Fellowship Program Connects Military Spouses With Exceptional Professional Opportunities

Written by
Hiring Our Heroes

A leap of faith positively changed one Navy spouse’s career journey.

A last-minute decision to attend a hiring event lead Alexandra Babka to connect with Booz Allen Hamilton representatives and learn about a pilot program for the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Fellowship Program. This was an opportunity for an inside look at employment at this defense contractor near Babka’s new duty station. It was also an opportunity for Babka to prove that her skills in soft drink manufacturing transfer to a position at Booz Allen.

Babka’s gamble paid off – she’s a full-time employee with Booz Allen Hamilton near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

“I’m directly supporting the work that my husband does in the Navy,” she said. “It’s empowering to know that we’re working on the same mission.”

Less than year after Babka completed a pilot version of the Military Spouse Fellowship Program, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes is accepting applications for the 2020 cohort 1. Starting this fall, HOH is launching six-week paid fellowships in seven locations, thanks to financial support from Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin, the city of San Antonio, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Foundation, Military Corps Career Connect (C3) and Capital One.

Participating Companies Gain Access to a Highly Skilled, Motivated and Educated Talent Pool

The Military Spouse Fellowship Program is a first of its kind initiative that provides military spouses with professional training, networking, and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce. The professional development and direct connection to local employers offered through the program enables military spouses to quickly build their networks, illustrate their value, and be considered for open roles.

“We took what we learned there and talked to other partners about hosting military spouses,” said Crystal Cochran, Deputy Director of the Military Spouse Fellowship Program at Hiring Our Heroes.

The Military Spouse Fellowship follows the schedule of the Corporate Fellowship Program. Monday through Thursday, fellows work in a professional position matched to their skills and experience at a host company in one of the fellowship locations. Then Fridays are spent in the classroom and at partner companies, gaining corporate skills and building their networks. The Friday professional development training is often referred to as Huddle Days.

The main difference between the two programs is that the Military Spouse Fellowship is six weeks instead of 12. But Cochran explained that six weeks is a sufficient length of time for military spouse to shine in the workplace.

“Within two or three weeks, the military spouse fellow and company often know if it’s a fit. If it is, there is the interview process and potentially a job offer,” Cochran said.

Through this program, fellows will receive hands-on experience in the workplace. The fellowship includes skill-building, networking and a local, direct connection to employers as well as resume review and interview assistance.

In turn, participating companies gain access to a highly skilled, motivated, and educated talent pool.

“The fellowship program is a lovely entrée to introduce military spouses to corporate positions at a low risk to the companies,” said Kimberly Rider, Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton. “It’s been a fantastic experience for us. I don’t know what company would not want to take advantage of this program.”

“Within two or three weeks, the military spouse fellow and company often know if it’s a fit. If it is, there is the interview process and potentially a job offer.”

Who is eligible for this program? Military spouses must reside and intend to work in one of the seven fellowship locations in which they apply for the program. The fellowship locations are Maryland/Washington, D.C., northern Virginia, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Tampa, Honolulu, and San Diego.

New hire shaking hands at a job interview

Fellowship candidates also need to have an associate’s degree or applicable work or volunteer experience.

“The requirements are much broader than the CFP. During the process of reviewing the candidates, we work to place military spouse with a good opportunity for them,” Cochran said. “It’s not just about the placement numbers. We want it to be a true opportunity for each candidate.”

On average, military spouses face an unemployment rate that’s nearly four times the national average. The Military Spouse Fellowship Program is one component of a comprehensive approach that Hiring Our Heroes is employing to connect military spouses with career opportunities.

“We know that military spouses need to rebuild their network every time that they relocate. This program is built to combat that,” Cochran said. “The Military Spouse Fellowship Program provides a warm hand-off to a company that understands that a military spouse’s resume may look a little differently that a civilian resume and they’re fine with that. These companies understand what military spouses can bring to their companies.”

