By: 2019 Veteran Fellow sponsored by Smithfield Foods, Laura Renner, Founder of Freedom Makers
Growing up as an Army brat, I saw my mom struggle with finding work when we moved from duty station to duty station. When I grew up and joined the Air Force, I saw friends and my colleagues’ spouses struggle to find meaningful employment as well.
After I was out of the Air Force, I was running a recruiting business for small business owners when my brother, who is active-duty Air Force, received orders to move. I found myself having the all too familiar conversation with my sister-in-law about what she was going to do for work at their next duty station and what a challenge it was. Meanwhile in my business life, I had been thinking about offering virtual assistant services to business owners who were not ready to commit to hiring an employee, but rather needed help on a part time or even shorter basis. It occurred to me that within the military spouse community, there was an untapped resource of talent that I could pair with the unmet needs of small business owners.
To be honest, when I first started offering the virtual assistant services, I thought the biggest problem for military spouses was the challenge of looking for work so often. According to a survey done by Blue Star Families, 79% of military spouses reported a negative impact to their career due to being a military spouse. Be it promotion, licensing issues, or lack of appropriate employment, military spouses face an unemployment rate of between 18-30% which is much higher than the national unemployment rate. As I met more spouses, I learned it is worse than that, much worse.
– Many bases are located in smaller, more rural communities, so the job opportunities are sparse. It is hard to progress in your career, because the opportunities near each base are limited and not the same.
– Many employers, to this day, are not set up to utilize remote workers effectively. So even if someone gets to keep their job and work from home, it may not last long.
– Additionally, employers shy away from hiring spouses since they know they will leave at some point.
– Military spouses must contend with short-notice moves and the length of time to transfer licenses across states.
– Military spouses come from a myriad of backgrounds all over the world. So many have advanced degrees that they earned either before meeting their active duty spouse or earned while being married to them. To find work that will allow them to use these degrees–meaningful work–is difficult. Yes, there are jobs but meaningful a lot of times is the key word.
– Military spouses learn to be resilient without any drill sergeants teaching them. But finding meaningful and flexible work can be an insurmountable challenge that no one can teach or learn. They have unique challenges in maintaining a life and home when their spouse’s duty is all encompassing.
When I shifted from the recruiting business to solely offering virtual assistant services, freedom became a guiding principle for how we run the business. That became even more crucial as I grew to know more military spouses. Freedom Makers is structured to offer as much flexibility as possible. It is our goal to allow military spouses to keep working while balancing moves, solo parenting while the service member is deployed, working from home with kids, and a whole host of other unique issues.
Over time, we have learned the needs of small business owners, particularly solopreneurs. We continue to refine how we operate and how we support military spouses and small business owners. Going through The Global Good Fund Fellowship has had a profound impact in helping me work with my team to determine the best way forward, getting us farther and faster toward our vision.