Why the PEAP program is essential but not enough to address ADF partner employment challenges

This article first appeared on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/partner-employment-assistance-program-peap-essential-enough-mccue/. It has been edited slightly for the current format

by focusing on the empowerment/DIY job readiness solution to ADF partner employment, we are holding partners themselves responsible for their employment woes (and making them responsible for fixing it) whilst at the same time removing the responsibility from other actors who could make a positive difference.

I have discussed at length in my Churchill Fellowship report and elsewhere why ADF partner employment is of concern to ADF families, and why as a result it should be a greater concern for the Department of Defence and the wider Australian community. Briefly, it is a quality of life issue for ADF families and as such influences family health and wellbeing, readiness, Defence recruitment, retention and ultimately capability and national security. Outside of Defence it is a labour force participation and gender equality concern. I have been advocating for greater acknowledgment of the complexities of the issue, including the factors that influence partner unemployment, underemployment and job dissatisfaction, and for more comprehensive solutions.

Current Department of Defence support is provided via the Partner Employment Assistance Program. This funding program is available to ADF partners who are relocating as a result of a service posting, and more recently, to partners of ADF members who are transitioning on medical grounds. Partners can receive up to $1500 to access professional employment services, including but not limited to, resume preparation, creation of online employment profiles, interview coaching, etc. As a qualified career development practitioner I applaud Defence Community Organisation’s acknowledgement that seeking professional career support improves employment outcomes. Just last year the Career Development Association of Australia shared research findings that job seekers who receive career development support are 2.67x more likely to find work (1). It is a much needed program according to data from the 2017 ADF Families Survey. According to the survey report only a minority of partners who had difficulties finding employment were aware of, or used, employment support services (2). As someone who provides career assistance to PEAP recipients I have seen first hand how working with a career professional can help a Defence partner understand and market their skills, increase their confidence and develop new job search skills. It’s a valuable program that I would like to see expanded even further to be available to any ADF partner who needs career support at any time throughout their ADF family journey (in a similar manner to the same as the US system). But no matter how much this program is expanded it won’t be enough to “fix” spouse unemployment and underemployment because individual readiness and responsibility is only one part of the puzzle. 

As career guidance expert Tristram Hooley states “career is the individual’s journey through life learning and work. But it is not a journey undertaken alone. Career is where the individual interacts with other people, organizations, structures and wider societies” (3). The fact remains that ADF partners face systemic barriers to employment such as resumes that don’t meet traditional recruiting standards and expectations due to multiple jobs and frequent job changes, relocating to areas with high unemployment or where a partner’s occupation isn’t available, employer bias (either conscious or unconscious), and the need for flexible work practices to accommodate the large, additional workload that comes from ADF member absence from home.

Further, research indicates that focusing on individual empowerment may in fact detract from addressing influential systemic barriers. Research by Duke University Department of Neuroscience professors shows that

“overemphasizing messages of individual female empowerment diminishes people’s sense of systemic obstacles that require social redress. It puts major historic problems on the shoulders of individuals, who are actually minor players…Empowerment advice for women provides an ‘illusion of control’ that’s not realistic.” The researchers went on to say that “We suspected that by arguing that women can solve the problems themselves, advocates of the ‘DIY’ approach may imply that women should be the ones to solve it – that it is their responsibility to do so” (4).

Applying this research to the ADF partner community (the overwhelming majority of whom are women) raises the concern that by focusing on the empowerment/DIY job readiness solution to ADF partner employment, we are holding partners themselves responsible for their employment woes (and making them responsible for fixing it) whilst at the same time removing the responsibility from other actors who could make a positive difference.

I strongly advocate for a two-pronged approach (3 if you include advocacy) of

1. improving individual employment readiness and empowering ADF partners to effectively plan and manage their careers, and

2. addressing the systemic barriers to employment.

Of the countries I visited as part of my Churchill Fellowship Australia is the only one that does not address systemic barriers by having a formal program in place for connecting military spouse job seekers with military spouse friendly employers, and educating employers on the ways to recruit and importantly retain military spouse talent. In the US the Military Spouse Employment Partnership has ~400 companies committed to hiring military spouses. Last year in Canada the Military Spouse Employment Network was launched to replace the defunct METSpouse program. And in the UK Recruit for Spouses has been instrumental in advocating for and finding suitable employment for military spouses. In addition, this September will see the launch of the Forces Family jobs network by the three UK Families Federations.

At one point in time Australia did offer this important connection via DCO, and currently some ESOs extend their veteran services to families of current-serving members. However, in the interest of ensuring programs are engaging, relevant and effective, and for them to have impact on Defence recruitment and retention it is imperative that specific programs that create and foster mutually-beneficial relationships between ADF partner jobseekers and Australian employers seeking quality talent are created, funded and delivered. In particular it is important that these programs focus on the unique needs of ADF partners namely job portability and flexible work practices.

Flexible work arrangements are a key factor for facilitating Defence partner employment by breaking down some of the traditional barriers to employment. Flexible work hours and leave policies, remote work options, job sharing etc will all help ADF partners better balance/juggle/blend/integrate their paid and unpaid career life roles. We also need to ensure that as much as possible the flexible work practices and arrangements such as the Total Workforce Model offered by Defence are promoted to and taken up by Defence members in order to more evenly distribute the unpaid workload within ADF families which negatively impacts partner employment.

#YourADF #DefenceFamilies #ADFpartners #ADFpartneremployment #MilitarySpouseEmployment #FWDay2019 #Flexwork #genderequality

References:

  1. Whiston, S. C., Li, Y., Goodrich Mitts, N., & Wright, L. (2017). Effectiveness of career choice interventions: A meta-analytic replication and extension. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 100, 175–184.
  2. Atkins S, Beach R, Marskell J and Tuddenham E (2017). 2017 ADF Families Survey. Directorate of People Intelligence and Research DPIR PUB No. 51/2017. Australian Government
  3. Hooley, T (2019). Career guidance for Social Justice. Presented at the University of Melbourne Assessment Research Centre and Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy 18 Nov 2019.
  4. https://qz.com/work/1363399/all-career-advice-for-women-is-a-form-of-gaslighting/


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