When your partner or spouse is serving it can feel as if your own job aspirations have to take a back seat. But supporting your soldier’s career shouldn’t mean you have to wave goodbye to your own, Jill Misson reports…
Caroline Rimmer (main photo) loves her job as a teacher but hasn’t spent more than 18 months in one school since getting married. She says: “The nomadic life has really impacted my work and the process of finding new jobs is exhausting. I look at friends who I started out with and feel jealous of their career progression. I’m just never anywhere for long enough to have a chance to apply for more senior roles.”
AFF Employment & Training Specialist Lucy Ritchie says: “Having to take a more junior post is frustrating and can make you feel devalued, as if your hard work and training was for nothing.”
This issue was highlighted in the Armed Forces Families Strategy which stated: “While not the case for all, there are non-serving partners and spouses who do experience difficulties maintaining a career commensurate with their skills and level of experience.” The Living in our Shoes report on military families has asked the single services to consider the need for postings every two years.
Bridging the gap
Maintaining a career can become even more complicated in another country where your qualifications may not be recognised. Anna Culver is a teacher who hopes to continue working when her husband is posted to the USA. She says: “I will investigate supply teaching but I understand gaining a work visa can be a lengthy process. I know of many teachers who are tutoring online so this is something I will consider.”
AFF’s Manager Overseas Esther Thomas is receiving an increasing number of questions from spouses about employment whilst posted overseas. She says: “They are trying to weigh up the pros and cons of giving up their jobs in the UK for two-three years.” If you’re hoping to work remotely for a UK company whilst overseas you’ll need to research the tax implications, regulations in the host nation and your UK employer’s responsibilities. AFF’s Policy & Research Director Michelle Alston adds: “This is a complex area which AFF has raised with the MOD for some time, leading to some interim guidance being published but we continue to push for clear FAQs to ensure families can make informed decisions.”
Although it isn’t an option in all professions, the boom in homeworking has been beneficial for many. Emma Slade-Jones, an RAF veteran now working in the education sector, says: “I work remotely from home in a job that can move with me when my husband is posted. It gives me continuity with one employer, with the opportunity for career development.”
Emma previously faced awkward questions at job interviews with employers who didn’t have an understanding of military life. She says: “I have been asked about my employment history, why I have moved so often and when I’m likely to move again. I’ve sometimes felt the need to be dishonest.”
Forces Families Jobs, which now has more than 11,500 registered job seekers, connects spouses and partners with employers who have signed the Armed Forces Covenant. Administrator Sarah Johnson says: “Registering with the site is a great way for employers to promote their organisation and showcase their commitment to our community. Many of them recognise the value of offering flexible working and enabling a spouse or partner to take their work with them when they move, or transfer to another role.”
Defence Relationship Management has a network of account managers who speak to employers about recruiting military spouses, and about how to support them once they are on the payroll.
Nat Haynes from DRM says: “As a direct result of our engagement with employers, we have seen programmes being set up – from guaranteed interview schemes to specific military spouse recruitment programmes. This is so promising and is being adopted by more and more companies.”
The Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) rewards the UK’s most supportive employers, starting at Bronze for those who are pledging to be supportive and going up to Silver and Gold where the criteria get more demanding.
Retail recruiter Romy Sykes was able to continue her career with Silver awardwinning company B&Q when her husband was posted. She says: “They were really understanding of my situation and helped match my experience to a role they had available. I’m really grateful to be able to do a job I love for a company who are sensitive to our lifestyle.”
Gold award holder Fujitsu employs Anna Stone as a principal integration engineer. She says: “It is challenging balancing military family life and a full-time career.
“At short notice my husband can be deployed away for long periods so having an employer who completely understands and is open and flexible is utterly invaluable. Employment is so much more than just a job, it gives a sense of belonging, a support network in stressful times and most of all a feeling of achievement.”
Getting back on track
Being out of work can lead to a lack of self-confidence and a loss of identity. You can log onto Forces Families Jobs to find out about opportunities for training including programmes specifically tailored towards military spouses.
Lee Johnston from RFEA, The Forces Employment Charity, explains: “Some people come to us genuinely feeling that their careers are over.
“We take them through whatever steps they need to achieve their goals with a range of support services, from career diagnostics and recognising skill sets, to job searches, CV reviews, interview preparation, self-esteem building and signposting to wellbeing support.”
Many of you choose to live apart in exchange for the stability of living in your own home and not having to move schools. However, unaccompanied postings don’t always allow you to find a job.
“I have always been alone with two children during the week, more during deployment, so I can’t rely on my husband for assistance,” says Camille Allen, who had to give up a career in the care sector as the unsociable hours weren’t compatible with solo parenting.
She adds: “It left me on zero-hours contracts doing jobs I was over-qualified for and no career progression.” Camille decided to retrain as a singing teacher and now works term-time only for Razzamataz: “I have a real sense of belonging because it’s a permanent role where I’m treated as capable and reliable.”
Although many of you find ways to fit your career around your soldier’s job, policies have now been developed which could make it easier in future. Flexible Service allows service personnel to reduce the number of days a week they work and limit the type of separation they undertake.
This also includes Flexible Working which allows a soldier, with the support of their chain of command, to adjust working practices such as agreeing variable start and finish times, or changing their working location. Defence is also in the process of piloting the wraparound childcare initiative to provide funding for up to 20 hours a week of breakfast and after-school clubs for eligible service children aged 4-11.
“These initiatives should have a positive impact on morale,” says Major James Boggs from the Personnel Directorate.
“It should empower service personnel to engage with the chain of command to discuss their personal situations to find the best ways to support both their own career and that of their spouse or civil partner.”
More to do
AFF welcomes the developments. Michelle Alston says: “We are pleased that the issue of wraparound childcare has been recognised by the MOD but this does not address early years childcare when a spouse may be looking to return to work, nor the significant challenges of covering school holidays. The Living in our Shoes report also asked the MOD to consider how the variations in childcare costs at different locations could be addressed so that mobile families aren’t disadvantaged.”
Lucy Ritchie adds: “Employers used to focus on veterans and service leavers with very little recognition for families who have a very different set of challenges.
“This has changed dramatically over the last few years due to the work of various organisations and their engagement with employers. That’s not to say there isn’t work still to be done.”
With more support available than ever before, now could be the time to revive your career. Go to forcesfamiliesjobs.co.uk and take a look at our employment & training pages 18 to 19 for inspiration.