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Milspouse Employment: Portable Jobs (pt2)

April 7, 2009

What is an ideal career for a milspouse?

If you’ve researched employment opportunities aimed at milspouses, you might have noticed a trend. Prominent articles and ads for jobs such as medical transcription, direct sales, virtual assistant, entrepreneurial pursuits, etc. are everywhere. Ads in magazines that target a military readership, military-themed websites, etc. tout these jobs as a perfect fit for milspouses. And, sure, they could be. The requirements of our lifestyle mean that a work-from-home or flex-time job is almost essential if you have kids or live in the middle of nowhere.

On the other hand, we can also find plenty of job ads pushing us toward education, nursing, and service industry positions that take us outside the home and supposedly are in high-demand fields. In fact, the Career Advancement Account initiative offers these and other positions as either “high-demand” or “portable” options, which the CAA defines as follows:

A “portable career” has a credential recognized in multiple states and job opportunities across the country. Portable careers will make it easier for a military spouse to find a job following a military move.


The Departments of Labor and Defense have identified several “high growth industries” and “in-demand occupations” for military spouses. The selected high growth industries (industries expected to add a large number of jobs to the economy) provide the greatest range of portable careers.

Unfortunately, CAA only rolled out in 8 states, and the coverage doesn’t even encompass all bases in those states. As an aside, I find it ironic that the two Navy sites and one Marine Corps site have a relatively thumping employment environment – I couldn’t list the number of technology companies in these cities where jobs are always available, even now. This program might have been more useful if it rolled out in areas where the job market is particularly depressed or narrow in order to give spouses more opportunity for job growth when they’re ready to hit the ground with their resumes.

Ahem. Anyway.

I’d like to discuss the idea of a “portable” career. Admittedly, portability is one reason I’m pursuing a grad degree in creative writing. I know my experience as a writer has not been affected by my location, and I hope that having a degree will help my marketability both as a writer and possibly as an educator. My attempts at maintaining my software engineering career, however, were thwarted every PCS we made. Clearly, even a job that once was in exceptionally high demand isn’t as “portable” as we had assumed. The world changed, and with it, the job market. My old job isn’t portable now. Who’s to say those jobs now considered portable will remain so? And if we keep moving military families around the globe with such frequency, will these spouses have to find a new portable career, train fresh in a new field, and hope that starting from scratch yet again won’t require too heavy an economic and emotional price?

In addition, I find it understandable and yet abrasive that the expectation both from the military and from society is that my job needs to be portable in order to support his job. In effect, this mindset relegates the military spouse to a second-class position as far as employment goes. Of course, the nature of the military lifestyle means everyone in a military family has to be willing to remain flexible and to sacrifice everything at every PCS, but as the military continues to evolve, wouldn’t be awesome if more consideration were given to 1) the spouse’s career needs and 2) the cost of constant and far-ranging PCS moves to the service’s budget? It would behoove the military to leave service members in one location for longer than just a couple of years. Morale, service members’ economic well-being, their emotional health (especially for children who endure this unstable lifestyle at significant cost), military budget, and post-military lives would benefit. Beyond that, if the worst were to happen (death, divorce, or other), spouses wouldn’t be left with hole-filled resumes or an education that suffered because of varying university requirements and credit transfer rules.

In the meantime, what are we to do? and Military Spouse Magazine seem to keep up with preferred military spouse employers, but investigate those jobs, and you’re likely to find that most seem to be minimum-wage or slightly better. In addition, they typically don’t leave much room for career growth unless you end up homesteading at one location.

And so we circle back around to portability and bring up a new question: of these jobs at national chain stores, when they allow you to transfer to another store at a different location half a country away, how critical is your job? Are you being hired to hand out towels, stock a shelf, clean an aquarium? When you transfer, will you be doing the same? And if you spent four years getting a degree in business administration or physics or textile engineering, how satisfying will that job be, even if it is portable?

Today, let’s talk about the jobs considered “ideal” for milspouses, expectations, and satisfaction. Do you have a portable job? Do you want a portable job? Are you happy with yours – does it suit your needs, pay you what you’re worth, give you a sense of satisifaction, and use your best traits?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2009 1:12 pm

    Let’s see… I have been working my relatively non-portable job for 5 years now. I make close to what Swiss makes (he’s been in 18 years). I went to extra school to do what I do and I’ve been lucky enough to work at a really amazing hospital with more opportunities to advance than anywhere else. And I am leaving in 10 months… Now, there is a slight chance that there will be a similar job where we are stationed, but last I checked there are only 40 openings for my job across the nation. Those aren’t good odds. But the only other option than me quitting and finding something new to do, is to stay here, even after Swiss gets home from the deployment. So instead of 12 months apart, we would do 22. No thank you.

    I do struggle with the fact that I am the one with the advanced degree in the family and I’m the one giving up my career. But it would seem that the Army hasn’t given us much choice in the matter since my career doesn’t count. Frustrating? Yes. Sadly, I am in the position of just riding it out until he retires and I can get a second career that I really want, rather than one that fits best into the military lifestyle.

    But the notion that the only ‘portable’ jobs are ones that are a) minimum wage or b) really limited in scope is downright depressing (not to mention infuriating). I don’t want to be a medical transcriptionist. I want to use my degree in Cytopathology. I don’t want to do direct sales, I want to use my 4 year biology degree (that I am still paying for) at the very least! Why should we all have to settle for these other ‘careers’ just because our husbands are military and someone deemed these “portable” and “perfect for the military spouse”? I am sorry, none of the jobs on those sites are perfect for me. But what other choice do we have when our resumes tell the tale of constant moves?

    Sorry for the rant…. Great post!!!

    • The Army Wife permalink
      April 7, 2009 1:29 pm

      I don’t think I could have said it any better. Lucky for you, your hubs is close to retirement (if he so chooses). Mine is only six years in, and is considering going the full 20. Which, for me, means that in order for him to have a career, I have to give up mine. Like you, Tucker, I do struggle with having the advanced degree and essentially having to give that up. It’s frustrating as hell when I worked so hard to get to where I was.

      Now, I do work in my field *sort of.* It’s not my ideal job, but it’s close. However, to answer your questions in the post, SNW, am I happy with my job? Eh, that’s debatable. But I’m not giving it up because I was lucky to land this one in the first place being here. I would love a portable job, but for me to have a portable job, that would mean to some degree, starting my own consulting company. It’s doable, but will it REALLY be portable? With Marketing/PR it’s all about building that relationship with clients. I can’t do that when I’m moving around, or in small town that have NO clients. It doesn’t pay what I’m worth (I could be making double or tripple in a larger city), it uses about half of my best traits and used to satisfy me but not in the same way anymore.

      I’ve spent a hell of a lot of money to get my advanced degree. I’m not going back to school to spend more money and make less, just because the Army says that’s a good choice for me.

    • April 7, 2009 3:13 pm

      I have a friend who just graduated with a degree in biology and didn’t bother looking for a job here. Now we are all moving and I believe she’s getting a job and going back to school, maybe not for a degree but just for some classes. I know she won’t be working in her field though.

      It truly sucks having to give up our career, based on “us” being the spouse. I wonder if men have the same problem if it is the wife who is active duty?

      Another friend said being in the military was like waiting for her life to start – they had to move so often she couldn’t get a job that paid enough to be worth it. When she finally did, they had to move.

  2. slightlysaltyspouse permalink
    April 7, 2009 1:43 pm

    Ditto everything you said Tuck. I started and completed my graduated degree while Obi-Wan was in his enlisted commissioning program and we both graduated school at the same time. Instead of being able to embark on my career as a librarian fresh out of school in DC where there were a million library jobs, we had to move out of state for him to attend surface warfare officer school for six months, and then to CA where he was assigned to a ship for 2 years. I don’t resent that in any way, honestly, I don’t. I knew that was coming after graduation. But, I thought I was embarking on a so-called “portable” career b/c librarians are everywhere. I never anticipated having trouble finding a job no matter where we ended up. It’s been more of a struggle than I would like. I love my career and it is a career, not just a job or way to pay the bills.

    What makes me nuts is that this “portability” isn’t cut and dried. Sure, I have a master’s degree. However, there are all kinds of librarian jobs depending on what you specialize in, and each carries with it a certain level of experience. And when you combine that with moving every few years, people are less willing to take a chance on you. Even when we moved to Virginia 4 1/2 years ago, my career choice was still biting me in the butt. I couldn’t even get hired as a public librarian which killed me b/c if my master’s degree was supposed to enable me for anything, surely it was that, but it didn’t happen.

    About a year after moving here, I finally did land a great job being a law librarian which is what I wanted. What’s sad is in all the downtime I’ve had in each state where I couldn’t get employment in my field, I had just as hard of a time finding a job as a legal secretary. Apparently that isn’t so portable either when you move across states and aren’t familiar with local court rules and procedures unique to that area. Having 5 years of experience and typing 80 words per minute only gets you so far so I was unmarketable on that front as well.

    Like Tuck said, I want to use my degree b/c I worked hard to get it … I don’t want to have to settle for something, even though I know his Navy job takes precedence. I’ve never resented my choice to marry into the military or the part that the government plays in our daily lives. I chose to be with Obi-Wan b/c he is the one for me. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to accept the idea that milspouses should settle for employment that doesn’t cut it at the end of the day.

    Sorry for my long rant as well. 🙂

  3. April 7, 2009 1:44 pm

    Here’s another point to ponder… I think that all these tips about portable careers and so on are great for the ‘young’ folks. Women (guys too) that met their husbands (or wives) early in life or long before before they got their degrees (or started working towards one). This is a super way to get a new degree and be able to work withing the framework of the military.

    But here’s the issue. I met Swiss when I was 28. I had been out of college for almost 6 years and and finished my advance degree 3 years prior. I had an established career when I got into the military gig and lucky for me he is close to retirement, I can’t imagine what I would do if I was in your shoes TAWL (or any of the rest of you). There has to be a better solution for those of us who already have established our degrees. Like you said TAWL, we shouldn’t have to pay more to get a second degree that will pay us less. That is insane.

  4. The Army Wife permalink
    April 7, 2009 2:05 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, I luurve my hubs very much, and I would follow him to the end of the earth if he asked me to. But you’re right, Tuck, CAA and programs like it are great for the younger people, people who never went to college, etc. They are not great for those of us who were established pre-military life.

    I actually got an email a couple of weeks ago from a woman in NYC who worked in PR, was getting married, and moving to Ft. Rucker. She wanted to know what to do for her career, how she could find a way to transfer it. When I looked into her background a little more, she wasn’t JUST in PR. She had been a Vice President of a major recording label for 12 years, and was running her own PR agency out of NYC working with some VERY big name artists. She was going to give up that to move to Fort Rucker, where there’s nothing, and she was struggling with that. Understandably so! But when the military calls, and your loved one is a part of that, how do you chose? I felt bad because she asked for advice, and all I could tell her was that she was screwed.

    • April 7, 2009 2:23 pm

      I agree… I would follow Swiss wherever he goes. And that is why I am leaving my job here as soon as he gets home. But it is so sad that so many of us are, as you so correctly put it, screwed. It just isn’t fair that we have to choose between our husbands/families and our careers. What happend to having it all? What happened to having a great family, being in love, and having a job that you love? Is that just not a possibility for most in the military?

      I never thought I would end up at a place in my life where I have to make a choice between my husband and my career… don’t get me wrong, I’m more than glad to do it (honestly!), but didn’t we all grow up thinking we could have it all? And who is the Army (Navy, AF, Marines, etc) to tell me I can’t?

    • New Army Wife permalink
      January 4, 2011 9:12 pm

      I am so glad to see your comments. I am a new Army wife and not at all the traditional one! I have a business degree and a good career. I am totally happy with my job and where I live. We were married 9 years before my husband decided to change from National Guard to Active Duty Army. I have struggled with my resentment towards him for choosing the Army as a carrer and not considering mine. I have mistakenly let my husband PCS to a location while I have stayed behind to continue working. He has been gone for 3 months and I see that this will not be good for our marriage. I have decided to give up my career and start over.
      While part of our problem is due to decisions that we have made. I am glad to see that there are other spouses that are going the many of the same issues that I have had to go through. Thanks for posting!!

  5. April 7, 2009 3:05 pm

    I work at home and started out with direct sales, which really wasn’t for me. When we got married I was just shy my BA so went to school online – but have yet to finish due to several things, including kids, moving, and moving multiple times in a year. I like working online since it can move with me, but even that is tough sometimes.

    I know few people who are able to have jobs/careers in their field. I have several friends with degrees who aren’t working anywhere close to what they were trained to do, and others who don’t try because what’s the point of finding something great then moving again.

    I can think of two people I’ve met at our current duty station who at their last duty station were making *really* good money, and had to quit because of a PCS move. One of the girl was making a lot more then her active duty husband! I’d be upset to have to leave that for sure.

  6. April 7, 2009 4:01 pm

    Rucker? yeah, there’s nothing down there. I’m in a different boat, we were National Guard for so long that I got to be a paralegal for long enough that I’m now “Senior” paralegal… but with the layoffs in the legal field lately, that’s not safe either!

    When I talked to the EEOC folks yesterday, and the Dept of Labor guy – they were AMAZED that this is an issue. So – what can we do about it? Ideas welcome.

  7. April 7, 2009 4:07 pm

    One point – the Brits have a different way of running their military. The soldier is assigned to a specific battalion/regiment. and he/she stays there. The battalion is usually at a “home base” and when they move, the entire battalion moves. So if you are stationed with Unit X that is home based in Reading or Manchester, the family has a base, a place that is home, and the spouses can have a career in the same place. If the battalion rotates through Germany or somewhere else that is an accompanied tour, the spouse will then have to decide whether or not to go, but will know that the battalion will come back to the same town in Britain.

    I have always thought it made more sense – for the soldier and for the family.


    • April 7, 2009 4:12 pm

      Mrs. Matelot? Are you out there? Do tell, because man, THAT makes much more sense to me on so many levels.

    • April 7, 2009 5:29 pm

      Gaw- that makes SO much more sense… for spouse employment reasons, children having stability, making friends, the list goes on and on…

  8. April 7, 2009 7:05 pm

    Technically my job is portable. The reality, however, is that the face time and schmoozing is what helps get you ahead. The last two jobs I’ve gotten were word of mouth; I was recommended by senior people who’d worked closely with me. But now I’m just a spectral electronic presence in the hinterlands, and probably three quarters of the folks I work with wouldn’t know me on sight. Shouldn’t matter, but it does.

    I think the DoD programs are a great start, and I appreciate the military’s efforts — at least we’re past the idea that wives (and they were always “wives”) needed to do nothing but raise kids and volunteer like crazy, because she lived for her husband’s career.

    But as many others have pointed out, these efforts work better for the young ones. For someone who gets married at, say, 42 and has already built a career, seeing that first tax return — in which you realize you made more than the person you’ve sacrificed that career to follow — can be a shock.

    I hate to kvetch much without offering a workable solution, but in this case, I’m still imagining what that might be.

  9. Ava permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:57 am

    I live on the Marine Corps base in Hawaii and here, we have the CAA. Our education center sends out flyers and touts about getting spouses money for education often. They make it sound like one cannot lose and will get money for higher education.
    I started my junior year here at the University of Hawaii-West O’ahu and was, for the first time-denied any grants whatsoever. I was only offered loans. I applied for money through our education center and one of the counselors put “education” via a BA in Psychology as what I’ll be going to school for. Psychology isn’t a “portable” career, according to CAA but education is. While I wasn’t really going to use my degree for education the fact is that it can be used for education-as in, get a post BA certificate in teaching and teach in high school-and anyhow the counselor thought it’d go through and I’d be able to get the money. Nope. I got no money from them.
    Later a meeting was held where those of us who were denied financial help were able to come and comment in the hopes that the program could be better improved in the future. I came and said that a BA in Psychology actually can yeild many many jobs and that I, in fact, had an entire binder full of jobs that I could get with a BA in Psychology.
    I ahve become so full of anxiety at the prospects of not only employment, but also of fulfilling my educational pursuits that I eventually decided to double-major in Political Science as a way to vent my frustrations (makes for really great papers and projects too!). Haha, of course, Political Science wouldn’t be anything portable either.

  10. April 15, 2009 2:01 am

    Portability is a problem for many fields of study. I spent a year in Germany waiting for my “dream job” as well as a year in KS (never got a job here just waited a year and then PCS’d) and then finally at our current duty station it took me 3 months. I work for the Dept of Army as a civilian recruiter. Being a part of the milspouse world and part of the ‘establishment’ I can see both sides of a large problem.

    Once you get into government work it is much easier to stay in government work. Unfortunately it can be tough to get your foot in the door. President Bush did a approve an Executive Order to assist mil spouses and spouses of disabled veterans. It was set to be effective Mar 09 but the current administration put it (along with a lot of things so this isnt a dig) on hold pending review. I hope that President Obama’s administration can quickly get through the review process and get this EO out into the workforce.

    As for the most portable jobs it will be just about any professional position in the medical field. Nurses, LPNs, Docs, Dental Assistants, Hygenists, PAs, NPs, Pharmacists, Pharmacy Techs and even Cytotechs are eligible for a DoD program that basically says these positions are hard to fill therefore the manager can just place a person who meets the qualifications without have to go through the entire recruitment process.


  1. Military Spouse Employment Struggles « My Life As An Army Wife
  2. Alternative Army Wife’s Blog
  3. Milspouse Employment: Making a Living Wage «
  4. Milspouse Employment: Career Growth (pt3) «
  5. Milspouse Employment: Having it All (pt 4) «
  6. Milspouse Employment: What to Do (pt 5) «

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