What We Are Learning From Employing American Military Spouses

digital divide data

Based on the headlines I've read recently, the news is good on the unemployment front. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent summary report, the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.8 percent -- the lowest it has been since 2008. But there is at least one community that may not have gotten their fair share of the 320,000+ new jobs added in November 2014 alone: military spouses.

More than 750,000 spouses of men and women serving in the military face significant obstacles in pursuing their own careers. Frequent changes of station of their active duty partners contribute to patchy resumes, and they cannot simply pick up and move to locations with more or better jobs. Although 96 percent of military spouses in a survey conducted by Syracuse University possessed some college credit or more, they were three times more likely to be unemployed, and among those female military spouses who were employed, 90 percent were underemployed. Why? Because most employers cannot structure a work environment to suit their needs when their spouses are deployed, and middle management often prefer civilian candidates who are more likely to remain in the area.

That is exactly where Digital Divide Data (DDD), the social enterprise I co-founded in 2001, fits in. We are driven to help people create better futures through education and employment in our business that delivers digital services to clients around the world.

We started in Cambodia in 2001. In a country still recovering from the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime, young people had opportunities for training, but no jobs once they graduated. We emulated India's business process outsourcing (BPO) model -- outsourcing companies' internal processes to third parties offshore -- first in Cambodia, then in Laos and Kenya. As a result, we employed 2000+ youth, more than 800 of whom have now graduated from our work-study program with college degrees and much higher incomes.

Since we started, DDD has often thought about the opportunity to bring this kind of program home to help Americans. We learned that American corporations are eager to make a difference for veterans and military spouses -- they just need a vehicle to tap into the talents of the military community -- in a way that meets business objectives. So when the opportunity arose to expand our business into the U.S. by creating a business process outsourcing (BPO) company that harnesses military spouses' talents this year, we launched Liberty Source, a public benefit corporation, based in historic Fort Monroe, Virginia. Liberty Source delivers processes such as finance and accounting services to clients seeking a flexible, cost-effective solution that not only creates social impact, but also gives corporations the opportunity to keep delivery of some of their key businesses processes onshore.

Although it's early in Liberty Source's history, we have already seen that it makes a difference by creating opportunities for military spouses -- and it also makes good business sense. Here's what we're learning:

Eagerness to Put Education to Work

Over three quarters of our workforce have post secondary education, yet many of the spouses are in their first professional position, performing business-critical tasks for a major corporation. They want to put their skills to use and manage their careers effectively. When we started to hire the Liberty Source team, we worked in partnership with organizations serving the military community. Within two months, we hired a team of 100 to staff our operations. We were impressed with the level of education, the strong communication skills, and, most importantly, the can-do attitude of our applicants.

A Ready-to-Learn Workforce

A critical success factor for Liberty Source is the ability to train staff, not only on technical work but also on soft skills such as customer service. Ramping up a BPO organization means that our staff must be prepared to pick up new skills very quickly. We have found that our team is ready to learn new skills because of their adaptability and resiliency.

Committed Team Members

As military spouses, our employees have a strong commitment to mission, a "whatever it takes" attitude. We are working hard to channel that energy and dedication to benefit our clients, and also foster professional career paths for our team. There is no question that our spouses are committed to getting a foot on the first rung of the career ladder; our job is to design and develop career paths that lead them into satisfying work, no matter where their spouses' work takes them.

What we are finding through our Liberty Source experience mirrors our experience abroad -- people flourish when they have a line of sight to better prospects through employment and training. Whether putting high school graduates to work in Africa or Asia or employing military spouses at home, creating impact is a global business. I hope you'll consider joining us in our effort to make a difference by employing military spouses this coming year.

Digital Divide Data is a partner of Cisco CSR. Cisco sponsors The Huffington Post's ImpactX section.