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Military spouse jobs go beyond the home

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According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Veterans and Military Families unemployment rates of females married to active-duty service members are roughly 32 percent.

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When service members introduce themselves, most of the time a rank and specialty are given.

For some spouses of those service members, the thing immediately following their name is “stay at home parent.”

Many feel there is no other choice because of the transient lifestyle the military forces families to live, making it difficult to establish work.

According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Veterans and Military Families unemployment rates of females married to active-duty service members are roughly 32 percent.

Childcare cost and unavailability, frequent moves, deployments and trainings make it difficult for some spouses to find a job adaptive to their lifestyle.

So Lakesah Cole created her own.

Lakesha Cole, owner of She Swank Too, opened the children’s boutique in 2009 online while stationed at one of nearly half a dozen homes in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Cole’s husband has been an active-duty Marine for 16 years, his career taking their family of five to Virginia, Japan and now back to Jacksonville.

On Nov. 12, She Swank Too, opened its doors — at 715 Gum Branch Rd., Unit 6 in Jacksonville — for the first time on North Carolina soil.

Cole struggled to find work early into her military lifestyle, giving her the push she needed to step outside of her comfort zone and start her own business.

“I had a degree, I had a great resume and I thought I had some great hiring potential, but it just was not happening,” Cole said. “I’ve always had a passion for business and thought entrepreneurship would be a path I’d take eventually. Early on I didn’t have the resources or the confidence to do it on my own.”

Starting the business online, Cole found success and confidence to open the first brick-and-mortar location of the store in Okinawa, Japan.

Their family’s newest set of orders brought them back to Jacksonville, where Cole graduated high school.

A kind of homecoming, Cole immediately began looking for a location for She Swank Too to serve the community.

It took only 30 days to find a storefront, Cole said, even before housing was established for the family.

Cole will be the first to admit that re-establishing a business every few years on top of settling a family after a move is not easy, but she said finding a job and finding success if possible for any military spouse.

“There is no such thing as a perfect job or opportunity or timing,” Cole said. “If you can’t find a job, volunteer. All of that work matters. You have to keep going. You have to keep building your network. I have always said, ‘Build it before you need it.’ You need your network. You need your village to find success.”

She Swank Too is a vehicle for Cole and her business to give back to the community she said, carrying handmade items created by fellow military spouses.

“She Swank is about creating goodwill in the community and inspiring others to become entrepreneurs as well,” Cole said.

Assistance available

Military installations across the United States have seen the higher than normal unemployment rates for spouses of those serving the country.

But there is help. Onward to Opportunity, for example, is a 15-module employment program for spouses and military members with significant education experience transitioning out of the military in six months. On Nov. 2 Gov. Pat McCrory announced the partnership of O2O with North Carolina for Military Employment.

“In the next five years, thousands of military members and their families will transition to civilian life,” Cornell Wilson, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Military & Veterans Affairs said. “For many, finding employment will be the most challenging part of their transition. Preparing these young service members and their spouses for civilian job opportunities through a program like O2O is a win-win for both our state and our military installations.”

As part of its own mission to assist those spouses wishing to seek employment, the Marine Corps established the Family Member Employment Assistance Program.

FMEAP consists of three elements: employment resources, career education and training and career coaching.

Camp Lejeune has partnered with Coastal Carolina Community College to help spouses further their education and potential certifications to make them more marketable in the field.

After a series of classes through FMEAP, students are then offered a continuing education course at CCCC.

“We have had 67 individuals report back that they were hired after using our services in 2016, although we are confident that there are many more successful candidates from whom we have not yet heard,” Jennifer Ormsby Personal and Professional Development advisor for FMEAP said.

For Gretchen Bennett, the very idea of getting back into the career field was overwhelming after spending nearly two decades dedicated to her children as a stay-at-home-mom.

“From the minute I started taking the classes, I started learning new things and started to feel more confident and more knowledgeable about getting out there in the workforce,” Bennett said.

Any spouse who goes through FMEAP courses learns valuable interviewing skills, conflict resolution within the workforce and resume assistance, Bennett said.

The courses went through the basics of job hunting and making the students marketable to employers.

Bennett has a college degree but knew that a career in her field of broadcast journalism would be out of the question.

FMEAP’s initial personality test and career pairing helped her determine a path as a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant would be her next step.

“I haven’t had an interview in over 20 years. This class was a huge confidence booster,” she said. “I am still looking for a job, but feel like those classes gave me a foundation for what I need to do moving forward with my search.”

The whole process can feel overwhelming, Ormsby said, especially in a military area and when many spouses sacrifice their own careers and dreams for those of their service member.

“Offering this discovery and the excited phone calls and emails exclaiming that they ‘got the job’ are so rewarding,” she said.

Source: JDNews.com