WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 13, 2012) --The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the fourth pillar of its Hiring Our Heroes initiative today during the Military Spouse Career Forum here at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
As the fourth pillar, the Military Spouse Business Alliance will help to improve the lives of working military spouses through promoting job stability; providing mentoring, networking and training opportunities; providing opportunities to share entrepreneurial best business practices and ease the challenges of professional spouses, according to the chamber's official website at www.uschamber.com/veterans.
"Our goal is simple: Allow you to pursue your dreams instead of spending your life trying to catch up to your peers," said Laura Dempsey, senior adviser for military spouse employment, Hiring Our Heroes. "Our premiere initiative is the Military Spouse Business Alliance. This alliance brings together ten of the top non-profits in the country who are dedicated to lifting the military spouse out of unemployment and underemployment."
"We will together bridge the gap between talented military spouses and a business community who is looking for that talent," she said.
Sponsors and employers from across the nation attended to help the spouses with resume writing, interview techniques and networking. Some organizations even hoped to hire new employees directly from the job fair.
"Military spouse employment is important. There's a much higher rate of unemployment for military spouses than in the national population; it's 26 percent," said Jeanne Chandler, wife of Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.
"Women need to have their own path, they need to have their own career, they need to have their own world besides the military, so being able to get a job is important," she said.
Volunteering can help with finding a career path, Chandler added. She suggested spouses take their volunteer experience and translate it into business terms to add to their resume.
Chandler herself is a telecommuter, working for a firm in Louisiana while living in Washington, D.C., with her husband.
"I would say to employers, think about that when you're thinking about military spouses. They bring so much to the table, it's remarkable," she said, recommending telecommuting as a viable option for retaining valuable and experienced employees that are married to the military.
The alliance joins the ranks of other programs included in the Hiring Our Heroes initiative: The Wounded Warrior Transition Assistance Program, a Post 9-11 Student Veteran Internship, and an Employment Program, which are all part of a nationwide effort to help military spouses and veterans find employment.
The Military Spouse Business Association was invited to the forum to talk to entrepreneurial spouses about transitioning their self-owned business during a move. Joanna Williamson, director of business development and a military spouse, said that though transitioning such businesses was hard work, it was well worth the effort.
"It's not without challenges, it's not without hiccups, it's not without a completely different business plan or business lifecycle, but we've gone through and done it, and there's a support network available to you to carry you through," Williamson said about self-employment.
Allison Stout, an Army wife for six years, came to the career forum looking for networking opportunities and tips on launching into a professional career. With a degree in healthcare administration, it has been hard for her to find jobs in the past due to the constant movement associated with being a military spouse.
"What I really hope to experience is getting into the marketplace. Being a professional myself, not just a spouse, not just a volunteer -- although volunteering is fantastic, I have volunteered for the last five years. I really want to become a professional, and have my own career and my own path," Stout said.
Though Stout has held several professional jobs in the past, to include working at university, she worries that the constant moving around is hindering the forward momentum in her career.
"One of the biggest things I've learned (at the forum) is that there are a lot of programs and a lot of people, who, this is what they're doing. This is what their plan is here, is to help spouses who do move around a lot, who are worried about the fact that they haven't been able to build up a lot of professional experience, and guide them into those paths. Which is exactly what I'm hoping to get into," she said.
The Hiring Our Heroes program was launched in March 2011, in partnership with the Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Service. It has hosted 83 hiring fairs and helped more than 6,000 veterans and military spouses and 60 wounded warriors find employment, according to the website.
Chandler advised young job seekers "to work on your education. It's a competitive workplace, unemployment is high, and the more education you have the better chances you're going to have getting employed. I would also say persevere."
"This is really terrific that there is emphasis on this, to give a little bit more of a hand. Being able to be employed isn't like asking for a hand out, they're just asking for a hand up," Chandler added.