For information about PRSA’s Moving Veterans Forward initiative, visit the PRSA Jobcenter.
Most military spouses hear it during almost every Permanent Change of Station (PCS): friends and acquaintances voice their frustration over finding and/or keeping employment with each move. For some, this is the first foray into military life where unique challenges and experiences color our daily lives. For newcomers like me, it has meant three moves in two years. For others, this dance is a familiar one as they settle into the routine of packing up, moving halfway across the country, and starting over – in every way – in their new, but temporary, home.
This reality is not a new concept for most, but questions remain – how can communications companies begin to see military spouses (“milspouses”) as assets instead of hindrances? How are communications firms able to benefit from and support “portable careers” for this small community?
Only one percent of the U.S. population is made up of active duty military, and spouses account for over 700,000 of that small group. Frequent moves – the average is every two and a half years according to the Department of Defense — can make career development difficult for many military spouses for the duration of the active duty service member’s service.
During a PCS, geographical changes are often the main reason for spouses to seek new employment. Unfortunately, many remote military locations offer limited work opportunities for milspouses, especially those requiring higher education. According to a study last year by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), 90 percent of surveyed female military spouses reported being “underemployed,” meaning they possess more formal education/experience than needed at their current or most recent position.
Not surprisingly, the inevitability of moving for this pool of applicants has always deterred companies from fully investing in milspouses. From their point of view, why waste resources to hire and train an employee when they will leave in a few months or years?
While government and non-profit organizations do exist for addressing underemployment for military spouses, there needs to be an attitude shift among companies to realize the potential from hiring this unique and highly diverse workforce.
Communications and public relations firms especially are positioned perfectly as the front runners for portable careers for milspouses for many reasons:
- Geographically neutral space retains qualified, talented staff. It’s no secret that our industry embraces technology in our work and even in and between our offices. Communications companies regularly apply tech solutions to client work and to employees who may work in the office or at home. Though the topic is controversial ever since Yahoo famously flipped its policy on telecommuting, many firms permit and encourage remote work, and by doing so ensure talented and diverse staff are attracted and retained within and outside their geographical area. For milspouses, that attitude is ideal for not only finding a job, but holding a job when “home” is temporary.
- Adaptability is in our industry’s genes. Public relations firms’ early adoption of technology, like using social media as an extension of traditional media pitching methods, or creating digital content through video, web and mobile to enhance public involvement practices has positioned the industry as expert adaptors in an ever-evolving media landscape. Change has never scared us – it’s challenged us to do better for our clients. Likewise, weathering frequent moves, deployments, and other unplanned –and often last minute –circumstances make milspouses highly adaptable and resourceful too. This group greets change with enthusiasm and resolve, not fear.
- Diversity matters. PR firms recognize agencies and their clients benefit from providing the widest possible set of staff experiences, and being inclusive of milspouses generates insights from people who have thrived in multiple regional cultures. In a 2013 employment report published by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the active military spouse community was found to represent a larger proportion of ethnic/racial minorities compared to the broader civilian population. Access to the many backgrounds found within this small community is a huge asset to firms who also value diversity in their communication practices.
- Networking equals new business. As a diverse community rooted in all corners of the world, many milspouses’ contacts span across the globe and often across many industries. Communication firms are well aware that networking is not only key for maintaining existing client relationships, but how new ones are cultivated too. Just as organizations like PRSA strive to create substantial networks between members, firms shouldn’t discount the built-in resources found within these potential employees.
- Military spouse employees will help create human-powered places. Milspouses are affected by decisions that affect entire micro communities in the military and thrive on making their new environment a better place to work, live, and play. PR firms too consistently search for ways to better connect with audiences through marketing and public involvement – often in their own backyards. Who better than the milspouses to help pave the way? This philosophy is one my firm, PRR, has coined as human-powered places. Understanding that built environments are shaped by the people and the communities that use them, human-powered places take into consideration how people in communities interact and recognize that the most successful builders of these environments use that approach in communication practices.
While many companies have adopted veteran and milspouse recruitment initiatives because it’s “the patriotic thing to do,” or is simply a part of their values, many are finally seeing value in hiring this talented workforce. Last month, Military Times posted their Best for Vets: Employers 2015 rankings, not only highlighting companies who have made strides in hiring veterans, but who have seen telecommuting as an access point to reaching this group.
As an industry, we too should see the worth in tapping into this diverse pool of flexible, qualified and connected talent. Integrating this mobile workforce into our fold will satisfy their desire for meaningful employment, and will diversify our workforce and improve our client prospecting efforts.