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NEWS | Feb. 20, 2024

DOD's spouse employment pilot program enters second year

By C. Todd Lopez DOD News

In January 2023, the Defense Department kicked off the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot program. As the program enters its second year, lessons learned from the first year will be used to make it even better going forward. 

The three-year MSCAP program is designed to help military spouses find employment fellowships with participating companies. Following the conclusion of those fellowships, some military spouses may be offered full-time employment. 

Eddy Mentzer, the program manager for spouse education and career opportunities in DOD's Military Community and Family Policy office, said military spouses often face a particular challenge finding employment because the military lifestyle means frequent moves that make it difficult to commit to a single employer or develop a career. That inability to find work makes life more difficult for families who may depend on having a dual-income household.  

"No matter where you are, when you look at American society, the majority of families want to be dual employed — that's the same for our military families," Mentzer said. "The financial challenges that arise when a military spouse is unable to earn an income to augment a military member's income often means those families will rethink their decision to stay with the military."  

Spouse employment, Mentzer said, translates into readiness because it leads directly into retention and directly into the financial stability of military families. 

"We know that all of those aspects are critical," he said. "And for too long, over a decade, we've had a challenge of a 20% unemployment rate for military spouses, which is huge for our families."  

As of January, Mentzer said, some 250 companies have signed up to provide employment opportunities to miliary spouses through the MSCAP program, and more than 490 spouses have been placed into fellowships. In the program's first year, a substantial number of those spouses were ultimately offered permanent employment.  

"The biggest success we saw in the MSCAP's first year was the conversion of military spouse fellows into full-time employment," Mentzer said. "We had more than 85% of our participants that were offered full-time employment with their employer hosts, which was just an astronomical result. And we're already seeing that continue into year two of the program."  

Maria Allo, the spouse of a soldier in the Washington, D.C., area, applied to the program in April 2023 and has found success. Through MSCAP, she got a fellowship as a customer engineer with Equinix, a company that operates data centers. She has since accepted full-time employment with the program. Originally a petroleum engineer, Allo said having her own career is important to her.  

"It allows me to pursue a path that fuels my passion, challenges me intellectually, and contributes something meaningful to the world," Allo said. "I enjoy providing solutions to issues, and this is what I do every day. It enables me to stay on top of the latest network trends and technologies, which will allow me to expand my knowledge."  

Allo said not being born in the U.S. and being married to a military member has made finding professional work a challenge.  

"Being a foreign-born spouse, I had to relocate to the U.S.," she said. "Securing a job had been challenging. Navigating through a new professional environment and rebuilding my entire professional network had been one challenging part of my career path. Though my spouse is not [on] active duty, his required training and mobilizations take him away frequently. It leaves me as the sole caretaker for our family. This means making major adjustments to my work schedule. The uncertainty around when my spouse might get mobilized or sent for training makes it hard for me to commit to big projects or career development milestones."  

After many months of looking for work, Allo said, her husband shared with her that DOD had the spouse education and career opportunities program that might help her with her job search. It was the SECO office, she said, that pointed her toward the MSCAP program, and that is what ultimately led to her employment with Equinix.  

Now, Allo said, she thinks MSCAP is a great opportunity — not just for her, but for other spouses, as well.  

"The MSCAP program doesn't just open doors, it blows the whole career wall down," Allo said. "Through the MSCAP, I have acquired an army of supportive, dedicated, hardworking military spouses like me, hungry to reclaim their professional identities. We have built incredible support, cheering each other on, sharing strategies, and wiping away tears. I have found mentors and program managers that have been there every step of the way, pushing me and helping me strategize my job-search journey."  

Courtney Clyde, an Air Force spouse at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, was once a military officer herself. But she said with the birth of their first child, the couple agreed she should leave military service.  

"We found out that we were having our daughter, so we made the choice that I would get out," she said. "Now, my career goal is kind of to explore marketing. I am currently a marketing manager at Frog Street because of the fellowship. And I intend on staying in marketing. I really enjoy it. I've learned quite a bit, and I'm really excited about this."  

Through the MSCAP program, she said she found a fellowship with the company Frog Street as a field marketing manager. Like Allo and many others, that fellowship turned into full-time employment. Meaningful employment is something Clyde said is important to her. 

"I definitely saw the challenges that come with being a spouse with my own mom and kind of having to take a backseat to my dad's career," she said. "It's really important for me and for my daughter to see that you can still pursue your dreams, that the sacrifices you make are worth it, and that you can make it happen."  

At Frog Street, Clyde said she serves as a field marketing manager, and the experience there has been "absolutely incredible."  

"I just walked into an amazing marketing team," she said. "They're very knowledgeable. My current boss, he was a veteran, as well. He was the one that advocated for Frog Street to work with this program, and I absolutely love that. I think one of the biggest and most amazing parts of our community is veterans and spouses really helping each other."  

The MSCAP program has just cleared the first year of a three-year pilot. In the next two years, Mentzer said, there are going to be changes to make the program even better, based on what has been learned so far.  

One thing Mentzer said he'd like to see is more employers involved in the program. Right now, 250 employers are participating in MSCAP. One way that might increase, he said, is to get more federal agencies involved.  

"We have a lot of federal employers that are very interested in leveraging military spouse talent," he said. "How can we bring them into the fold as well as the private sector? There are definitely some challenges and some hurdles that we have to overcome within the federal sector."  

Mentzer said MSCAP is working with federal employers to identify and break down those hurdles.  

"That's one of our big goals for year two ... to open up to the federal sector, as well," he said. "We know that federal employment for many military spouses is the employment choice."  

So far, the program had been focused on "career-ready" military spouses, Mentzer said. Those are spouses with a level of education and previous employment experience that make them career ready. But he said in the second year of the program, they are looking to open it up to a wider range of military spouses.  

"What we've done moving into year two is we've begun to open that aperture with what we're calling 'skills-based fellowships,'" he said. "These fellowships ... are designed for spouses that may be a little bit more entry level, may not have that education, may not have the experience, but are still looking to find meaningful employment."  

With the skills-based fellowship, he said, employers might bring in a spouse and provide more on-the-job training and skill development over the course of the fellowship.  

"That might be in specific areas, maybe in taxes or insurance, where an employer can bring the spouse in for 12 weeks, provide that training, and then at the end of that, bring them into their full-time workforce," Mentzer said.  

At the end of the three-year pilot, Mentzer said he hopes MSCAP will become a full-time program.  

"The goal is, right now, that we turn this into a full-time program that becomes a regular part of everything we do to support military spouses through the department, through the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program," he said. "Year one is definitely what we would call a huge success. Year two is already on its way to being a bigger success."