Why military spouses offer a valuable, untapped source of talent for employers.
By Sarah Stone, April 2019
“The single biggest constraint on the success of my organisation is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.” Almost two decades after US business management expert Jim Collins said this, finding and retaining the right people remains just as critical to any organisation’s success.
Talk to any business leader about recruitment and they will tell you how hard it is to find the right staff and how much recruitment costs them. According to figures from the Open University’s 2018 Business Barometer, 86% of senior business leaders in Scotland reported difficulties in finding staff with the required skills. The same study found that over the previous year organisations across Scotland paid an additional £70m in recruitment fees, £87m for temporary staff, and an extra £114m for training to upskill workers hired at a lower level than intended.
But what if employers had access to a source of qualified and highly motivated individuals who were desperate to work but unable to for a reason which had nothing to do with their skills or abilities? What if this was a talent pool which contained candidates from virtually every sector and industry whom you didn’t need to hire full time but could dip into on a project by project basis to meet demand in your business? If you had access to this pool wouldn’t it be worth your business investing a little time and resource to tap into it?
Military spouses working remotely from a military base. Copyright: Heidi Hayward Photography
The good news is that this talent source does exist. Its members are military spouses and since 2014 I’ve been visiting military bases around the UK, talking to spouses and researching their experiences in order to develop ways to allow employers to access them.
The Ministry of Defence estimates there are around 70,000 partners and spouses of currently serving members of the armed forces, 90% of whom are female. In 2016 I surveyed over 2,000 of them; asking them a variety of questions about their careers, qualifications, skills and abilities. The range and breadth of experience was astonishing; respondents had degrees in almost every subject imaginable; Management and Technology, HR & Employment Relations, Optometry, Biomedical Sciences, Maths, Animal Care and Tourism to name just a few. There were police superintendents, corporate lawyers, surgeons and artists, morticians, scientists, HGV drivers, athletes, train drivers, engineers and jewellers. The diversity was incredible but what they all shared was the experience of having their careers negatively impacted by marriage to someone in the military.
The nature of the military lifestyle makes it difficult for a lot of spouses to hold down a traditional ‘9 to 5’ job. Military bases tend to be located in remote, rural places where jobs in their chosen fields are hard to come by. Frequent moves every few years to different parts of the country, the absence on military duties of their partner, a lack of childcare, and geographical separation from family and friends all means that the support networks relied on by other working parents are unavailable to them and makes working full time virtually impossible. Many choose to take positions for which they are vastly overqualified simply to remain in the workforce, or retrain into professions which are more ‘suited’ to life in the military community. I know of corporate lawyers who have become yoga instructors and emergency theatre nurses acting as classroom assistants. Many more simply drop out of the workforce altogether.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The way businesses recruit, employ and retain staff is changing and this offers an enormous opportunity for both spouses and employers. Employers who are prepared to overlook potted career histories and gaps in CVs and offer roles which can be done remotely and flexibly will have access to an untapped wealth of talent. Not only that, if you make it possible for a military spouse to work in their chosen industry and enable them to take that role with them whenever they move, you will have a loyal, motivated employee who will stay with you for a long time.
Emma is an IT software developer who works remotely from a military base in Scotland for an employer based in Slough. “I’ve worked for this company for over 12 years and 5 house moves. I love my job and I consider myself very lucky to have it. Being able to take it with me every time we are posted is one of the main reasons I’ve stayed with them so long and I have no plans to leave.”
Social value-aside, there are clear commercial advantages too. Having access to a skilled, part-time flexible workforce is a lot cheaper than the costs and overheads associated with employing full time staff.
One company who has recognised this is Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS), a multinational talent acquisition agency with offices in countries all over the world. I first encountered AMS at the end of 2017 when they were trying to recruit military spouses into their business and wanted to embed Recruit for Spouses, an award-winning social enterprise, into their supply chain.
Together we sourced and trained a bespoke workforce of military spouses, many of whom had vital language skills, who were employed as recruiters working remotely and flexibly. There are now military spouses working for AMS on a part-time, flexible basis in military bases all over the UK and the company recently achieved Gold status under the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme.
There have been unexpected benefits too; the spouses’ ability to work flexibly means they can offer candidates screening interviews outside normal working hours; perfect for job hunters who don’t want to alert their current employer to their desire to jump ship by taking calls during business hours.
What can you do if you are an employer who wants to recruit military spouses?
The main thing is to think about the jobs in your business which could be done remotely by qualified, skilled spouses working flexibly from military bases. Don’t just think of ‘traditional’ remote working roles. Think about the skills your business needs to deal with peaks in demand and work back from there.
Elena is UK Head of Operations for the UK Drone Association and says “for once the moving to a different part of the country every couple of years is seen as a plus. I run membership events etc so having people in the middle of nowhere is good as we have members all over the UK.”
Be prepared to invest in training and equipping this workforce. This is where a social enterprise like Recruit for Spouses can help you. Many spouses will have been out of work for a while or may not have the exact experience you are looking for but they will have soft skills such a resilience, flexibility, communication and multitasking garnered from their military lifestyle which could be invaluable to your business.
By employing a military spouse, you will not only be creating social value by helping members of a disadvantaged group into employment, you will also be creating economic value for your business, and giving you access to a valuable pipeline of talent.
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