Engaging armed forces spouses – the ultimate flexible talent pool

Paul Modley, Global Talent Acquisition Director & Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Alexander Mann Solutions discusses why forces partners are an untapped talent pool that employers should look to engage

Armed Forces spouses: The forgotten talent pool

There can be no doubt that we remain in a candidate led market. With more employers openly accepting the need to deliver a top-notch recruitment experience in order to attract top talent and a general feeling that competition for leading professionals is rife, ensuring we’re engaging with a wide network of individuals is a must.

Indeed, the need for greater diversity in our workplaces has arguably become one of the most discussed topics in business of late. But while it’s common to see recruiters talking about the need to engage with a range of under-represented groups, there’s one incredible pool of talent that often gets overlooked: armed forces spouses.

An under-represented group

Partners of those who have joined the armed forces undoubtedly face tough times. Aside from the general challenges and uncertainty that comes with mixing family life and the armed forces, they will also likely face a number of barriers to progressing their career. Perhaps the biggest of these to overcome is the constant moves from location to location as they follow their spouses’ postings.

However, in amongst this group of individuals there are numerous technical and transferable skills that employers are missing out on. There are teachers who have followed their husband’s armed forces career, struggling to find a job in education due to a lack of stability. And there are degree-educated professionals hungry for a chance to develop a career but who are unable to achieve these dreams because they have chosen to follow their wife on tour.

But in an increasingly flexible and mobile business environment, is it really acceptable that so few of these individuals are unable to utilise the skills they have for their own professional benefit and that of an organisation’s workforce strategies? I’d argue not. The fact is, it’s entirely possible to engage this talent group – and employers will find it hugely rewarding.

The success story: Recruit for Spouses

As a case in point, we work with Recruit for Spouses – an independent social enterprise that helps military spouses find a job or start a business that works for them. One of the most recent cohorts of applicants we worked with saw Rusila Halofaki join our team. Here’s her story:

When I first graduated from the University of the South Pacific, my plans were to follow in my parents’ footsteps and become a high school teacher. I did that for a few years before moving into international marketing. I then got married and moved to Cyprus to join my husband in his Armed Forces career. From Cyprus to Germany, I had administration roles and took a career break in Belgium before returning to the UK. Upon our return I took up the next available job working for the catering company in our camp before having to move again.”

For me the challenge was finding a job with such uncertainty in my family life – we could find ourselves needing to pack up and leave at any time, so there were limited roles available to me and certainly none that enabled me to truly utilise my skills or develop a career. As a result, my CV was a real mix of short positions and gaps in employment. I needed to know that I had some security for myself, my son and my husband should we need it, so I’d often take whatever role was available.”

Once we moved to the UK for my husband’s latest assignment, I went to the Unit Welfare office in our camp and saw a poster for Recruit for Spouses and decided to contact them on social media. As soon as I connected with this group I had access to the much-needed support of not only others in my situation, but also experts able to help me rebuild my professional confidence and get me in front of the right employers willing to give me the chance to develop a career.”

Once I got the assignment to work with Alexander Mann Solutions at the BAE Systems Recruitment Centre I was overjoyed. Being able to secure some form of security for my family is a huge weight off my shoulders and it gives me chance to better plan for my future. Perhaps more importantly, I finally have an employer who is willing to help me grow professionally and for the first time in a long while I have access to training and a career progression plan to work towards. It’s also clear to me that the company has fully embraced the benefits of flexible employment. While I’m working away from the office, I’m still made to feel part of the team and have access to colleagues at all times.”

Heledd Kendrick, CEO and Founder of Recruit for Spouses, added:

Rusila is just one of the many army spouses we’ve begun working with and seeing the impact it has on every one of them both personally and professionally is great. It’s all too easy to forget that this incredible pool of talent is out there and more often than not, eager to show employers what they can bring to the business. We just need to ensure they are given that chance.”

Attracting armed forces spouses

Rusila has brought valuable skills and experience to our team and we truly value the work she has delivered for us – and all it took was us giving her a chance and access to flexible working options to bring her on board. And that’s the crucial take away in my view. There’s no complex formula that needs to be implemented to attract these individuals – it’s simply a case of shifting mindsets to recognise that not only is there a wealth of highly desired skills available from this talent pool, but also that in many cases they simply need some flexibility in their role – something that is increasingly become the norm across the board.

And as more organisations find tapping into the global market a feasibility, having individuals on board who are not only experienced moving from country to country but also adept at coping with living and working in new cultures is, in my view, a no-brainer.

Of course, this all sounds relatively simple on paper, but I know all too well that the main barrier lies in the human psyche. The sooner we accept that armed forces spouses are an important talent pool that all businesses need to engage with, the sooner we’ll all reap the rewards.