that military family," she said.
The Defense Department has designated May as Military Spouse Appreciation Month to recognize the service and sacrifices made by the nation's more than 1 million military spouses, a group that O'Grady described as skilled, diverse and motivated by a strong work ethic.
Officials say the inability of a spouse to find employment can affect the well-being of military communities, thereby affecting readiness and retention, which is why the department has been reaching out to corporations, small businesses and organizations to expand the network of potential spousal employers.
"We bring the military spouse the availability of resources and tools for them to find a job whatever the economy might be, because we know that there are employers out there who really value what they bring to the table," O'Grady said. This is true, she added, regardless of whether those spouses are living on base or off or in the United States or abroad, where it can be more difficult for an American expatriate to find employment because of strict labor laws.
Resources available through the program include education and training, career guidance and mentoring programs. In addition, more than 1.8 million jobs have been posted on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership's career portal.
"We've really made a lot of progress," O'Grady said. "The White House had given us a goal of 50,000 military spouse hires by 2015, and I'm happy to say today that in 2014, we're at more than 60,000."