Every day members of our country’s military and their families face challenges both in the military and when reentering the civilian world. For many of our nation’s heroes and their loved ones, finding employment can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are programs in place to set our veteran and military families up for success.
The Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program operates in 8 locations across the U.S. with hundreds of participating companies involved in the program. Our team at Hiring America recently interviewed several people involved with the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program, many of whom participated in USAA’s fellowship. They were more than happy to talk about their experiences with this amazing program.
What is the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program?
Crystal Cochran, Director of the Fellows Program at Hiring Our Heroes, gives great insight into the value of the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program.
“The Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program is an opportunity for us to help military spouses directly connect to employers in the area they’re living in. We know that military spouses have a really tough challenge with the moves they’ve made and not having a network built in to the area where they’re living.
“They (military spouses) have an unemployment rate of roughly 24%, and that’s prior to COVID. Since COVID, they’re telling us that it’s closer to 36%. By connecting them to these employers, we can get their foot in the door. They have the opportunity to showcase their skillsets, what they’re bringing to the table, and really be considered for roles.”
Steve Miller is a Navy veteran and business process consultant at USAA. He breaks down what the military spouse fellowship program looks like at his company:
“The Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program is a great program sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. They provide a six-to-nine-week fellowship at various companies. The military spouses get paid an hourly rate during that time, which is sponsored by U.S. Chamber of Commerce grants. They go through an interview process on the front end with all the participating companies in the program. Those companies pre-screen resumes to decide which candidates they want to interview. Then they conduct interviews and make an offer for the candidates to join their team.
“The candidates also have a choice. Maybe they have an eye on a particular company that they want to participate in, and they might get offers from three different companies. Then they have a decision to make about which company they’d like to do their fellowship in.
“At the end of all that we get a list of candidates that we’ve chosen. So sometimes our team has taken three or four military spouses and other cohorts we’ve taken one. Then we bring them on board. We give them a really fun onboarding program where we teach them about our team, what we do, all the systems that we work on. And then we really start focusing on helping them grow a strong, robust network across the company so that they can also do the work in front of them. They can also build their own relationships and understand what other opportunities in the company are available for them.
“By the end of the fellowship, they really have either potential interviews or they’re already in interviews for full-time roles, or potentially contract roles to keep them working.”
Military Spouse Challenges Addressed by the Program
The program has been a great help in addressing some of the challenges faced by military spouses. Our team was able to get some unique insights into what those challenges are.
Helen Millward and her husband are both Coast Guard veterans. They faced challenges starting a family after leaving active duty.
“When my husband and I were both in the Coast Guard, the challenge was trying to keep the family together. The constant moving around – that unknown of whether we’re going to be stationed together or not.
“Once we separated from the Coast Guard, I think the hardest part was that we did not settle where we would have family around. Once we started having a family, with our two boys, I had to be that sole caretaker of them. I couldn’t find employment for myself. I had to stay home, or all of my paycheck was going towards daycare. Now that my two boys are a little bit grown up and they’re going to school, that gave me an opportunity to start looking for employment.”
Steve Miller provides perspective both as a veteran and as a member of a business participating in the fellowship program.
“Some of the biggest career challenges that I’ve seen is there’ll be times where they (military spouses) have a really great job, perhaps at a medical facility or an engineering type thing or a marketing job. Then the active duty member in the family gets transferred overseas. So, they are forced to pick up and move.
“A lot of those overseas locations allow them to be accompanied by their spouses, but those jobs aren’t allowed to transfer over there. This can be due to either security requirements in the IT environment, or that particular company doesn’t support a virtual or a networking type of role for the current job that they’re in, so they’re often forced to resign from that job and go overseas and try to find a different role.
“The challenge though, when you get overseas is that they’re often not eligible for many of those roles that are available in an overseas or a foreign country because those folks in those countries are working in those jobs.”
Lindsey Sorensen is an Air Force Veteran with a Master’s degree and she still faced major challenges with her career.
