A growing number of U.S. companies report that recruiting and retaining qualified, affordable talent is becoming increasingly challenging. Yet cost containment and human capital are essential to succeeding in the global, innovation-driven marketplace. Despite the need for talent, several misconceptions prevent employers from recognizing the potential of military spouses. They believe that military families’ frequent relocations would impact retention and jeopardize their ROI. In addition, they believe that military spouses don’t have the technical and soft skills required in today’s workplace and that they’re too isolated to add value through professional networks. However, research shows that the median tenure of Millennials is comparable or even less than the average military assignment. As a group, the 1.1 million spouses of active duty service personnel are more highly educated than civilians and possess hard-to-find soft skills such as problem-solving skills and adaptability. Moreover, military spouses have extensive networks of professionals and veterans in a wide range of industries and locations. There are also additional cost-savings for employers that hire military spouses, since spouses qualify for federal- and state-funded educational initiatives and enjoy medical and dental coverage under their spouses’ military insurance plans. It is evident, therefore, that military spouses have a lot to offer companies and that including them in workforce strategies could be extremely beneficial to organizations’ long-term success.
In today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive marketplace, cost management and human capital are critical components of business success. Unfortunately, many U.S. companies are struggling to find and retain skilled workers in a cost-effective manner. Yet a large and highly skilled segment of the workforce remains untapped: military spouses. In this white paper, we’ll examine the challenges employers face in regard to talent acquisition and retention; dispel the myths surrounding military spouses; and discuss how employers can benefit from hiring the partners of active and non-active military service personnel.
Employers Are Overlooking a Skilled Talent Pool
Talent acquisition and retention are becoming increasingly challenging for U.S. companies. In 2016, 45 percent of employers encountered hiring difficulties—an increase of 12 percent over 2015. The most frequently cited reasons include a lack of candidates, inadequate hard and soft skills, and insufficient experience. At the same time, the average number of years employees stay in a job is declining. Whereas the median tenure was 4.6 years in 2014, it has now dropped to 4.2 years. On average, Millennials (workers between the ages of 25 and 34 and currently the largest generational group in the workforce) leave their jobs after only 2.8 years. It’s understandable, therefore, that improving retention is a priority for almost 90 percent of employers.
The cost associated with talent acquisition and retention is another issue. Almost two-thirds of CEOs are focusing on cost reduction as a growth strategy for their businesses. Nevertheless, thanks to dropping unemployment rates, skilled talent can negotiate generous salaries, bonuses, and benefits packages. Moreover, employers have to invest in employee training, not only to keep up with technological advancements, but also to help talent grow and advance.
Despite these challenges, employers typically don’t consider military spouses viable candidates. This segment of the workforce comprises approximately 1.1 million workers who are relatively young and highly skilled. The average age of a military spouse is 31.5 years. Moreover, 88 percent of military spouses have some post-secondary education, 34 percent have an undergraduate degree, and 15 percent hold a postgraduate degree. Yet 12 percent are unemployed—almost three times the national average of 4.7 percent. Of those who are employed, more than 50 percent are severely underemployed and are six times more likely than civilian spouses to receive remuneration that is not commensurate with their education and experience levels.
The high unemployment and underemployment rates of this group are clearly disproportionate considering their average age and educational attainment. Unfortunately, due to several widespread myths and misconceptions, many employers do not consider military spouses viable candidates. The resulting disconnect is not only frustrating for active duty spouses; it also adversely impacts companies’ ability to obtain the human capital they need to drive organizational growth.
Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions About Military Spouses
It’s evident there’s much to be gained by mending the disconnect between employers and this overlooked segment of the workforce. To do this, we must first dispel the misconceptions that stand in the way of objective talent assessment:
- Military spouses relocate too frequently to deliver a good ROI: It’s undeniably important for employers to consider the costs of recruitment, training, and remuneration when hiring new employees. It is also undeniable that military families move frequently, since the average length of an assignment is between two and four years. But when you consider that the average tenure for all civilian employees is 4.2 years and 2.8 years for Millennials, the potential for a good ROI on an employee is roughly the same.
- Military spouses don’t possess adequate technical and soft skills: According to the Lumina Foundation, 62.2 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 25 and 64 have some post-secondary education. Nine percent hold an associate degree, 20 percent have an undergraduate degree, and 11.6 percent have a graduate or professional degree. Compared to the almost 90 percent of spouses who attended postsecondary education of whom 34 percent have a bachelor’s and 15 percent have a master’s degree or MBA, there’s no doubt that military spouses as a group are more highly educated. A large number are also trained in areas such as financial management, resiliency, volunteer management, and public speaking. Moreover, their life experiences teach them stress management, adaptability, resiliency, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities—all highly sought-after soft skills.
- Military spouses are isolated and don’t have professional networks: A growing number of employers are looking for candidates with a large number of professional contacts, since this can generate talent referrals and business opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, military spouses have extensive networks of military, veteran, and civilian contacts in a wide range of occupations, industries, and geographies.
By becoming more informed about military spouses’ skills and situations, employers can begin to recognize the significant potential—and business value—of this segment of the workforce.
The Business Benefits of Hiring Military Spouses
With these misconceptions quashed, the question arises: What, in light of the challenges companies are facing, are the exact business benefits of employing military spouses?
- Military spouses form a sizeable, skilled, and connected group of workers: By including military spouses in their candidate profiles or even targeting them specifically, companies can gain access to a large pool of qualified talent who are ready and willing to work. Furthermore, for employers that have retention top of mind, it’s important to understand that keeping valuable employees on as remote employees is a viable solution. Consider this: By 2020, an estimated 50 percent of talent will telecommute at least part of the time. Embracing remote work, therefore, is rapidly becoming a prerequisite for attracting and retaining skilled employees—regardless of whether they’re civilians or military spouses.
- Military spouses qualify for government-funded training: There are many federal and state initiatives to help military spouses pay for continued education to advance their careers, whether that’s to earn a college degree or learn skills that are in high demand in the workplace. This can reduce the need for employers to invest in upskilling and training.
- Military spouses already have medical and dental insurance: Because military spouses are included in their husbands’, wives’, or partners’ health and dental insurance plans, they’re far more affordable long-term employees than civilians—even when earning a competitive salary.
- There’s quality support for employers: The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN) not only helps spouses find employment; it also works with employers to find, recruit, screen, and train qualified candidates to meet companies’ specific needs.
In addition, in May 2017, H.R. 2310 – Military Spouse Hiring Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill seeks to expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to include military spouses. The WOTC offers companies that hire qualified individuals a tax credit of up to 40 percent of the employees’ first year’s wages (within the maximum tax credit allowed). Considering the fact that this bipartisan bill has been endorsed by the Military Officers Association of American and the National Military Family Association, it stands a good chance of being signed into law in the near future.
In conclusion, employers should no longer let distorted perceptions blind them to the significant advantages of hiring military spouses. When they take the time to assess this group objectively, they will begin to recognize its potential in helping their companies meet their operational objectives and by extension, the importance of including military spouses in their long-term workforce strategies.
Despite common misconceptions, should employers consider military spouses viable candidates? This segment of the workforce comprises approximately 1.1 million young, highly skilled workers. By becoming more informed about military spouses’ skills and situations, employers can recognize the significant potential—and business value—of this talent pool.
 Manpower: 2016-2017 Talent Shortage Survey
 PwC: 20th CEO Survey: 20 years inside the mind of the CEO… What’s next?
 Hiring Our Heroes – Military Spouses in the Workplace: Understanding the Impacts of Spouse Unemployment on Military Recruitment, Retention, and Readiness