The Reality for Military Spouses: Resilience in the Face of Employment Challenges

Paul Brown
02.02.2023 Published: 02.02.23, Modified: 02.02.2023 14:02:19

Life as a military spouse comes with a great sense of pride as your family serves the country, yet this can come with great sacrifice. As a military spouse, you are faced with many unique challenges in various aspects of your life that a civilian spouse couldn’t even imagine!

In particular, it is not uncommon to experience difficulties when it comes to finding and retaining employment, coping with separation, receiving family support and getting the help you need for your mental well-being. As of 2022, there are over 710,000 active-duty military spouses in the UK – so, you’re not alone.

Despite the hardships faced by many military spouses across the country, the unemployment rate for military spouses is actually falling as many within the community demonstrate resilience in the face of employment challenges. Let’s take a closer look at the realities you experience as a military spouse and what you can do to tackle the challenges life throws your way.

What’s in this article?

What are the key challenges faced by military spouses?

The role of a military spouse is not an easy one to fill and comes with many responsibilities. In the majority of cases, you become integrated into the military community and your life decisions can be heavily dictated by your spouse’s duties. For instance, relocation can result in you having to leave family, friends, or a job behind you on short notice. But, what are the key challenges faced by military spouses?

Relocation is one of the biggest barriers to employment

Every military spouse will have a unique experience and will be affected differently by their situation. However, it is very common for a military spouse to experience employment challenges as a result of their partner’s active duty, sometimes resulting in unemployment or frequent career changes. Surveys reveal the top reasons, and common characteristics, for unemployment among military spouses. These include:

In fact, data reveals 81% of military personnel experienced a permanent change of location with their spouse in the past 5 years, and 76% had a service member who had deployed at least once during his or her career. If you’ve experienced this yourself, you’ll know better than anyone the impact that this can have on your professional life. In fact, the impact this has on retaining a job and building a successful career is especially significant. And as a result, military spouses are more likely to be unemployed than civilian spouses.

Relocation is a large issue as many jobs require you to be physically present, or may even require specific licences or qualifications that are not transferable to different locations. This is particularly problematic since the majority of military spouses (90%) are female, which means these employment challenges contribute further to the existing gender disparities in employment and education.

Fortunately, the rate of unemployment for military spouses is decreasing. This decline can be largely attributed to the rise in remote and hybrid working models, and accessibility to education, following the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan.

Employer discrimination

Studies by the University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research delve into the discrimination faced by military spouses by employers. The research reveals the top three perceived reasons for employer discrimination towards military spouses. This includes the possibility of future deployment, a history of frequent job changes and the perception that spouses are not committed. In some cases, when applying for local listings, employers are made aware of spouses’ military status through their address, which can also impact their success in the application process.

Those surveyed in the study mentioned that there was discrimination and bias in many aspects of employment, including hiring, promotion, on-the-job training and pay.

As a result of such discrimination, many military spouses are denied a job interview, settle for reduced hours or a job below their level of experience, or even hide their partner’s military status from employers. And there is a large pool of untapped talent within the military spouses community ready to get stuck into work.

These figures are a reflection of society’s discriminatory view of military spouses, not the reality of their capabilities. At FDM, we recognise the potential in everyone, no matter their background, and understand the struggles faced by underrepresented groups. As such, we encourage all military spouses to know their worth and put their skills into action, taking on the roles they truly deserve – and settling for nothing less!

Childcare difficulties

Another common issue among military spouses is separation, as their significant other is deployed elsewhere. Not only can this be tough on relationships, but it can have a significant impact on the family dynamic and leave a lot of responsibility on a single parent when children are involved.

Being the sole carer for children can take its toll on your physical and mental health, leaving you exhausted with little time for much else. This can make pursuing your career even more challenging as a military spouse, as you have less time and energy to work towards qualifications or hold a full-time job.

