PCS Employment Edition
by Lizann Lightfoot - February 3rd, 2021
Brian Alvarado of Hiring Our Heroes. I am in charge of workforce development here. I’m the spouse of a recently-retired Navy veteran, so we have had our fair share of PCS moves.
Sue Hoppin of the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN). I founded NMSN almost 11 years ago. My husband served in the Air Force and retired several years ago. I had a degree but stayed home with my child, and then we lived overseas and I encountered work limitations, and the next thing I knew, 14 years had passed. We moved to D.C. and that’s when I started focusing on military spouse employment. My career background includes nonprofits and military spouse advocacy.
DoD Updates: Once you have your official orders in hand, make sure you go to Move.mil, click on DPS, and start to plan your official moving schedule. The sooner you get it set up, the better. If you are still waiting to be assigned a TSP, they probably won’t be assigned until late February, early March. Rate filing occurs throughout the moving industry right now, and they don’t assign DPS until their rates are approved. You will see notifications and official emails soon, once they are assigned.
Tell us about NMSN and how it supports the community.
Sue: 11 years ago, no one was addressing military spouse employment issues. I knew that our issues should be a priority, not just lumped in with “veteran problems.” We all believe in the all-volunteer military, and need options for the spouses to remove impediments to spouse employment. Then the service member can stay in as long as they want, and the nation wins. We can make incremental changes, but we can’t make any big changes without recommendations. Our first White Paper, we spit out several recommendations, and every suggested policy change was developed as potential legislation! We want to make a difference for spouse employment. We will continue to discuss the WATC (Work Opportunity Tax Credit), which helps employers hire disadvantaged employees with tax credits.
The NMSN newest White Paper is out now, and it’s great that we have so many minds working on this issue and prioritizing it, and we can all focus on spouse employment for at least one day during our Day of Advocacy on the Hill. Military Spouse unemployment was around 24% before the pandemic, and we expect it has only gone up. Whatever best practices we use to lift military spouses can be used to help other populations with similar challenges like transient populations.
Tell us about Hiring Our Heroes and how it supports the military spouse community.
Brian: As a military spouse myself, I did what many spouses do and got into the volunteer rabbit hole where I worked as a volunteer for numerous organizations. At one event, I met a young spouse from a small town who had just moved to San Diego after her service member just completed Boot Camp. She talked about the struggles she was having finding jobs, and he was an E-3, so living near Naval Base San Diego meant he was living an hour away from base. She was going to school online and wanted a legitimate job to advance her towards a business degree. I reached out to my network, and sure enough someone needed a new receptionist. She has now been promoted 5 times and makes more than her service member. That connection I made was exciting for me–it made me want to do that more. Hiring Our Heroes found me and I started volunteering with them. It’s now a collection of 60 global networks with a focus on peer-to-peer connections, networking, and career development. I now work in D.C. with the Chamber of Commerce to help everyone from first-time job seekers to the Military Spouse Professional Network, to local government leaders, to address issues within their communities. And we have a professional development series. It’s exciting for me to be able to continue doing this work.
What are the factors and stressors that spouses encounter regarding employment after PCS?
Sue: The Joining Forces initiative was great at bringing employers and military spouses together, but not great at keeping them employed. We want the employer to become a partner who can help retain them when they move, even if it requires a lateral move at a new location. A lot of spouses are not maintaining their jobs through a PCS. If they are an entrepreneur, they have to build up a client base again. And if they move overseas, there are SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and taxation issues that limit what jobs they can have while living on base or in another country. It should not be this difficult to figure out the restrictions and limits to a particular job, because that would help us know which bases to recommend on a Dream Sheet. We are hearing a lack of consistency and mobility, and frustration with needing to restart after every move. This is still difficult, even with the new solutions for licensing and professional certification.
Spouses have been pushing for telework jobs for a long time, and now the civilian population is experiencing it too. Will this make remote work easier?
Sue: The pandemic has de-stigmatized working from home. Military spouses are poised to do so much better coming out of the pandemic. We just rolled with the punches of 2020, because this was just normal life for us.
Brian: Absolutely, it has made the business case and allowed employers to experience remote-working teams. People who were afraid of it can now see that it works. We can also help businesses evaluate how much money they can save on real estate if companies don’t need to rent out office space. People are 13% more productive when working remotely, because they aren’t commuting, going to lunch, chatting with co-workers, etc. We have to look at the percentage of military spouses that fit into that professional working world. It’s actually a small percentage of the whole military spouse community. A lot are very young, have not graduated from college, and work in retail or service. Those jobs are not portable and are typically in person, so we need to discuss with those employers who have military spouse programs, so that there are more lat moves in other cities that will actually help advance the career path. 70% of all military spouses are at an entry-level, so we need to help that population as well as our high-level professionals. It’s not just Hiring Our Heroes, but also the work Sue does, and our friends at MFAN, and even the DoD. How are we reaching employers that have these entry-level positions. Go to Military One Source, look up the Military Spouse Partnership List, and there are over 500 companies across the country that have joined that coalition to help improve the military spouse experience, which helps ease that relationship-building.
