By Scott Prater
FORT CARSON, Colo. — With all of the options to consider nowadays, researching fields of study and navigating through the decision-making process can oftentimes be overwhelming for military spouses who want to advance their education.
Would pursuing a bachelor’s degree make sense, for instance, or would specific professional certifications be the proper course? And, where is one to start? What is the first step in the right direction?
“Everyone is different: your journey to discovering what you want to do may not look like everyone else’s journey, and that’s perfectly fine,” said Janet Farley, a job coach and Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center employment specialist. “A good first question to ask yourself is ‘where do you ultimately see yourself professionally?’”
Similarly, Randy Phelan, supervisory education services specialist at Fort Carson’s Education Center says he asks potential students to identify their long-term goals.
Ultimately, most spouses seeking to continue their education are doing so for career reasons. So it’s helpful to identify a desired career field.
But, that presents yet another problem, at least for some. Many spouses know they will likely need some education or advanced skills, but aren’t sure of their talents or interests.
“It’s important to take some time and to identify specific career fields that you think might interest you,” Farley said. “Draw up a short list of job titles that appeal to you on the surface and then find successful people who work in those jobs and interview them. Get smart about the pros and cons of those jobs so you can bounce the possibility of actually doing them off your basic gut check.”
Local post or base education centers can also help students identify their interests.
“Education center staff can talk to spouses about their goals and help do what we call ‘reverse planning,’” Phelan said. “The next step (for potential students) is building that road map to get to their goal. Having that reverse plan helps show where they are right now.”
Spouses can obtain help in a number of different ways. They can visit https://www.militaryonesource.mil/, or the employment readiness program at their local military installation. Family support centers, such as Army Community Service or Airmen and Family Readiness Centers, can provide direction and assistance as well.
Local military and veterans nonprofit assistance agencies also can impart knowledge and information. Mt. Carmel, for instance offers a specific Military Spouse Career Program, where staff use a couple of different assessment tools to help spouses reach a better starting point.
Within today’s technological and social framework, career choices run the gamut, and many of the most in-
demand career fields require some level of advanced education or expertise.
Farley recommends spouses first examine their motivations when considering a career.
What do you see as your goal in pursuing a particular career path? Are you chasing the dollars or are you purpose driven here? Have you found a perfect mix of the two?
“Know what’s out there,” Farley said. “Know what drives you. Figure out how you can get there and make sure you are open to adjustments along the way. You might think getting from point A to point B is linear. It seldom is; however, and those swerves and dips can actually lead you to where you’re really supposed to be.”
Conducting a reverse plan and asking oneself identifying questions can lead to a host of options. Many of these options include vocational training or career specific training.
“Having an academic degree is great but some career fields put more emphasis on having the right certifications,” Farley said.
For example, if someone wants to be a program manager, the PMP certification is a must. If you have an interest in human resources, the PHR will open doors. If someone is into information Technology, then the CompTIA A+ certification can help.
“Spouses can find out which certificates are in demand by looking at job postings and then connecting with professional associations who can either offer the certifications or direct them to other avenues that do,” she said.
Of course, completing a degree, certificate or training can be expensive. But, there are funding sources available throughout the community.
Grants, scholarships and loans are good sources, and spouses can connect with the installation education center nearest them for more information on funding programs.
“Some spouses may also have access to Post 9/11 GI Bill and/or the transferability of the GI Bill through their sponsor,” she said. “Industry specific organizations may also be able to point spouses to funding sources.”
The Pikes Peak Workforce Center might be helpful as well, and non-profits, such as Mt. Carmel may have access to financial support through state-funded grants for veterans and their families.
Fort Carson’s Education Center, (open to spouses and families of all military branches), also hosts the TRiO Educational Opportunity Center, which helps potential students apply for financial aid, find scholarships, locate college preparation and support programs and enroll in GED programs, among other services, at no charge.
When choosing a school, it’s important to ensure it is accredited and reputable, but since spouses move often it’s also important to consider mobility.
“In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter what (spouses) studied or what career field they called their own,” Farley said.
It would be nice if the education program traveled with the spouse easily through their permanent change of station moves. That isn’t always the case, though.
“If one is just starting their education and training for a particular career path, then they should do their best to get as far along in the process as they can before the move,” Farley said. “Spouses should ensure, before they even start a program, that they have the ability to finish from afar or be willing and prepared to have their sponsor be a (geographic bachelor) for a while until they can complete the program requirements.”