“I think the career challenges that come as a military spouse are continually having to build your network. Every time you move for however many long months or years you were in that area, you tend to start brand new, to try to find a new position. It’s like restarting the job market every single place you move. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to take remote work with us. And sometimes it doesn’t work for our certain career fields. I know from myself, I know that I’m a better mom and a better wife and a better person when I’m working. It’s something that I really enjoy doing, but to continually have to force myself and create that opportunity every time… it’s exhausting.”
How Does the Military Spouse Fellowship Help Get Spouses Employed?
The Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship is a unique opportunity for people who may not meet the minimum requirements for some of the jobs out there. Some hiring managers may not notice them upfront because of the way their resume looks. There can be work history gaps, and lots of job changes as a result of the amount of moving involved with military life.
Program fellows get the opportunity to interview for what would generally be considered an internship under normal circumstances. These fellows get paid to come into a company and work for anywhere from six-to-nine-weeks. They get to demonstrate their skills, their capability, their adaptability, and resilience. This lets hiring managers get a fresh set of eyes on candidates that they may not have considered before.
“I heard about the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program. I was excited because it seemed like these are people that could advocate for me and help bridge that gap between what I had to offer and what the company was looking for. They could help translate that value as seamlessly as possible.”
How The Program Benefits the Participating Companies
The benefits to military spouses are clear, but the program also is a huge benefit to the companies participating as well. Christy LeRoy, one of the members of USAA’s team, breaks down why this program is so good for businesses as well as military spouses.
“It’s nine weeks of work that the military spouse gets to participate in and learn more about their ability to do work in that corporate environment for that company. It is paid through the Hiring Our Heroes program, but at the same time, the employer has very minimal administrative work on their side. It all goes directly through the program.
“The benefit really is that you as a company get to evaluate talent for someone who is committed to bringing quality work and learning those skills. They get the chance as a military spouse to evaluate your company and evaluate opportunities that may be available to them. My team does an excellent job being peer mentors. We support the military spouse and give that person as many opportunities as possible to learn that particular role, as well as expand their skillsets.”
Crystal Cochran also points out that there is a lot that makes military spouses desirable employees.
“Many military programs are created specifically with veterans in mind and what we’re trying to do with programs like this is really take military spouses out of the fine print and educate particularly employers across the United States on what the value is of hiring a military spouse and what the value is in adding military spouses to your team.
“Very often when an employer receives a resume from a military spouse, it’s not necessarily the best representation of them. There are gaps that don’t seem to be easily explained or there’s non lateral movement where maybe a military spouse has had the same job several times over. The employers don’t necessarily know what they’re looking at. It might come off as uncommitted or somebody who wasn’t worthy of a promotion. When in fact it was due to a move or choosing to stay home with children for a while.
“By creating a program like this, we get past that resume and allow them to really help employers see who they are and what skills and value they’re bringing to the table.
“Military spouses tend to be better educated than their civilian counterparts. In our fellowship program, 44% of our military spouses have master’s degrees. Over 92% have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher on top of that.
“Because they’ve kind of had the chance to dip their toe into a variety of different industries and roles, they tend to have a lot of transferable skills that make them assets. They’re also really, really committed because they’re so excited that employer has finally seen their value and given them this opportunity. They tend to be really fantastic employees who will do anything to stay with that company.”
What Are the Requirements for the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program?
The Military Spouse Fellowship Program is open to military spouse candidates who meet the following education and experience requirements:
- Must be available to attend all classroom sessions and have transportation available
- Must be available to work and seeking employment in one of our fellowship locations
- Must have earned an associate degree and/or have applicable work experience
- Must be a current or previous military spouse
Currently, the program operates out of the following locations:
- San Diego, CA
- Fort Carson, CO
- Tampa, FL
- Dallas, TX
- Fort Hood, TX
- San Antonio, TX
- Seattle, WA
- National Capital Region
If you would like to learn more about the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program, you can visit their website here: https://www.hiringourheroes.org/career-services/fellowships/internships/msfp/