May 18, 2023
Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense
President, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Despite the knowledge and experience they bring to the table, military spouses remain an underrepresented population in today’s workforce — a challenge driven by limited job resources, support, opportunities, and connections.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative aims to reverse such trends. During the Chamber of Commerce’s 7th Annual Military Spouse Employment Summit, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Ashish S. Vazirani spoke candidly about the current state of military spouse unemployment, as well as available programs aimed at reversing those challenges.
Military Spouse Unemployment Remains Higher Than the National Average
As it has for the past five years, the employment rate for military spouses far outweighs the national average — between 21% to 24%, according to Vazirani.
“It’s still taking … four [to] five months for military spouses to find a job … and when [they] are finding jobs, they still consider themselves to be underemployed,” he said. “We have to change the trajectory, so we are trying to do as much as we can from our end on creating programs that will help to place spouses in employment.”
From Vazirani’s perspective, closing the gap in unemployment rates relies heavily on partnerships with corporate sponsors and communities that support the Department of Defense.
Current Initiatives and Programs Work to Find Gainful Employment Opportunities
In September 2022, the Department of Defense announced the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot (MSCAP). The program seeks to strengthen military families by providing logistical support and promoting financial security, including through 12-week fellowships for military spouses to further their careers.
In the ensuing five months of its run after launching in January 2023, the pilot has seen 2,500 applications submitted — 600 of which are completed, and 400 of those have made it through the stringent vetting process. As of May 2023, 130 military spouses have been placed into fellowship programs.
“We’re [also] trying to build capacity in the childcare system by at least making sure that we are fully staffed,” said Vazirani, citing childcare as a strong enabler of military spouses achieving gainful employment.
MSCAP Provides Clear, Mutual Benefits to Both Employers and Military Spouses
Based on the months of program data, Vazirani and his team have already seen a very high conversion rate to full-time employment from fellowship holders. According to Vazirani, when organizations get a sense of — and fully understand — the talent that resides in the military spouse community, they just want to hire more.
“The challenge for us is getting more employers engaged in the program, and that's really where I'd say I have a call to action,” said Vazirani. “We just need [employers’] help in spreading the word that this program [is] available.”
The fellowship program gives the unique advantage to businesses to expose their organizations and teams to an impressive and diverse talent pool, while also affording the opportunity for military spouses to build a nuanced set of skills.
Unemployment Rates of Military Spouses Could Reduce in the Next Five Years
By changing the trajectory of military spouse unemployment, Vazirani believes lasting change can snowball in the next few years.
“I'd love to see military spouse employment at the same level that we see veterans unemployment, which is below the general unemployment rate,” he said. “We recognize that there's a tremendous amount of talent, and it's our objective to make sure that we get to a point where we're below national unemployment.”
Because military spouses are an extremely talented pool of candidates, Vazirani believes there's “absolutely every reason for companies” to hire military spouses, and for military spouses to be gainfully employed and grow their skills.