Defense officials this year are opening the Pentagon’s paid fellowship program to more spouses as the initiative expands its offerings to include entry-level jobs.

The Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot will for the first time provide early-career opportunities “for those younger spouses who might need to put their foot in the door and start the process of having employment and a career,” Patricia Barron, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, told reporters Monday. That’s in addition to the program’s current “career-ready” fellowships for spouses with more education and experience to prepare them for the positions.

In an earlier announcement, defense officials said the newly added entry-level fellowships could target specific career fields such as taxes or insurance.

The fellowship program, now in its second year of a three-year test period, has been a “rousing success,” Barron said.

Spouses of U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force troops across the active duty, reserve and National Guard can apply for a 12-week position at 250 public- and private-sector employers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program pairs applicants with fellowships as they become available, at employers like Equinix, a company that operates data centers, and Frog Street, an early childhood education curriculum company.

The number of fellowships available depends on what employers decide to offer; the Defense Department pays fellows’ salaries through the Chamber. Applications are accepted throughout the year.

The program’s goal is to land fellows in permanent positions with their employers at the end of the 12-week run.

More than 400 spouses were placed in fellowships in 2023, the program’s first year. About 83% of the “career-ready” fellows have received offers for permanent jobs, Barron said, “which is unheard of.” Salaries for those jobs averaged about $60,000, defense officials said.

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee’s military quality-of-life panel have recommended that the program be made permanent.

“It’s been a great program. To be able to sustain it throughout the years would be phenomenal,” Barron said. “We’re getting an awful lot of really good feedback from the military spouses that are involved.”

The unemployment rate for military spouses has stubbornly hovered around 21% for the past decade, according to various surveys.

The problem is exacerbated by the frequent moves military service requires, as well as state licensing rules for many professions and other bureaucratic hurdles.

A number of advocates have asked for the Labor Department to officially track their unemployment rate, as it does for veterans.

“We do have a great relationship with the Department of Labor and have connected with them on various things. The tracking of unemployment for military spouses is something that we’ve both talked about,” Barron said. “I think it’s a little bit harder to track military spouse unemployment, because it’s not a protected group, so sometimes it’s hard to find the information you need.”

“However, we’ve got new tools available to us now, through AI, through some of the analytics that a company like Google might provide,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s what we’re doing, but what I’m saying is that we have new tools we can look at to help us get after that number.”

Online resources in May

For years, military officials have worked to tackle the policy issues that keep the spouse unemployment rate from budging. They’ve also tried to open new opportunities to help military husbands and wives navigate the modern job market.

This month, job seekers can learn from a lineup of speakers and breakout sessions on a range of spouse employment topics as part of a free, virtual career symposium and hiring fairs May 14-30. Participants can register to view the recorded events like “Finding and Mastering Remote Employment” and “Know Your Worth: How to Negotiate Your Perfect Fit,” and to participate in upcoming sessions, at Military OneSource.

A series of webinars, one-on-one resume reviews and mock interviews from Tuesday to Thursday will prepare spouses for next week’s hiring fair.

That fair, scheduled for May 29-30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern time, will connect spouses to hiring managers and representatives from more than 700 employers who have committed to recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting military spouses through DOD’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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