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Program gives military spouses a head start on finding employment

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | April 12, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

When Cassidy Montague moved from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Joint Base San Antonio with her husband, Jimmie, an Army specialist, in October 2017, she faced an uncertain employment future.

Like many military spouses whose married lives are a series of frequent relocations, Montague lacked a stable work record as well as marketable job skills.

Fortunately, Montague found the support she needed to enter a training program and secure a job that provided her with experience that paved the way to a career path.

During in-processing, her husband learned about the Military Family Support Program, a Department of Labor-funded initiative that assists dislocated spouses of active-duty members in their job searches, at a briefing by Sarah Hardin, who manages the program at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Military & Family Readiness Center.

“Jimmie was already aware that I may need some help landing a job here due to my work history and multiple complications I had at Fort Bliss,” Montague said. “He put my name down on the list that Ms. Hardin had provided. A little over a week later, I received a phone call from Ms. Hardin and that is when our journey began.”

Montague is one of dozens of military spouses who have benefited from the Military Family Support Program since it was implemented at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston nearly two years ago.

Workforce Solutions Alamo, a network of service providers and contractors that brings people and jobs together, provides the program through the Texas Workforce Commission and partners with the Employment Readiness Program at the M&FRC. The ERP serves all Department of Defense ID cardholders: active-duty military, Reserve and National Guard members, wounded warriors, retirees, their families and DOD civilians.

“I have had 75 people enrolled since I’ve been here,” said Hardin, who is a career counselor for Workforce Solutions Alamo. “Over 60 of them have become employed. They have all made themselves ready to get a job.”

The program, which is also available to active-duty spouses assigned to JBSA-Lackland and JBSA-Randolph, provides an array of services, including job search assistance utilizing the WorkInTexas job search engine, skills assessment, labor market information for San Antonio, general resume and interviewing skills and training for high-demand occupations, which is offered on a case-by-case basis, she said.

The Military Family Support Program is a huge benefit to military spouses, who face a multitude of challenges when seeking employment, said Connie Eberhart, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston M&FRC lead for the Employment Readiness Program.

“One of the most common challenges we face revolves around the multiple moves during our spouses’ careers,” said Eberhart, who is also a military spouse. “At each new location a spouse must find new employment, which can be a daunting task. Our resumes tend to show gaps in employment and jobs spanning multiple career fields as we attempt to balance home, work and paying bills. There are employers that have concerns about hiring military spouses because they know we most likely won’t be there for the long haul.”

Although many employers are willing to hire military spouses, Eberhart said customers tell her that many jobs are entry-level positions.

“We have a dynamic military spouse network with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees who face challenges finding fulfilling work,” she said.

Licensure is another issue, Eberhart said.

“Career fields that require state licensure don’t always transfer from state to state,” she said. “So even if you land your dream job at a duty station, you may not even be able to work in that field when you PCS. It’s a challenge, but we are incredibly grateful to those companies and organizations that see the value in our flexibility and perseverance.”

The program does not function like an employment agency, Eberhart emphasized.

“Some people think we will find them a job,” she said. “What we do is provide them with assistance in their job search.”

Hardin agrees, saying she evaluates each spouse on an individual basis, discussing their needs and wants.

“This is not a cookie-cutter approach,” she said. “I pinpoint what they’re trying to do through a broad-based assessment.”

Although many spouses seek a federal job, those positions are highly competitive and jobs in the civilian sector may be more readily available.

“We help them find employment, whether it’s in the private sector or federal,” Hardin said. “Our whole premise is to prepare spouses to be employable and self-sufficient, and follow up with them for a year to help with job retention. Teaming with ERP, we help spouses create a good resume, develop good interview skills and understand the job market in San Antonio.”

Hardin pointed to Montague as one of the program’s many success stories.

Montague worked at the commissary at her husband’s prior duty station, then found a part-time customer service job at a department store when she and her husband came to San Antonio for his permanent change of station.

“Mrs. Montague did not have any credentials, nor had she started a career path, but she said she was interested in starting a new career in the medical office industry,” Hardin said.

The program enabled and funded her to attend a three-month vocational training program in the field of medical office administration, which included training for billing and coding essentials, office procedures and administration, and electronic health records. About a month after completing her training, she landed employment with an arthritis treatment facility in San Antonio.

During her employment, Montague gained experience working with insurance companies verifying patients’ benefits and took on the added responsibility of working with Medicare plans. Soon she became a lab assistant, responsible for collecting and inputting data, preparing specimens for in-house testing and sending out specimens.

“Having this job honestly gave me that boost of confidence that I needed,” she said. “When I first became a military spouse, I was unable to find employment at my first duty station. I was unable to work and unable to commit to college. The training I received and the job that followed put everything into perspective for me, showing me what hard work and dedication can do.”

Montague said the Military Family Support Program helped her build the skills she needed to have a successful career.

“It gave me the opportunity to further establish my resolve in working in the medical field,” she said. “After working as a lab assistant, I would love to further my education and career in this field. Between training and actually working with what I learned, I know without a doubt being a lab technician is my career path.”

Montague’s experience provides a template for other military spouses.

“Even though it is tough moving every one to three years, and it seems as though all you ever do is follow your husband around, always remember there is still time for yourself and you can build your career alongside your spouse,” she said. “When an opportunity presents itself, take the chance. You never know what you will come to love or devote yourself to until you try.”

For more information about the Employment Readiness Program or the Military Family Support Program, call 210-221-2705.