Sue: You don’t have to have a college degree to be on a good career path. Remember that many families need a quick job, but you can still continue professional development while in a job to earn a certificate or get yourself closer to your goals and where you want to be. Study data science, learn to code, study how to build a business, take a Microsoft class, and participate in free training programs and certificate programs. Then you can develop as a professional without going to college. No one will care more about your career than you will. Brian can find anyone a job, but we want you to be able to reach your own goals in the military lifestyle.
PCSgrades was recently inducted into the Military Spouse Employment Partnership by the Department of Defense! So we are part of this ongoing work.
Many spouses are forced to leave a job when they PCS. How should we approach that conversation with an employer?
Brian: Honesty is always the best policy, so if you have orders, you should consider that conversation. People don’t work the way they used to–keeping a job for 20 years etc. Nowadays, people change jobs every 2-3 years, even those who aren’t in the military community! I’m a firm believer that if you are in a good position, then you have a leader advocating for you and your growth. You want to build your staff so they can grow and move up or move on. With your supervisor, be honest, but put yourself first. Professionally, you just owe the company a 2-week notice, unless it is stated otherwise in your contract. If you want to discuss moving your position to a remote position, then come prepared. Do your research on what that will mean, how much time you need for the move, when you will be online, and what work you are still willing/able to do. Get detailed about what you want to do, but otherwise you don’t need to do more than 2 weeks notice.
Sue: Also be prepared to do the business analysis of it, so discuss what the cost analysis/benefit will be for the company if you continue to work. Research the impact of what it would take to replace you. Offer to return occasionally face-to-face, maybe once a quarter, so you can continue to work remotely but also sometimes check in with leadership. What would the negative impact to the company be if they just let you go? If they do, in your pocket, have the resume of another military spouse that you can recommend to your employer to replace you. The Military Spouse Professional Network is for exactly this purpose, to recommend each other and choose a replacement form the military network.
What research shows the benefits of remote work and hiring military spouses?
Brian: We are in a better place than we ever have been, because after the pandemic we have business cases we can refer to. We can be thankful for technology and the ability to complete tasks digitally where you aren’t sitting in an office. Go through your work day and task lists and goals for the next year. Write out what it takes to complete those things, and prove to your employer that sitting in the office is not necessary for you to complete that goal.
Sue: Research if anyone else in the company is working remotely. Talk to that employee and their supervisor to describe how it works for their position, and how it could be applied to you. Research if anyone else has that set up already, because it means someone in the company has already approved it.
An employer can never guarantee you a position when you move to a new location, but they can pick up the phone, call their connections in that area, and give them your resume. Give them the option to say no… but if you don’t ask, it’s always a No.
Let's look from an entrepreneur or business owner's perspective. What should a military spouse keep in mind when preparing to move?
Sue: Adapt and overcome. Some businesses will not survive a PCS move and don’t have a good business model. If you focus on services, know what to charge in the new area. Use PCS as an advantage to change your prices, change service packages, etc. Evaluate your business with each move. Us it to your advantage, and know what the installation will allow or support. Ask other military spouses ahead of time and do research before you go. Don’t overlook taxes and legal issues. Connect with your local SBA (Small Business Administration) to explore local business partnerships. They may help you meet with a lawyer, tax person, etc. We sometimes get so caught up in building a business, but we can’t forget the tax and legal aspects of a business, and that will occur the most when we move. Don’t treat it like a hobby. Build the structure around it of a real business.
Brian: Take advantage of organizations like The Rosie Network and the American Small Business Network, because many helpful programs already exist. These resources are tried and true. Places like Boots to Business put you in a community of like-minded business owners. Some people do it very carefully and methodically, and maintain a growing brand, so it is certainly possible! Take advantage of the community to help you PCS your business.
What is one thing a military spouse should do to prevent PCS moves from impacting their career trajectory?
Sue: Put the PCS into your career plan. You may not know when it will happen, but you usually know it’s coming. Take the narrative back, instead of letting it run you. Do your financial projections for each quarter. If you know there is a PCS move in Q3, then adjust the plan to accommodate that, and figure out how to redistribute the work and income so you can take the time and space you need in the quarter when you will PCS.
Brian: We need to be open to adapting and changing. I know a spouse who was a chemist by education and trade. Until she opened herself up to new opportunities, she was miserable. She finally discovered employers who were looking at her other skills, and she was able to work doing something different, and she says she is happier than she has ever been! Be open to change and new opportunities.
Sue: Sometimes the opportunities find you. I have degrees and speak several languages, and I’m not using any of that now! I should have been looking for ways to fulfill my passion, which ended up being serving military spouses. We have to find what we are good at and how to be successful in that. You can often apply what you know and have learned to a different type of job.