This year marks the 29th year Americans celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day. The day was created in 1984 by then president of the United States, Ronald Regan, who wanted to do something to honour the country’s “unsung heroes” – military spouses.
The day is observed the Friday before Mother’s Day and since its inception, every president since President Regan has supported the day. Times have changed since 1984 with many military spouses pursuing their own careers while supporting their service member. A challenge that has organizations partnering together to educate the American business community on the benefits of employing military spouses and working to break down the barriers military spouses face when it comes to their careers.
“We know if we take care of our military families we will retain our serving members,” explains Meg O’Grady, the United States Department of Defense program manager for spouse education and career opportunities. O’Grady heads up the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP).
Having spent 18 years as a military spouse and with 17 moves in 13 years and 17 jobs in 22 years O’Grady has lived the military lifestyle.
“Military families move 10 more times than their civilian counterparts,” notes O’Grady, adding, “it becomes more difficult for military spouses to find jobs and to keep them.”
According to O’Grady, American military spouses tend to gravitate toward jobs in the education, health and childcare sectors. The downside is teachers, nurses and childcare workers require licensing which leaves military spouses facing licensing issues when their service members are transferred from one state to another.
An obstacle Joining Forces also recognizes. O’Grady notes Joining Forces is an important partner to MSEP when it comes to hiring spouses. Joining Forces is an initiative launched by Michelle Obama, spouse of United States President Barrack Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, spouse of the United States Vice President Joe Biden in 2009. The program is dedicated to connecting American servicemen and women, veterans and military spouses with the resources they need to find jobs.
Today the program has 2,000 American companies ready and waiting to hire service members and spouses.
O’Grady explains if military spouses are employed in a job they find satisfying the whole family has a cushion when the military member makes the transition out of the military to a civilian career. Plus, “if a military spouse has a career that allows him or her to move throughout the service member’s career, they’re more likely to support retaining the military career.”
Currently MSEP has 160 partners with 30 more coming on this fall. O’Grady mentions they have also partnered with three nonprofit organizations that advocate for military families: Blue Star Families, the National Military Family Association of America and the Military Officers Association of America.
To their credit MESP has hired 43,000 military spouses in the last 12 months. However, O’Grady mentions there is a 26 per cent wage gap between military spouses and their civilian counterparts. It is an issue MSEP is trying to close the gap on.
To ensure American military spouses have easy access to the services offered by MESP the organization has a virtual portal for military spouses www.msepjobs.com. On the site military spouses have access to resume resources, career counselling and much more. The service has people handling phone calls from 7am to 10 pm EST; so military spouses across the country can call in and speak to someone to gain information, resources and tools.
The site also gives military spouses an opportunity to network, receive career advice and access thousand of jobs listings.
O’Grady explains the challenges military spouses encounter often creates a resilient, flexible, adaptable and agile employee. She adds, “because they are part of the military community they are also very loyal.”
She notes a great fit for military spouses are virtual positions. They are often portable jobs spouses can take with them when their service members are relocated.
While MSEP, Joining Forces and other organizations make strides in employment opportunities for military personnel, veterans and military spouses; Americans will celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day today, May 10, 2013, with a variety of celebrations and activities taking place across their country to say thank you to their military spouses.
“Our service members are able to do their job because of our military spouses,” explains O’Grady, adding, “the whole family serves.”