Earn and Learn Opportunities Put Military Spouses Back in the Workforce

Through a partnership with the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Foundation, military spouses are currently doing fellowships in the hospitality industry in northern Virginia. They are participating in a learning program with leading hotel brands that provides insight into the career opportunities that exist in hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue management.

“We want to not only introduce careers in hospitality sales, marketing and revenue management to military spouses, but also bring more military spouse talent, innovation and leadership to the global hospitality business,” said Fran Brasseux, president of the HSMAI Foundation.

The first class of military spouse fellows is finding that their experiences, education and professionalism is valued at the luxury hotel group, Accor.

“Our HSMAI Foundation military spouse consultant, Tessa Robinson, and I recently met with our fellows, and we were touched by their stories, deeply inspired by their service to our country, and very excited about their futures,” Brasseux said. “Hospitality is a global business with endless career opportunities; where skills are transferrable; remote work is practiced in sales, marketing and revenue management; and relationships are built to last a lifetime.”

The Military Spouse Fellowship Program provides a warm hand-off to a company that understands that a military spouse’s resume may look a little differently that a civilian resume.

Laura Schmiegel, Booz Allen Hamilton’s Military and Veteran Affairs Lead, said Booz Allen is hoping to host fellows through this program, but it’s not a requirement for their grant.

“Booz Allen is looking forward to bringing on fellows, but this is more about supporting the military spouse community,” Schmiegel said. “Booz Allen Hamilton’s mission is very connected with military readiness. Since one-third of Booz Allen employees are military-connected, these 100 scholarships are our way of supporting the community that we serve.”

Schmiegel said she knows that these fellowships are going to make a difference for military spouses. “Every spouse who wants a professional opportunity should apply,” she said. “Every employer who is serious about supporting military spouse employment should be sponsoring and hosting at least one.”

“The Military Spouse Fellowship Program gets military spouses in the front door at corporations when their resume may not shine due to circumstances out of their control, like gaps in their resume,” Schmiegel said.

Then once the military spouse is in the workplace, they typically shine, Rider said.

“The fellowship is an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do,” Rider said. “In my mind, the fact that you’re a military spouse means that you tend to be adept at adapting to change. You have been pulled out of your comfort zone and had to figure things out – that is an excellent skill set that someone could bring to the table.”

Babka’s fellowship experience at Booz Allen debunked her concerns about balancing her role as a military spouse with her value as an employee.

“Before I felt like I needed to conceal my military spouse status. Now I tell people that I’m a military spouse and it’s an asset,” she said. “It also means that I can pursue a career while my husband pursues his career. I didn’t always think that would be possible.”

Military Spouse Are Just as Valuable as Transitioning Service Members

Lockheed Martin is funding 100 military spouse fellowships over the next two years through a Hiring Our Heroes partnership; these military spouse fellows sponsored by Lockheed Martin will be part of the LM Heroes program.

“Besides it being the right thing to do, we know the talent that they bring (to employers). I’m a bit biased, but I believe they are the best talent out there,” said David Wallace, Lockheed Martin’s Military Relations Project Manager.

Wallace often tells employers about the skills that military spouses need to possess in order to survive military life.

“We know that military spouses are resilient. They are great at time management. Many of them have the basic soft skills that you wouldn’t even think of,” Wallace said. “In my opinion, they are just as valuable as a veteran or a transitioning service member at an organization.”

But military spouses aren’t always seen that way. Many companies express concerns about military spouses leaving employment after less than three years due to relocations with the Armed Services.

Eventually, the lack of employment opportunities creates stress and influences a family’s decision to stay in or leave the military. In Hiring Our Heroes’ 2017 “Military Spouses in the Workplace” survey, 43% of military spouses ranked equal employment opportunity as a factor in the decision-making process to stay or leave the service.

“I vocalize that this is a national security issue. If the spouse can’t find a job or have a career, it affects retention rates,” Wallace said.

For more information about the Military Spouse Fellowship Program or to submit your application, visit hiringourheroes.org/fellowship/spousefellows.

Related Articles