Military spouse Jared Payzant now works his dream job in the Harker Heights Parks and Recreation Department, but finding employment in Central Texas was not easy.
“When I first arrived in May, I had already been looking for employment and I felt like I was getting nowhere,” he said.
Payzant is not alone in his struggle to find a job. A 2013 study by the Military Officers Association of America revealed nearly 90 percent of military spouses feel they are underemployed, taking jobs below their experience and education levels. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey found unemployment for military spouses ages 18 to 24 is about 30 percent, nearly three times higher than the unemployment rate for civilians of the same age group.
For Payzant, success came down to his job-search methods.
“As time went on, it was all in how I applied myself ... and put myself out there,” he said.
Initially, he dropped off applications at nearly 20 locations, but making phone calls and forging personal connections are what led to a payoff for Payzant. Seeking employment was “a process,” he said.
Fort Hood is the third duty station for him and his wife. Previously, Payzant worked for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation in Garmisch, Germany. Overseas, “you had to know the right people at the right time,” he said. Though the job opportunities surrounding Fort Hood may not be ideal, they are there, Payzant said.
Prior to working for Harker Heights, he performed temporary jobs with the Killeen Police Department and Sam’s Club.
“I took what I could get, and I don’t think everybody will do that ... take what you can get until you get what you want,” he said.
Recently, the Defense Department increased initiatives to assist both veterans and spouses in finding suitable employment.
Hero2Hired is a free online portal started within the past two years. It offers job-seeking services and listings to spouses, service members and veterans. The program includes a mobile job van that travels to posts across the country, offering in-person services. The van saw nearly 90 spouses and veterans when it visited Fort Hood in January, making up 20 percent of its total visitors.
Launched Jan. 10, My Individual Career Plan is aimed directly at assisting spouses in developing a long-term career.
“MyICP allows spouses to build a virtual career road map based on their specific goals and objectives,” said Lee McMahon, a program analyst for the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program. “SECO provides expert career and education guidance to military spouses worldwide, supporting them in four career life-cycle stages: career exploration, education, training and licensing, employment readiness and career connections.”
Willing to work
Amy Cyr found a job on “day one” of moving to Killeen in November 2009. Like Payzant, she was willing to accept work even if it wasn’t her ideal job.
“I’d been in human resources for eight years (in Massachusetts) before moving to Texas,” Cyr said. She began looking for a job two months before moving, familiarizing herself with the options available locally.
“I realized I wasn’t going to find a job in HR right away,” she said, so she turned to retail, an industry she had prior experience in.
On Cyr’s first day in Killeen, she went to the Killeen Mall armed with a tailored resume and dressed for an interview. She was offered a job that day.
“I took that job though it was not necessarily what I wanted to do, (but) I didn’t give up. Every week I was going online, going to job fairs and still working at the same time,” she said.
Within six months, Cyr got another job offer at a call center. She kept both jobs for a time, before eventually transitioning to the call center full time. She went on to be promoted and became a recruiter in human resources.
“I knew I had to do what I had to do,” she said.
One barrier standing in the way of spouses seeking employment is certifications and licensure.
Moving from state to state, spouses in fields such as education and health care must continually work to ensure their certifications are up to date.
Megan Fallone, wife of an air defense soldier, turned to home businesses in the wake of moving to Texas with an unusable New York physical education teacher certification.
“With New York having one of the highest, (most) challenging education requirements, it surprises me,” Fallone said.
Though she knows she could get “emergency certified” in Texas and then complete a state certification in a designated time period, she believes it is easier for people doing the hiring to choose someone who is already locally certified when assessing a large number of applicants. Fallone calls it “human nature.”
“Why would an employer want a candidate who would potentially move within the next year or so over someone who grew up here or is not planning to follow a spouse?” Fallone asked. “In a military town, the job pool is even tougher because it is a more saturated area.”
The Fallones were last stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and seeking employment in education was much easier there, she said.
“There was a higher level of understanding and embracing of military spouses,” Fallone said. At Fort Bragg, military spouses and veterans were given preference on applications. Though no physical education positions were open during her time at there, Fallone was able to serve as a long-term substitute.
With a baby on the way, Fallone started selling Mary Kay products to supplement her husband’s income.
“The work I put into it is truly what I get out of it,” she said. “Although it is not my dream job, it allows me to enjoy my time with my husband while he is home, creating a safety net for the growing family.”
Melissa Carmona has yet to find fulfilling employment in Central Texas after three years of searching.
With a master’s degree in business administration and prior military experience, she repeatedly has been told she is overqualified.
“I would love to have a decent paying job, but it doesn’t seem possible here in Killeen,” Carmona said.
With two kids, her family cannot afford to live off her husband’s salary alone.
“For right now, I’m a mom actively looking for a job that doesn’t only pay for day care and gas for my car,” she said.
Carmona performed seasonal work for Amazon and a local travel office, but received no viable full-time offers.
“I sometimes feel like my degree has been a downfall. It’s a good thing and it’s a curse,” she said.
Moving forward, Carmona is broadening her job search beyond Killeen. She is applying for jobs in Waco and Temple and said she would consider moving with her children to Dallas or Houston.
“I’m not opposed to relocating within Texas,” she said. “If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t mind taking a job that wasn’t paying the best. But with kids and day care and ABA therapy for my son with autism, there’s a lot of things to factor in.”