A program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
The professional opportunity that changes your life can happen at any time, and likely when you least expect it. That moment presented itself as a LinkedIn notification for Kimberly Perez. For Kayla Bilderback, it was an informational flyer stuck in a folder of various military spouse employment resources. Neither Perez nor Bilderback can pinpoint the exact reason why they applied for the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse and Caregiver Fellowship Program.
They didn’t have any friends in the program and neither one had a mentor encouraging them to submit their applications. Yet, they put their faith and trust in a program and both say it changed their lives for the better as they have both secured full-time remote employment with military-ready employers.
“I appreciate everything that Hiring Our Heroes has done for me. I am working remotely, full-time, and I am able to support my family,” Perez said.
Perez was only 18 years old when she got married to her spouse. The couple were newlyweds when her husband enlisted in the U.S. Army. After earning her GED, Perez immediately enrolled in college. Her goal was to earn an associate degree and eventually a bachelor’s degree. She was pregnant and wanted to help financially support her growing family.
But her professional goals were put on hold when her husband was injured on his first deployment and came home permanently disabled.
“For the last six years, I have navigated being his caregiver,” Perez said.
Even before becoming a caregiver, Perez said finding employment was difficult as a military spouse. Oftentimes, the couple lived in rural areas with limited employment opportunities. They had one car and if it broke down, Perez couldn’t get to work. Through these challenges, Perez never gave up.
She graduated from the University of North Texas Honors College and earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences in business studies, criminal justice, and public safety. She was the first person in her degree program’s history to earn an Advanced Honors College Scholar Award. Perez is currently enrolled in graduate school part-time and plans to earn an advanced degree in information science. She has diverse professional experience in customer service and has worked in both the private and nonprofit sectors. Despite all of this, her career has been unstable.
Then she saw a LinkedIn post about the Military Spouse Fellowship Program.
“I knew I was ready for it, but it was kind of scary because I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said.
Perez landed a fellowship with UniGroup and six weeks later, she was offered full-time remote employment.
“It’s hard to work outside the home when you are a caregiver for a veteran,” Perez said. “The opportunity to work inside the home has changed our lives.”
The Military Spouse and Caregiver Fellowship Program is a first of its kind initiative that provides military spouses and military caregivers with professional training, networking, and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce. The professional development and direct connection to local employers offered through the six-week program enables military spouses to quickly build their networks, illustrate their value, and be considered for open roles. Thanks to the financial support of Hiring Our Heroes partners, like Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), the fellowships are also paid opportunities.
“The challenges veterans and caregivers face are significant, and no one organization can address them alone,” said WWP Vice President of Program Operations and Partnerships Melanie Mousseau. “We’re proud to work with other like-minded organizations to increase our outreach to veterans, families, and caregivers. We’re inspired by this partnership with Hiring Our Heroes and the work they are doing through the Military Spouse Fellowship Program.”
Crystal Cochran, Hiring Our Heroes’ Military Spouse Fellowship Program Director, said this program is “literally opening doors for military spouses and caregivers and creating true career opportunities.” Because of COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, Hiring Our Heroes coordinated virtual fellowships for 148 fellows at 61 host companies in 2020. Currently, 85% of those fellows have received job offers, Cochran said.
“With this success, remote roles will be a primary focus moving forward. Not only does this allow the portability that military spouses seek, but it allows host companies to field candidates from any program location,” Cochran said.
Kayla Bilderback considers herself fortunate to have been able to secure a job after each relocation with the Navy. But when she moved to San Antonio, all of her employment leads were dead ends.
“I have 10 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree and I couldn’t get anyone to call me back,” she said. “I just needed to get in front of someone so that I could say to them, ‘give me a chance to wow you.’ The fellowship was my chance.”
For her fellowship, Bilderback was paired with USAA as a project manager, a role that she was curious about pursuing as a career.
“I needed a stepping stone; USAA gave me a bridge,” she said.
After successfully completing her fellowship she accepted an offer from Accenture Federal Services to be a business operations analyst. She said it was hard to leave USAA after the fellowship, but because of the time spent examining her professional goals during the program’s Friday Huddles, she was prepared to make the best career decision.
“In this program, you build a network of professional contacts who are military-aware,” she added. “The Military Spouse Fellowship Program put me in touch with companies that I had never heard of before and these companies want to hire military spouses. I think when you are in the job market, you have to pursue employment so diligently that sometimes you don’t have the time to explore your options. With this program, you can see what opportunities are out there.”
The time spent focused on her professional goals was an invaluable experience.
“As military spouses we spend so much of our time helping everyone else, we forget to focus on ourselves and our goals,” she said.
“One of the most important steps veterans, spouses, and caregivers can take during their journeys is seeking support when they are in need,” Mousseau said. “The Military Spouse Fellowship Program is one of the many ways Wounded Warrior Project and Hiring Our Heroes collaborate to provide the veteran and caregiver community the resources they need and deserve. The professional training, networking, and hands-on experience the program affords will continue to present life-changing opportunities.”
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A Program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation