By Senator Roy Blunt
The Labor Department reported recently that the number of job openings in America exceeded the number of unemployed people by the largest margin on record. In April there were 7.4 million unfilled jobs across the country and only 5.8 million people looking for work.
When I talk to employers in Missouri, they say one of their biggest challenges is finding workers with the right skills. Military spouses and veterans who already have the right skills can be one of the first places to find trained and ready workers.
A report last year by the Council of Economic Advisers estimated that military spouses are unemployed at a rate double or triple the rest of the population. They tend to have higher rates of education and solid work records. But because they may have to move every two or three years as their husband or wife is reassigned, they often struggle to find their place in the job market.
One frustrating hurdle is occupational licensing requirements that states impose. These regulations mandate special certification for people to work in hundreds of different jobs, like teachers, lawyers, nurses, security guards and hairstylists. Some of these requirements make sense, but they also can become needlessly high barriers for people trying to land a job. An applicant may have to pay high fees, spend months getting additional training, and take multiple exams — all to do a job they’ve already been doing successfully in another state.
These licensing requirements are a burden on anyone moving to another state, but they are particularly difficult on military spouses who may go through the process each time their spouse is reassigned. For them to spend six months getting certified to do a job that they may hold for only another year and a half is unrealistic.
Missouri took an important step earlier this year by allowing military spouse attorneys to apply for temporary admission to practice law in the state. In January, Missouri admitted the first attorney under the new rule while her husband is stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.
This kind of policy makes Missouri a more attractive place for military families, and it allows us to benefit from the professional talents of our new residents.
The federal government has a role to play as well in helping service members and their families relocate when it works better for a spouse’s job or their children’s schooling. In 2017, President Trump signed a bill I introduced called the Military Family Stability Act. It gives families more flexibility to move early or remain at their current duty station for up to six months when they get a new assignment. It means spouses have a little more flexibility to pursue their career and education.
The National Defense Authorization Act the Senate just passed includes several provisions to make it easier for military spouses to transfer their occupational licenses when they move. Every step we can take in that direction is a win for military families.
Bringing down licensing barriers will also help make the job search easier for our veterans when they leave the service. If someone has been a medical technician in the military, they should be able to get certified to do that job in the private sector very quickly in any state. The same is true for electricians, truck drivers and many other jobs.
The appropriations subcommittee I chair has increased resources for veteran-focused employment training as service members transition to the civilian workforce. Last year we started a pilot program to facilitate veterans’ apprenticeship opportunities through the Veterans Transition Assistance Program.
Helping veterans advance their careers was also the goal of the Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Military Veterans program Congress created in 2017. This program recognizes private employers that make veterans’ hiring and career development a priority. In its first year, 239 employers were honored for their veteran hiring practices.
The mission of our military has changed over the years, and we need to make sure the policies affecting their families keep pace. We should do all we can to provide the support military families and veterans deserve. It’s not only the right thing to do for them, it’s a good thing for our economy. Our nation will be stronger because of it.