Government initiatives and the language of veteran and military spouse employment in Australia

This week was an exciting week in veteran employment in Australia with the announcement by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of a new government initiative involving government engagement with industry in order to assist veterans find employment in the private sector. What I found especially pleasing was the language used by the PM in describing the initiative. He made it clear that this program was not introduced out of charity or philanthropy but out of recognition of the valuable skills that veterans have developed whilst serving in the ADF and the fact that these skills are valuable assets to private sector employers.  In other words, he made the business case for employing veterans.  Given that much of the dialogue in the media lately surrounding veterans has focused on the difficulties experienced by some veterans it was a refreshing change to hear of the benefits the vast majority of veterans can deliver employers. From my position as a provider of job search assistance to veterans I think this positive dialogue will go a long way to helping veterans find employment because they will be seen by potential employers as assets rather than a potential liability.

During his remarks Prime Minister Turnbull stated that:

“Service in the ADF is constantly changing, new challenges all the time. It imbues our servicemen and women with leadership, with the ability to understand and meet diverse and unexpected challenges in a volatile world, in a world of great disruption. Few are as well-endowed as they are to deal with that challenging environment.”

“What I want to encourage employers like yourselves to do is to open your doors to this talent pool, to consider how the leadership and the skills that veterans hold regardless of their core [sic] or their rank can benefit your organizations.”

“This is an untapped resource or insufficiently tapped resource that is available to business.”

Excitingly spouses of ADF members and veterans also got a mention:

“I have made this a Prime Minister’s initiative in order not only to raise awareness among the public and private sector employers of the value that our veterans represent, but to demonstrate that veterans and spouses of veterans and spouses of serving ADF personnel is a national priority that should be embraced by all sides of politics”

“Soldier On and J.P. Morgan have recently held discussions with business leaders about creating employment opportunities for veterans and their partners, whose careers too often are interrupted when their spouse or their partner is posted to a new location.”

You can read the PM’s full remarks here.

The acknowledgement by the PM of the disruption to military spouse careers is important in addressing the issue.  Although we’re lacking in data we know from anecdotal evidence and research from similar countries such as the USA and the UK that frequent relocations are a significant factor in spouse  underemployment and unemployment. Unfortunately though, the language surrounding military spouse employment in Australia hasn’t reached the same level of positivity.  The day prior to the PM’s announcement Channel 7’s Sunrise program discussed the veteran job plan and the benefits available to spouse’s under the scheme and stated that military spouses would have access to services in response to the role that they play for those in Defence. And in a Daily Telegraph article

“.. the program, to be outlaid by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on November 16 as part of the PM’s Veteran’s Employment Initiative, is not just for those who leave the military but also their spouses, formally recognising for the first time the sacrifice partners and families make to accommodate those from the ADF fighting for the nation’s interests.” You can read the full article here.

It is heartening to finally see some support for military spouse employment in Australia.  As I’ve discussed previously we lag far behind other similar countries in recognizing the effects of military life on spouse employment and the subsequent effects on individuals  and military families.  However, we need to recognize that there are many reasons that military spouse employment should be addressed in addition to the role spouses play in supporting their serving member and the ADF; not least of which is that, like veterans, there is a very good business case for employing military spouses.

In the US research by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) highlighted:

“that military spouses bring a variety of business enhancing characteristics to the workplace–such as diversity, resilience, adaptability and high civic-engagement– and offers a compelling business case to recruit and hire them”

The IVMF’s Dr Bradbard goes on to say that “although companies are beginning to understand the employment challenges of veterans transitioning to the workplace, they are somewhat less familiar with the challenges the spouses of active military service members face.”  Read the rest of the sourced article here.

If the PM, the government and Defence are serious about better supporting military families they need to pay serious attention to, and better understand, the employment challenges faced by military spouses and the impact they have on individuals and families. Whilst complementary to veteran employment, military spouse employment needs to be addressed as a distinct area of need in and of itself in order to improve military family outcomes, and policy needs to be grounded in a deep understanding of the issues.  A key component of improving spouse employment outcomes is improved engagement with employers and recognition of military spouses as assets to employers.


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