Efforts to Jump Start Careers for Military Spouses
with Elizabeth O'Brien of Hiring Our Heroes
Due to frequent relocations, many military spouses face challenges finding work and sustaining careers.
Elizabeth O’Brien, Executive Director of Hiring Our Heroes, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss barriers that military spouses face finding and keeping jobs. O’Brien discusses efforts to provide military spouses with professional training and networking to support their career development.
October 31, 2023
Anderson: Military spouses may not directly serve the country, but their well-being is key to the morale and readiness of our troops. Due to frequent relocation and limited career opportunities, many military spouses remain unemployed. In fact, more than 21% are not working. That's more than five times the national average. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Advocates say military spouses need further resources, training, and job placements to support the unique demands of military life. Joining me to talk about a federally funded pilot program to empower these individuals is Elizabeth O'Brien. She is the executive director of Hiring Our Heroes. And, Elizabeth, thank you so much for being here.
O’Brien: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So I want to start out with the challenges surrounding all of this because there are several. Tell us about the barriers that military spouses actually face when not only trying to find a job, but trying to keep a job.
O’Brien: Yeah. Our biggest challenge is that we continuously move over the course of our service member's commitment to this country. So giving myself as an example, at one point, we lived in nine places in seven years. So it doesn't matter how good a college basketball coach you are or a news anchor. You have to start over every time you move, leverage a network that doesn't necessarily exist that our civilian counterparts have access to. And then you have to navigate, if you're a nurse or a statistician, licensing and credentialing issues.
Anderson: So a lot of people obviously have barriers to employment. But explain to our viewers why military spouse employment is an issue for all of us.
O’Brien: Military spouse employment is an issue for all of us because ultimately it impacts our national security. Very quickly at home, the conversation shifts to should the service member remain in service to this country, or should we -- or should they separate so that we can be placed on par with our civilian counterparts in America, who very much so have access to dual income?
Anderson: And this is something that President Biden addressed in 2023. He made a few moves. Tell us what they were.
O’Brien: Yeah, I think anytime an administration makes moves to support military spouse employment, it sends a signal to the country that this is relevant, it's important, and that we have to take care of those that are serving and their family members. Most recently, I believe you're referencing the executive order that was dropped, and it's one of the most inclusive in terms of verbiage. It's military spouses, Gold Star spouses, caregivers. These are the folks that have to ensure -- that we have to ensure have access to expendable income.
Anderson: And at the same time the Biden administration was doing something about this, so was your organization. You started a pilot program. It's called Military Spouse Career Accelerator. What are the objectives of the program, and how are you achieving them?
O’Brien: Yeah, and I think this is a great example of when the legislative branch comes together with the Department of Defense and collaborates with a nonprofit. This is a holistic effort where Congress has allocated funding to be used in support of military spouses being placed in internships in corporate America. So this means that companies and organizations around America have an opportunity to take on a military spouse for three months at no cost to the company. Right? The Department of Defense is absorbing that cost. We're helping to make sure those military spouses are placed. We're leveraging our pipeline. And so this is a great holistic approach of solutions that can be created when all parts, all facets of America come together -- corporate America, Department of Defense, Congress -- and we work together to create solutions.
Anderson: And you are actually seeing that what you're doing is working. Do you have a story? Can you share with us what success looks like with this?
O’Brien: Yeah, success looks like, truly, when a military spouse is placed in corporate America, and they're hired at the end of those three months and then go into the organization. And we know after that, they then become fierce advocates within the company or organization, opening doors and ensuring the pipeline for military spouses continues to flow. And we're seeing great success. We've had over 100 companies already leverage this pilot program, and we're looking forward to more organizations and companies in America coming on board.
Anderson: And I know people are going to want to know a lot more than we had time to discuss. So what's your website? Where can they look?
O’Brien: Yeah, folks should head on over to hiringourheroes.org. If you're a military spouse and want to figure out how to access our programs, you'll be able to find that through the website. If you're a company or organization that wants to host a military spouse, we'll also have a spot for you over there as well.
Anderson: Elizabeth O'Brien with Hiring Our Heroes, thank you for being here.
O’Brien: Thank you for hosting me.
Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.