By Jessica Perdew
This is an exciting time to be a military spouse! While no one can deny the stress of the current operation tempo, we are enjoying an unprecedented focus on military families and their needs.
As a result, military spouse employment programs have enjoyed dramatic improvement in the last few years. The Department of Defense (DoD) has partnered with companies in a variety of markets to expand spouse employment opportunities and educate employers on the value of hiring military spouses.
The most exciting recent development is the DoD's partnership with the Department of Labor in establishing the Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative. This $35 million demonstration project is being offered today at 18 military installations in eight states (California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington). The program targets junior enlisted and junior officer spouses.
Eligibility requirements include marriage to a servicemember on active duty in ranks E-1 to E-5 or O-1 to O-3. Servicemembers must be assigned to a demonstration site installation and have at least one year remaining at the current assignment unless the member is part of a relocation caused by the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) process.
Spouses may apply for the program at Department of Labor One-Stop Career Centers located on or near participating installations. For a complete list of installations, visit the DoD's MilSpouse.org website (www.milspouse.org).
Eligible candidates may receive up to $3,000 for one year, renewable for a second year, to pay for expenses directly related to secondary education and training, including tuition, books, necessary equipment, and credentialing and licensing fees. Programs of study must lead to a degree or certificate in a nationally identified high-growth, portable career field such as education, health care, information technology, construction trades and financial services. Funds are provided directly to the educational institution or credentialing agency.
If you are outside the eligibility requirements for Career Advancement Accounts, DoD strives to ensure that all military spouses receive employment assistance at all stages of their careers. Spouses re-entering the workforce or relocating may want to begin by visiting MilSpouse.org, where users can search by installation to find the closest One-Stop Career Center, childcare resources and local educational institutions. Job boards, job market information, and search and interview strategies also are offered on the site.
Are you looking for a federal civilian position? The hiring process may prove complex, but the experts at your local installation family member employment office can provide step-by-step guidance. These offices also maintain local job posting boards, and many offer workshops and classes on resume preparation, interviewing and other employment topics.
Department Of Defense Employment
If you are considering a position within the military community, make sure you understand the different categories of employment. It is important to know whether you are applying for an appropriated fund position (i.e., civil service), a non-appropriated fund position (Morale, Welfare and Recreation or Marine Corps Community Services), or a contract position; even within these categories, there are variations. Your local family member employment office can assist with this information.
You may apply for civil service employment to ensure that you can transfer to a civil service position at your new installation for your next permanent change of station (PCS) move. But note that many positions are temporary or term positions and do not qualify you to transfer to another position at a later time. Since all non-appropriated fund activities are local, a position at your current installation probably would not provide you with transferability to a new location. Contractors are not government employees, thus contract positions are not eligible for the same benefits as civil service and non-appropriated fund positions.
Not all positions are open to all applicants. Applicants must fall within the area of consideration - such as "current federal employees" or "open to the public" - defined in the job announcement. You will not be considered for a position where you do not meet the area of consideration. Competitive positions are filled by a competitive selection process from applicants who have met the qualification requirements for a specific position. This is the most common method for new employees entering civil service. Non-competitive positions are filled from a pool of applicants who qualify for a special non-competitive appointing authority established by law or executive order. Some examples of special non-competitive authorities are Veterans' Readjustment Appointment and special authority for disabled veterans (30 percent or more).
Military spouses generally qualify for military spouse preference in the federal hiring process. However, only positions filled from competitive lists are eligible for spouse preference. A military spouse who is preference eligible and "best qualified" on a competitive list must be selected. If more than one preference eligible applicant is "best qualified," management may choose any one of them. You must identify yourself as spouse preference eligible to be considered as a military spouse preference applicant. To qualify, you must have been married to your active-duty service sponsor prior to the report date at the new duty station. Spouse preference can be used only one time at a duty station. If you are offered a position other than a temporary position with a period of less than one year, you have utilized your spouse preference whether or not you actually accept the position offered.
Resources In Your Local Community
Don't overlook the resources outside the base gate. The Department of Labor offers extensive resources to military family members at local One Stop Career Centers. To find the location nearest you, visit www.servicelocator.org. Many companies have partnered with the DoD to develop military-spouse-friendly employment programs; Military.com maintains a comprehensive list of these employers at www.military.com/spouse. State and local governments frequently recruit military spouse applicants.
Many school systems need substitute teachers and bus drivers, positions that offer military spouses maximum flexibility and the opportunity remain at home when children are not in school. Each school district has its own qualification requirements, but all will require background checks of applicants. Once accepted, you may receive a call once or twice a month, or you may be offered a longer-term placement depending on your preference, qualifications and background. Perhaps best of all, you have the opportunity to work when you want and the freedom to decline when you want.
Spouses with an entrepreneurial spirit also may want to consider a home-based business. Military spouses have found success with a variety of endeavors including administrative services, direct sales, child care, and music lessons and tutoring. For many spouses, this is an opportunity to do what they love on their own terms with a schedule they set. Child and Youth Service offices at most installations can assist interested spouses in obtaining the necessary training and authorization to operate a home-based child care business. In addition, regular training and the opportunity for certification also are available. Some installations even provide subsidies to home care providers.
Many employers recognize that military spouses are a valuable and diverse resource. When searching for employment, military spouses must be flexible, creative and a bit adventurous. Each new move provides spouses with the chance to try something different in terms of employment. Embrace these opportunities, and enjoy the ride!
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Jessica Perdew is a deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association (www.nmfa.org).
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Military Spouse Preference
Military spouse preference is a program developed by the DoD to provide priority in the employment selection process for military spouses who must relocate due to the servicemembers' PCS orders. Spouse preference applies worldwide to most DoD appropriated fund positions at pay grades S-15 and below (or equivalent wage grade positions).
Spouses of active duty servicemembers may be eligible for preference if the following conditions are met.
- The spouse was married to the active-duty member prior to the reporting date of the new assignment.
- The relocation was based on a PCS transfer and not separation or retirement.
- The vacant position is within commuting distance of the new PCS location.
- The spouse is among the best-qualified group of candidates for the position.
Spouses may begin exercising their preference 30 days before their sponsors' reporting date and for the duration of the tour, as long as they do not decline a position considered valid for spouse preference under DoD policy. Spouses relocating overseas must wait until they arrive at the new duty station to begin applying for positions using military spouse preference.
Preference applies to the initial employment at the location. Eligibility terminates once the spouse accepts or declines such a federal position at the new duty station, whether or not the position was obtained through spouse preference. If a spouse indicates an interest in a temporary position and then declines an offer, the spouse loses the preference. Preference also is lost if a temporary position is accepted and the duration of the position is extended and the spouse declines the extension. If the position offered is for less than one year or ends early, the spouse continues to retain preference.