Today, marks the start of an open season of sorts for job fairs for military spouses in what one Pentagon official calls the "high-touch" part of a "high-tech, high-touch" process.
Meg O'Grady was a military spouse herself, having moved 13 times in 17 years, when she began working at the Pentagon just before the June 29, 2011, launch of the Defense Department's Military Spouse Employment Partnership. Today, she is its acting program manager.
The partnership hosts an online job portal where military spouses can search for jobs, post resumes and receive education and training, and where employers can post openings and search for new talent. The site has posted 500 million job ads in the past year, and has 220,000 ads on any given day, O'Grady said. That's the high-tech part.
The high-touch part gets under way today as MSEP's partner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program, ramps up its "touch" tactics by sponsoring numerous job fairs in the coming weeks in military-populated cities such as Hampton, Va.; Minneapolis; Utica, N.Y.; Sugar Grove, Ill.; Lake Charles, La.; and Quantico, Va., to name a few - the full list can be found here.
The DOD and Chamber programs compliment that of Joining Forces, a program started by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden that also works to improve military spouse's employment.
The job fairs not only bring employers to job seekers, but also offer forums for helping spouses with resume writing, networking and the like, said Laura Dempsey, director of Hiring Our Heroes. Dempsey, too, is a military spouse, and so knew the potential of those who mostly have been an untapped resource in hiring.
When Dempsey was building the Hiring Our Heroes staff, she turned to Noreen O'Neil, a military spouse she knew socially who had volunteered for the program's launch, to be its events director. Like many military spouses, O'Neil had an employment gap of more than 10 years, but "had either been the president or chief fundraiser of every spouse club she was in," Dempsey said. "That certainly qualifies her to do the job."
The hiring fair forums will address how military spouses, especially those with employment gaps, can market their volunteer experiences to civilian employers, she said.
"You have to help spouses sell it, is the problem," said Dempsey, a lawyer who has maintained her skills through nine moves with the Army. "Employers are open to it, if they understand it."
Telling a private-sector manager you were a family readiness group leader may not resonate until you say you were in charge of the well-being of 750 families, Dempsey said. And, "saying you were a spouse club president may sound like a boutique social position," she added. "But if they say they were in charge of a budget of tens of thousands of dollars and hosted 10 major events with hundreds of attendees, that's an event planner."
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