Military Spouse Appreciation Day: The Best Kept Secret In Talent Management

military spouseToday is National Military Spouse Appreciation Day, first recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and observed annually on the Friday before Mother’s Day. There are over 1.1 million American military spouses around the world, roughly 700,000 in active duty and 400,000 in the Guard and Reserves. Military Spouse Appreciation Day reminds us we should also thank these individuals for their sacrifices and contribution to our nation.  Furthermore, this group of 1.1 million men and women is one of our country’s best-kept secrets and greatest talent pools in the United States.

According to research compiled by Blue Star Families (BSF), 43% percent of military spouses are not in the labor force in comparison to 25.5% of civilian spouses. Additionally, BSF reports the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of military spouses over the age of 20 is 18% compared to only 4.4% for civilian spouses and more than tripling the average national unemployment rate. Often overlooked, undervalued, under-employed or unemployed, these talented military spouses offer an opportunity for many corporations to show their support of military families and simultaneously discover a uniquely qualified talent pool.

Making sacrifices is inherent to the role of a military spouse. These spouses often relocate every few years, sometimes to remote military bases far from the major cities and often overseas. They face frequent deployments of their military spouse to combat zones, leaving the spouse home alone and sometimes without the support of family and friends.  With all the relocations, often to bases where traditional jobs are not present, military spouses often put their education and careers on hold, struggle with employment or choose not to enter the workforce at all.

While making sacrifices is practically part of the military spouse job description, those sacrifices cultivate a unique set of attributes and skills. As spouses to active duty and Reserve soldiers, these individuals understand duty, commitment, and the value of hard work. Their experience re-locating and enduring deployment cycles makes them experts in resiliency, crisis management, team building, and adaptability. Volunteerism is abundant as military spouses selflessly serve as the backbone of communities: lead and organize support groups for other spouses and military families, run thrift shops, develop small- and large-scale fund raisers for scholarships and local and national grants, set up non-profits organizations, coach youth teams, and mentor and teach the communities’ youth.


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These volunteer roles translate to a diverse range of skills including finance management, hospitality, counseling, teaching, event planning, marketing, and publicity. Military spouses are also highly entrepreneurial, sometimes homeschooling their children and starting their own home-based businesses. Overall, military spouses are some of the most talented, empathetic, and resilient team players, leaders, and role models.

“Military spouses serve, too, and deserve not only our gratitude but our attention.”

This population is often highly educated, with advanced degrees and specialties that might not be available in remote military base communities. According to BSF compiled data, the underemployment rate relative to level of education for military spouses is 38% in comparison to 6% for civilian spouses. Often, spouses are unable to utilize their higher education in the fields they choose or are discouraged from pursuing a particular career due to challenges with gaining certification, licensure, or completing state-mandated courses each time they move to a new state.

Typically, this impacts military spouses in highly specialized career fields such as education, mental health, medicine and law. Spouses who haven’t yet attended college are nearly all eligible for the new G.I. Bill, which is government funded education that can be transferred from an active duty, Reserve, or Guard soldier to their military spouse. Furthermore, private organizations and some military bases offer coursework and training to military spouses free of charge. Recruiting and hiring employees who can educate themselves at no cost is an asset for potential employers.

With technology increasing and improving the ability to work remotely, these spouses are part of an attractive talent pool for the right CEOs who have roles that can be managed remotely. According to BSF research, the implications of these negative employment conditions include a societal cost estimated to range from $710 million to $1.07 billion. No longer is distance an excuse to not hire this large and talented pool of great Americans.

At Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG), we have experienced the challenges and benefits of hiring military spouses and veterans and worked to find solutions to support them. Our staff of 27 is comprised of 11 veterans and 14 military spouses and our 80 faculty members are 98% veterans, military officers who nearly all served a career in the Army. Of the 14 military spouses, all have bachelor’s degree and six have advanced degrees. Seven of our staff are both veterans and married to military spouses.

Since nearly half our employees are military spouses, we know and understand they will be frequently relocated when their spouse receives orders for a new location. In the past year, our Director of Marketing, whose husband is an Army officer, has moved to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; given birth to a daughter; and will soon be relocating to Stuttgart, Germany.  Because she is a very talented employee with an M.B.A. and a decade of corporate experience, we would not want to lose her due to a military relocation.  Additionally, we also have staff who are currently moving or recently moved to North Carolina, Maryland, and Hawaii.

Years ago, relocations such as these would disrupt staff and be challenging situations for companies. Thanks to today’s technological advances, these valued employees are able to remain as vital team members and work remotely despite relocation. At TLDG, we simply adjust their roles to those that can add value remotely as opposed to in person. The result is a win-win: employees who are able to maintain a career without seeking new employment and company retention of long-term, loyal, and highly experienced team members.

There are many executive recruiting firms that focus on recruiting junior military officers (JMO) as they leave the service. JMOs are often highly educated and have significant leadership experience at very young ages. Recruiters have found that corporations not only value but seek these leadership skills. Like JMOs, the talents and skills of military spouses are also highly valued by companies. However, as these spouses are not typically recruited, that talent pool remains untapped. This is an opportunity for recruiters to expand their industry networks and clientele to better support the entire military family.

Let’s not keep this secret any longer. Military spouses serve, too, and deserve not only our gratitude but our attention. Let’s all work to hire military spouses and support our nation, while improving our companies.

Betty Sue Kearney served as a military spouse for 35 years at bases around the world and has spent countless hours volunteering with veterans, wounded soldiers and military families. LTG Frank Kearney served 35 years, primarily in Special Operations, with combat tours in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He has been married to Betty Sue for 42 years and together they have two children. Their son, LTC Dan Kearney, has been deployed to combat for eight years. Jennifer Heckel is an Army spouse and Associate Director of Marketing at Thayer Leader Development Group. She is a mother of two, an active volunteer, and passionate about companies supporting military spouses.

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