military spouse

Portable skills make military spouses work-ready

Creating new pathways for spouses of military service members

Marrying an active-duty service member comes with the understanding of – and committment to – the possibility of frequent geographical moves. Relocating, while taking care of a family, makes it especially challenging for military spouses to build careers.

It’s no surprise that unemployment and underemployment are major concerns for military spouses who face a jobless rate of 20%, according to a Blue Star Families report created in collaboration with the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

So, what can military spouses do to prepare themselves for this sometimes transitory life and career? With some help from the federal government and post-secondary institutions, spouses are learning portable skills that make them employable no matter where they live.

Breaking Down Workforce Barriers

One benefit afforded military spouses is My Career Advancement Account Scholarship (MyCAA) – offered by the U.S. Department of Defense. Eligible spouses of service members can receive up to $4,000 in tuition to earn certifications, licenses, and associate degrees.

Kathy Love, Ed.D., president, Savannah Technical College

One institution helping break down workforce barriers for military spouses is Savannah Technical College, which earns high marks as a military spouse-friendly school. Located near a number of military installations, Savannah Technical College touts the largest military-affiliated enrollment among Georgia’s 22 technical colleges, estimated at 25% of the student population.

Because of Savannah’s heavy military concentration, the school is also able to offer additional benefits to military spouses beyond federal and state assistance. “We have very generous donors who are former military that make sure that we have military-focused scholarships so that active-duty, veterans, and their dependents can go to college,” says Kathy Love, Ed.D., president, Savannah Technical College.

Love says more than 94% of last year’s graduates went to work in their field of study or a closely related field.  “Our mission is workforce development so everything that we offer leads to a job, is occupationally based.”

Learning Portable Work-Ready Skills

Savannah Technical College offers 150 instructional programs, ranging from health care and avionics to cybersecurity and welding. “It gives the student a skill that can go with them,” notes Love.

For military spouses, that portability is key. “If they are here for two years or four years but then they go to Texas, for example – if I’m a dental hygienist, all I have to do is get my dental hygiene license in the state of Texas,” she says.

Love says dental hygiene is a popular path for military spouses.  An associate degree is required to become a dental hygienist with a median salary of $77,810. The profession is expected to grow 9% in the 10-year period ending in 2031.

When Online Courses are a Plus 

When Melinda Hilton moved to Savannah because of her husband’s deployment with the U.S. Army, she found an opportunity at Savannah Technical College. With tuition and books covered through MyCAA, Hilton decided to pursue an associate degree in paralegal studies. “I want a degree that’s important to me.”

As the mother of two small children, Hilton also works two part-time jobs selling home fragrances and working as a dance teacher. Because of her schedule, she’s taking one class at a time. A big selling point for her was the fact that the paralegal studies coursework can be completed online. “Being that I am a mom and I am alone a lot, there are times when I have to leave at the drop of a hat to go get my kids,” says Hilton.

Melinda Hilton, paralegal studies student, Savannah Technical College (Photo: Amelia J. Moore)

The online coursework will allow her to finish her degree even if her husband is moved to another part of the country.  Since getting married in 2018, the family has lived in three different states. “The hardest thing about wanting a career as a military spouse is the moving aspect. When you move, your soldier has a job lined up. They have instant friends. They have instant co-workers. They know where to go and when to be there,” says Hilton.

She continues, “Every time the military spouse moves, they don’t have any of that. They have to start from scratch.”

As a student, Hilton has access to information about part-time paralegal jobs while she works on completing her degree. Demand for paralegals is expected to grow 14% by 2031 with a median salary of $56,230.

With a degree and skills that can move with her, Hilton hopes to avoid having to start over if there’s another deployment.  “Everywhere you go, there are attorneys. There are businesses that could benefit from having a paralegal. I don’t feel concerned about the path that I am choosing,” says Hilton.