Without a support system or family nearby, finding childcare can be difficult – not to mention expensive! In many cases, working is not an option for single parents as it is more economical not to work, than pay for childcare. Even part-time work may not offer the suitable benefits and flexibility required to accommodate parents’ needs.

The government currently offers childcare support for military families, which provides wraparound childcare, free childcare hours for under 4’s and tax-free childcare, among other benefits.

Emotional impact of the military spouse situation

Throughout life, everyone experiences stress – be that family troubles, work issues or personal problems. Life as a military spouse comes with unique stressors resulting from their spouses being on active duty. It is reported that one in five military spouses are dissatisfied with the military lifestyle and would prefer it if their spouse found a civilian career.

One of the biggest stressors for 44% of military spouses are the challenges that come with employment, in addition to time away from family and providing their children with a quality education. Other stressors include quality of life, military pay and family stability.

What can be done to help military spouses tackle these challenges?

There are a number of ways military spouses can overcome these challenges, and businesses can help support military spouses to succeed in their careers.

Breaking down the barriers to employment for military spouses

Breaking down the barriers to employment isn’t simple, but there are a number of steps you can take as a military spouse to improve your employability, regain independence and kick-start a successful career.

Firstly, we recommend that you assess your current skill set and look to brush up on your existing skills, or upskill yourself according to the job you want to pursue. Upskilling is an essential part of finding employment, especially as employers reveal gaps in CVs and outdated skills as key challenges when hiring military spouses.

As a military spouse, even without any technical or specialised skills, there are a number of desirable soft skills you may have that will help you land any job. For example, your ability to make new friends in unfamiliar locations can translate into good communication in the workplace, or your experience in relocating could make you better suited to change and make you more adaptable.

Remember to be proud of your background and not hide your experiences during job interviews or on your CV. Instead, use your unique experiences and skill sets to demonstrate your potential for the role you’re applying for and, most importantly, be confident in your ability to succeed.

There are many online resources available to you, many of which are freely available, which you can use to improve your skills or even earn formal qualifications. Depending on your industry of choice, the right qualifications are essential, or could be the competitive edge you need to win over employers.

It can also be useful to build your professional network, particularly online, using social networking sites like LinkedIn. By doing so, you can find out about new job opportunities as they arise, seek support from professionals in your network, gain access to learning materials and build out your professional brand publicly.

All of these steps can help you on your way to finding fulfilling employment that will support your long-term career goals.

Find employment that suits your needs and provides appropriate support for military families

Recent changes in working culture have led to improved access to employment for those with specific needs, such as flexible working schedules, condensed hours, childcare schemes and remote working arrangements. All of these changes help make employment more accessible to military spouses as well.

Remote working would enable you to work at the same company even after being relocated for your partner’s military duties. Flexible working or condensed hours can help military parents to juggle work and parenting responsibilities, which would enable you to have a full-time job without sacrificing family time. And childcare allowances could help cover the costs for military families who cannot work due to the inability to access childcare. 

There are already military spouse helplines to support those in need, however, some employers go above and beyond to provide suitable support. Look out for employers that offer well-being allowances, mental health support and mentoring programmes, for example.

We recommend filtering your job searches to employers that offer these working arrangements. Make sure to ask the appropriate questions during your interview to scope out whether the company is a good fit for your needs.

FDM’s mission to support military spouse careers

At FDM, we nurture talent from all backgrounds and have solid inclusivity initiatives in place to ensure equal opportunities for all. Our diverse talent pool is made up of individuals from a variety of academic, ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds, and we specialise in supporting the careers of graduates, ex-forces and returners to work. Our Ex-Forces Programme is run by ex-service personnel who understand where you’re coming from and can best support your career aspirations.

Combining expert training, ongoing support programmes and work placements with our industry-leading clients, we give you the opportunity to start a lasting and successful career as a military spouse. We do not expect candidates to have any previous experience and we offer an extensive support network in place to help you every step of the way.

Check out our technical and business career programmes to find out more, or get in touch.