We've long been unabashed fans of In Gear Career, a non-profit military spouse career support and networking organization that focuses on grassroots, local connections -- and now it's about to get even better.
We all know spouse unemployment isn't going anywhere. If you've ever looked for a job in your career field, you probably have seen that things are tough. The spouse unemployment rate hovers somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, depending on your career field. Plenty of us went to college before we met that glorious human in the snappy uniform, so we don't all have professions that mesh well with middle-of-nowhere duty stations. Others are simply faced with a flooded market -- more candidates than there are gigs.
The theory behind In Gear Career is really simple: getting a job and pursuing the career you want is all about who you know, especially in the challenging employment landscape around military bases. Career minded spouses connect with each other and their communities through local In Gear chapters. When they move, they can reconnect with (or launch) their new local chapter and expand their network even further. Even if they already have a job, the network they build through In Gear Career can help them further their career or help someone else they know better his or hers.
Now the organization is merging with U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program, which travels the U.S. hosting networking events and job fairs for military spouses.
Hiring Our Heroes is calling 2016 the "Year of the Military Spouse" -- and bringing In Gear Career into their fold is a part of that, they say.
"When we sat back and looked at both of our programs, we saw a natural alignment," Elizabeth O'Brien, who directs the Chamber's spouse program, told me. "The thing we thought we were missing on our side is that grassroots presence."
The merger means even more opportunities for spouses to get involved in local In Gear Career networking chapters. Some locations don't have chapters that are currently active -- and others don't have chapters at all. O'Brien said they are going to pump some renewed energy into locations, making sure chapters are active and holding monthly meetings that are a small version of the Chamber's military spouse networking events often held before one of their hiring fairs.
"Our programs, and particularly our local chapter model, seek to make sure spouses can hit the ground running in each duty station with the network that is so critical to getting a professional-level job in today’s job market," said Lauren Weiner, one of the founders of In Gear Career and chair of the organization's board.
The Chamber will also be able to use their employer network as well as other Hiring Our Heroes events, like their transition workshops, to leverage In Gear Career, spread the word about local chapters and make the grassroots presence as impactful as possible.
O'Brien said she hopes the merge can be an example of the way key players in the spouse support space can work together to help spouses succeed -- something we all want.
"This is a great example of work that can be done when everyone in this space chooses to support each other and remember that our mission is to help military spouses find employment,' she said. "Our mission is always to serve spouses."