November 23, 2009
By Rob McIlvaine
FMWRC Public Affairs
Dr. Lillie Cannon, program manager for the Army Spouse Employment Program and also an Army spouse who retired from the Air Force, addresses the audience prior to the formal signing by representatives of the eight new employers ready to hire military spouses who bring to the job a tool box full of experience and talent. Photo by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affairs.
To date, 57,600 spouses of Soldiers have been hired for positions at one of the 31 Fortune 500 corporations who have joined forces with the Army Spouse Employment Partnership (ASEP). This includes the 15,647 spouses hired this year. As of this October, eight more corporations, including Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., joined forces with ASEP, bringing the total number of corporate partners to 39.
ASEP enhances employment opportunities for spouses of military members while fulfilling America’s demand for skilled workers.
Dr. Lillie Cannon, who now serves as the program manager for ASEP – a self-sustaining and expanding partnership – has been a tireless advocate for the Army spouse.
“As an Army spouse myself, I see the sacrifices Army Families undergo while their Soldier is deployed. I also see those Army spouses who give up their careers to keep their Families together and support their service member,” Cannon, a retired Air Force Officer, said. “Now I am living the life of a military spouse. I have moved four times with my Soldier and each time I was able to move with one of the ASEP partners and continue my career,” Cannon said.
The Army recognizes the importance of spouse satisfaction in Family decisions. Many Soldiers make retention decisions based on their Families’ financial stability. Approximately 55 percent of Army spouses are in the labor force and contribute from 20 to 40 percent of their families’ income. The perception of a spouse’s quality of life—including financial well-being and the ability to realize personal and professional goals—is a major factor in the retention of high-quality military personnel. Frequent Soldier reassignments/relocations make it difficult for spouses to sustain employment and develop long-term careers.
John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, stopped in during the signing of the eight new partners with ASEP to relate a story of a Soldier in a hospital getting care for a battle wound. “I pressed a coin into the Soldier’s hand and told him how proud we are of him and how he makes America a safer place. And then he saluted me. That’s why we do this. We’re working for America’s heroes and this is why I’m committed to doing everything I can for their Families. This kind of service is essential to making their lives better.” Photo by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affairs.
Cannon says the ASEP program is much-needed right now because the economy has long since forced us to move from a one-salary Family. But for her, it’s not just about helping someone find that extra income.
“My focus and passion for ensuring Army spouses have careers and meaningful employment is driven by my respect and admiration for their service to this country. Although they do not wear a uniform and physically go off to war, it’s their dedication and love for our country that enables them to kiss their Soldier goodbye without knowing if he or she will return. It is our duty to make sure they too have every opportunity to a career they can enjoy while helping to sustain their Family,” Cannon said.
After retiring from the Air Force, where she was a Deputy Commander for Maintenance, 23 Fighter Group, NC , Cannon entered the civilian workforce and later became program manager for H&R Block, now one of ASEP’s partners, where she was responsible for assisting in the development and implementation of the company’s military initiatives and programs. She also played a pivotal role working with the Department of Defense and Military services in their financial readiness educational programs, monitoring issues relevant to the quality of life of military Families.
“H&R Block was not one of the original signers, but they did something that I think is very unique.
“They understood what congress meant when they signed the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2002,” Cannon said. That act stipulated that the Secretary of Defense “shall seek to develop partnerships with firms in the private sector to enhance employment opportunities for spouses of members of the armed forces and to provide for improved job portability for such spouses.”
“H&R Block, Inc., realized the talents that military spouses bring to the table. They developed a means to attract this pool of highly professional people and retain them by helping them relocate and maintain their current salaries. They also realized that as an industry leader they needed to show other companies their support and dedication to our service members and their Families.
“Military spouses bring a tool box full of experience and talent to the job. They are extremely dedicated, they work hard, and most importantly they want to work. H&R Block found the right combination. I feel lucky to have been hired by H&R Block and relocated four times with my spouse with no drop in pay, and each time moving to a better position within the company,” Cannon said.
The Army administers several other spouse employment programs through the Army Family Covenant.
Army Community Service (ACS) Employment Readiness Programs (ERP) provide relocating spouses of active duty military personnel information on employment, education and training opportunities, as well as educational and vocational counseling. With a wealth of resources, ERP’s clients – Army spouses – are among the best prepared job candidates in the marketplace.
ACS helps Soldiers and DA civilians and their Family members throughout the entire military life cycle: recruitment through retirement. Employment Readiness believes that every Army spouse should have a choice and be afforded the opportunity to develop a career and /or become employed. Employment Readiness won't do everything, but they will provide valuable information and critical job search skills.
The Army launched the Military Spouse Job Search (http://www.msjs.org) on July 7, 2005, through the Department of Labor’s America’s Job Bank. This service provides free access to a résumé and job-listing database for spouses and military-friendly employers, the ability to track spouse hires, and the capability to sort jobs by state.
Of a total of over 510,000 Army spouses, 340,000 are 32 years old or younger with 80 percent of them married to enlisted Soldiers. Besides their backgrounds in clerical, services, sales, child development and management and administration, Army spouses bring the benefits of ethnic diversity, and a variety of native cultures and second languages that are in great demand in the international business community.
However, military spouses, because of the unique circumstances of the military lifestyle, generally have a harder time achieving the kinds of educational and career goals that civilians can. Military spouses who are enrolled at a school near the base may have to disrupt or discontinue their schooling when their military spouse is transferred to another duty station of state.
Although congress and state legislators have begun to address the issue, many military spouses who move to a new state are not eligible to receive in-state tuition rates, making the cost of education unaffordable. One important solution already available for military spouses is online education.
With Congressional authorization in Public Law 110-417, the Department of Defense implemented and funded the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) on April 2009. This program provides resources and assistance supporting the pursuit of a successful, long-term, portable career to spouses of active duty services members, Guard and Reserve on orders for one year or more.
The centralized, virtual program, accessed through Military OneSource, will provide counseling and funding, up to $6,000, to assist with licensure, certification or education opportunities leading to portable employment opportunities.
“This is brand new and open to all military spouses,” DuPree said.
Program specifics are available at www.militaryonesource.com.
“We might adapt to our husband’s lifestyles,” said Jamie Gordon, a Fort Belvoir spouse, “but because of our experience of being able to adapt to different jobs, we have made ourselves more marketable and we all feel more confident.”