By Brig. Gen. Gary Profit
Just like our men and women who serve across the globe in uniform, military spouses in California make extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country. While Congress is exploring legislation that would help military spouses grow their careers, the private sector can act now to provide them with opportunities and support systems. Companies in California can start by offering military spouses meaningful careers for which they are qualified and deserving.
Businesses are increasingly helping to bridge the career gap for service members with careers that are not only flexible, but also provide opportunities for professional growth. In fact, veteran unemployment rates hit an all-time low earlier this year, as employers — including some of America’s biggest companies — are realizing the value of welcoming highly skilled veterans into their ranks. For example, military veterans represent nearly 15 percent of Boeing’s national workforce, while Walmart has hired nearly 10,000 veterans in California since 2013.
But military spouses are too often overlooked.
In balancing their careers with the demands of military life, military spouses face unique challenges, such as having to frequently move from base to base. The average military family will move six to nine times over the course of their child’s school career, making it crucial that military families have the support and flexibility they need to remain mission ready.
But despite being more highly educated than most working Americans, military spouses can struggle to find jobs because of gaps in their work history or lack of experience. And when they are unable to find consistent employment, the entire American economy pays a price. In fact, a study from Blue Star Families found that the cost to the economy of unemployment and underemployment for military spouses can be as much as $1 billion.
Lawmakers are now exploring new ways to address these challenges facing military families. A bill introduced on Capitol Hill earlier this year, for instance, would seek to improve the portability of occupational licenses for military spouses by creating a roadmap for universal standards instead of having to re-register a small business or apply for a new license in a state each time they move. Meanwhile, a bill passed in California allows for military spouse employees to take up to 15 days of leave when their spouse is on an active-duty deployment.
Just as they have taken up the mantle of finding good jobs for veterans, businesses also have an important role to play in supporting military spouses — while doing themselves a favor at the same time. For example, Walmart recently announced it has hired nearly 10,000 military spouses nationwide since Veterans Day 2018 as part of its growing commitment to strengthen military families, while also providing them the ability to transfer from one location to another when a spouse is transferred because of the military, thereby turning jobs into careers.
More and more lawmakers are coming together in pursuing opportunities to support military spouses and families and improving California’s businesses and communities. But we cannot rely solely on change to come from Congress. Organizations like Hire Heroes USA, Operation Homefront, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families are helping with education, job training and reintegration assistance for military families and bringing crucial perspectives to the table when it comes to how to help military spouses succeed.
It will be up to the public sector, non-profit, and private sector to come together in developing a roadmap for how we can provide opportunity and support for military spouses, the unsung heroes of our military families. They are the bedrock that allow many of our men and women to serve their country. By offering opportunity to military spouses and military families, we can drive military spouse unemployment down to veteran unemployment levels, while improving businesses across the Golden State.
Gary Profit is a retired Army brigadier general who now serves as senior director of military programs for Walmart.
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