May 21, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Service members and their spouses joined Defense Department leaders at the Pentagon today in a ceremony to mark the success of a spouse employment program intended to help military families and the economy.
Surveys show 85 percent of the military’s 1.2 million spouses either want or need to work, Jo Ann Rooney, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said at the ceremony.
It often takes two incomes in today’s economy for military families to live comfortably, Rooney added. “They deserve a good quality of life.”
The Military Spouse Employment Partnership provides a digital platform for employers to have direct access to military spouses seeking jobs. Some 400,000 jobs have been posted with the partnership since it was created last June, and 22,000 military spouses have been hired, officials said.
Another 34 companies were added to the existing 94 program partners at today’s event. They include Goodwill Industries, Safeway, Volt Workforce Solutions and others in industries ranging from data processing to real estate to banks, as well as the military services themselves.
“Our military spouses are not asking to be treated differently or as a special population,” Rooney said. “They just want to be treated fairly and on a level playing field.”
Because of increased DOD training and mentoring programs, she said, “Our spouses are more job-ready and competitive than at any other time in history.”
They also are well-educated: 85 percent have some college, 25 percent have bachelor’s degrees, and 10 percent have post-graduate degrees, she said.
Rooney and others spoke of the marketable experiences of spouses who regularly manage household moves, as well as their adaptability and other qualities desired in the workplace.
“Believe me, when you’ve got a tough road ahead, when you have unforeseen obstacles, you want a military spouse on your team,” she said.
Mary Winnefeld, wife of Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said she was fortunate to maintain her career through 17 years as a Navy wife, partly by having a supportive manager at SAIC that allowed her to relocate with the company multiple times.
Even then, Winnefeld said, there are sacrifices. “Maybe I didn’t always follow my career path, but I took part in profit sharing and retirement benefits,” she said.
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the public-private partnership is “increasing quality career opportunities for our spouses” with the understanding from employers that spouses must relocate every two to three years.
“It is our hope that these jobs will travel with them around the nation and the world in the years ahead,” he said.
In a conference call with reporters earlier today, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said she was motivated to create the program as part of her Joining Forces campaign with First Lady Michelle Obama, after the pair’s frequent trips to speak with military families. “There are two issues that come up over and over: education and employment,” she said.
Biden said she and Obama have made it a priority to help military spouses get and maintain employment. Part of that, she said, is their goal of having every state legislature adopt transfer agreements for military spouses’ professional licenses by 2014.
“If you’re looking for hard-working, dedicated employees, our military spouses are who you are looking for,” Biden said.
Gordon said the partnership is designed to give spouses broad employment opportunities and not just a job, but a career. Employer partners sign on to a memo of understanding “that we’re not just talking about jobs, we’re talking about careers,” he said.
That understanding is verified through the sponsors’ follow-up meetings, document and data collection from employers and spouses, and mentoring, Gordon said.
Also, he said, “We have a commitment that they can keep their jobs and transfer with companies.”
“If a company is not in a position for its jobs to be portable, we don’t encourage them” to become partners, Navy Capt. Brad Cooper, director of Joining Forces, said.
Spouses’ satisfaction is important to military readiness and retention, Rooney said. “We know from experience that when we invest in military spouses, we invest in the military and in the nation,” she said.