An Overview of Family Member Employment

As part of my series on family member employment, I have been engaged in many conversations with FS spouses/partners. It quickly became obvious to me that an important first step toward improving the employment situation is to take a closer look at the information we currently have on working family members. That information is summarized in this article, accompanied by important (and often overlooked) resources for spouses/partners who are seeking employment both at post and in the US. Most of the information comes from the Family Liaison Office (FLO). When possible, I include an Internet link.

What Do We (Not) Know about Family Member Employment?

FLO collects data twice a year on family member employment in the Family Member Employment Report (FAMER). The FAMER for each post is available on FLO’s Intranet site and an overview of all posts, the “Worldwide Family Member Employment Report” is publicly available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/182647.pdf.

The Report shows that last year, 11,462 spouses/partners were posted overseas. Twenty-six percent worked inside the Mission and 12 percent worked in the local economy. It is important to note that “spouses/partners” are defined as “adult family members on travel orders of a U.S. government employee assigned to an overseas post under Chief of Mission authority.” In other words, statistics cited in the Report and the FAMER combine information on spouses/partners affiliated with any U.S. government department or agency.

The Report provides a helpful table summarizing the family member employment situation by geographic region:

Worldwide Family Member Employment Report 2012

Worldwide Family Member Employment Report 2012

 

The Report shows that employment inside the Mission is trending upward in recent years. Outside of the Mission, 30 percent of family members work in education, 15 percent freelance, 13 percent work on the local economy, and 11 percent each telecommuted and ran a home business (refer to the Report for more information).

While the Report provides some insight into the world of family member employment overseas, it also leaves many questions unanswered:

  • Of the 62 percent of spouses/partners not working in 2012, how many were looking for work? How were they searching for a job? What challenges did they encounter?
  • How does family member employment break down by government department/agency? Are spouses/partners from any particular agency more likely to work or not to work?
  • What are family members’ professional backgrounds and work experiences? In which fields are they working and/or seeking employment? How many gave up their careers to follow their partners around the world? In what capacity do they expect to find employment?
  • In which specific capacity are spouses/partners working outside of the Mission (e.g., of the 30 percent of family members working in education, how many are part-time vs. full-time employed? In what type of specific field of education do they work?)
  • What is the employment situation for family members returning to the U.S.?

What Resources are Available for Family Members Seeking Employment?

While the State Department provides a number of resources for family members seeking employment, many spouses/partners remain unaware of them. The Training Center organizes a spousal orientation for newcomers to the FS (held concurrently with officer training), which reviews employment resources. However, not all spouses receive that briefing, for various reasons. Often, those spouses who do attend are too overwhelmed during that period to remember all the information presented.

FLO plans to release a brochure outlining family member employment and training options in spring 2013. Below are some highlights from that brochure, along with other resources. I linked relevant websites whenever possible but URLs can move and become inactive over time. In that case, a simple Google search using the resource or program name along with “state.gov” will usually bring up the new link with relevant information.

Conclusion

I hope that this series of employment articles will spark a conversation about family members’ experiences and challenges in their employment process so that future resources can be adjusted to fit everyone’s needs. I am very grateful for the many FLO employees who helped me understand the currently available programs and resources and I am thankful to the many spouses/partners who shared their experiences. An upcoming article will focus on ideas and suggestions for new and amended resources and practices to help spouses seek employment as we trail our partners around the globe. Please don’t hesitate to send me an email with your thoughts or your ideas to contribute or to write about family member employment (nicole@aafsw.org)!


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Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel grew up in Germany and the US. A social scientist by training, it took a whole lot of convincing until she (finally) agreed to life in the Foreign Service. Currently posted to Vienna, Austria, she blogs about life abroad and raising two little world travelers at whereintheworldislucagaleno.blogspot.com.

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