Military Spouses with Ronald Keohane

"About 14% of our spouses or our military members move every year, compared to 1% in the private sector. So there’s a challenge there."

National National

The unemployment rate for active-duty military spouses is 23 percent, which is much higher than the national average. A discussion on initiatives implemented to connect spouses with companies and organizations in the community to bridge the gap.  A discussion with Ronald Keohane, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.

For more information, visit Military One Source on the web or follow the Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program on Twitter.

Military Spouses with Ronald Keohane
Ronald Keohane, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy

Interview recorded on October 21, 2016.  Read a full transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: 85% of military spouses have a college education. However, the unemployment rate for active-duty military spouses is 23%, which is much higher than the national average. For the next few minutes, we’ll discuss a Department of Defense initiative to connect military spouses with employers. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Ronald Keohane, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military, Community, and Family Policy. Mr. Secretary, welcome to the program.

Keohane: Thank you, Robert.

Traynham: The stats that I just mentioned a few moments ago seem to be not congruent in many ways. Why is that the case?

Keohane: Well, it is troubling. I think there is a lack of education that is on both sides. So with the Department of Defense, I think we need to do a better job of educating our spouses, our family members, as well as really working with the community, the business owners, organizations on really what the benefits are that the military spouses bring. Because as you know, it’s a very unique type of a situation that companies are faced with.

Traynham: And, Mr. Secretary, what does that look like? Are those seminars? Are those online portals? How do you inform tens of thousands of military spouses about the resources that your office provides?

Keohane: There’s a number of different ways that we do it. MilitaryOneSource.com is one of our main resources that we utilize. Other than that, we also work with communities, trying to get the word out through their local community, whether it’s through spouses, military spouses, as well, but really working with the corporate community is what we’ve been focusing most on. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership — MSEP, as we call it — is really our greatest initiative to date on trying to pair the spouses up with the companies and organizations out in the community to bridge that gap.

Traynham: I want to double down on that for a few moments. So, my understanding is, the unemployment rate’s roughly about 20% for military spouses.

Keohane: About 23%, yes.

Traynham: About 23%. And you mention the partnerships. What else can be done there? Are there best practices? Is there even more partnerships that needs to be done? How do you get that number down?

Keohane: Well, we’re trying very hard. The program that — the MSEP program that I’m referring to has been around for about five years, so we just hit our fifth-year anniversary this past week. We’ve hired about 100,000 spouses through our organization. And with those partnerships, it’s really about making sure that we pair these individuals up with the right companies. So a company needs to be willing — and really understand what we bring to the table — but willing to hire them, promote them, and retain them, because it is a very unique, transient type of a situation.

Traynham: And to that point, I want to talk about that, when you mention transient. I assume most military spouses clearly have to follow their spouse from base to base or assignment to assignment. Is that part of the challenge, if you will?

Keohane: Absolutely. Because we have about 14% of our spouses or our military members move every year, compared to 1% in the private sector. So there’s a challenge there. So not every company actually is able to be a partner with us. We have about 335. We take the process very seriously, and it’s a long process in which the companies have to have a very specific footprint in order to be able to accommodate the flexibility.

Traynham: Can you give an example? In other words, if it’s a national chain organization, if one time you were housed here, perhaps maybe you can be promoted or transferred within the same company in state B.

Keohane: Robert, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. And then it also goes into the technology. So some companies have the ability to work remote, others have the footprint, so it is a requirement that as we look at the companies, we want to make sure it’s a good fit for both and that we do have the flexibility to move both domestic and international because at the end of the day, this is a readiness issue, and we need to make sure that we are prepared for that element of the whole process, as well.

Traynham: Mr. Secretary, can you give us any best-case scenarios to that point about a national footprint or whatever the case may be with respect to someone that may be watching the program and says, “I’m interested in this, but I’m not sure how it relates to me”?

Keohane: Certainly. Well, I would, first of all, if any of the viewers are interested, they should go to MilitaryOneSource.com and check out the MSEP page, and they can really learn a lot about the process of how to become a member or sign up for it. But we have a lot of companies. For example, NBC Universal, Comcast Universal is a recent partner with us, and they have the footprint. So they can go international, as well. But there are small companies that want to partake and help spouses. We don’t just summarily dismiss them. If they do reach out to us — for example, a mom-and-pop local store that’s by an installation that they are interested — we will pair them up with the local installation, as well. So we want to make sure we’re very aware of all opportunities for the spouses.

Traynham: Last question. I assume that there’s a lot of anxiety and stress that the person that’s wearing the uniform feels when their spouse is unemployed or perhaps looking for a job and they can’t find a job. Do you have any studies to prove that? And maybe perhaps when the spouse does find a job, the anxiety level goes down for the soldier?

Keohane: You’re absolutely right. And we’re looking at that across the spectrum. We’re working with the VA and the Department of Labor and other partners, Small Business Administration. But we know it is really a readiness issue, exactly to your point, because when our servicemembers put on their uniform every day, they need to feel comfortable that when they leave and go out and do their jobs, that their families are being taken care of. The second part of that is retention. We want to make sure that if we are going to maintain the force that we have, when it comes time to decide if they’re going to move on or stay with us, they need to also be confident that their family members will be taken care of.

Traynham: All right, Secretary Keohane, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it. I wish we had some more time to talk about this some more.

Keohane: Thank you, Robert.

Traynham: Thank you for joining us for this edition of “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We’ll see you next time. Bye-bye.