Ideas for Improving Family Member Employment in Overseas Missions

This is the third article in the series on family member employment. The previous article reviewed what we currently know (or don’t know) about family member employment and highlighted important resources for those seeking employment abroad and upon return to the U.S.

“I think the Department deserves recognition for addressing the issue of EFM employment at all. Compared to the private sector and some other government agencies, [the] State [Department] has done an admirable job creating positions within embassies and consulates to support Foreign Service spouses.” (Layla Tarar, FS Spouse currently in Karachi, Pakistan).

As Layla points out, the State Department has done a remarkable job of providing help to spouses seeking employment, especially inside US missions overseas. But, there is room for improvement.

This list of suggestions is not the result of a formal survey. Rather, it is a set of ideas that originated in conversations with family members during the course of researching the current employment situation. It is a starting point for a broader conversation with the Foreign Service community and State Department to move towards change.

Some ideas are already being implemented; some require a closer look, and others are unlikely to gain much traction due to post-specific policies or federal regulations. This list is by no means exhaustive. And, no matter what is currently being offered or can be changed in the future, there is never going to be a perfect solution to satisfy every Eligible Family Member. However, implementing just a few of these measures could make a substantial difference.

Self-advocacy can go a long way toward improving spouses/partners’ chances of being employed. Family members seeking work inside US missions abroad are encouraged to take the following steps that might also be considered during bidding:

Thank you to the many family members and Government employees who provided valuable input to this article. When I started asking questions about Eligible Family Member (EFM) employment, it was my hope that this series of articles would spark a conversation. I am delighted to report that AAFSW has started an online working group on EFM employment issues to tackle some of the suggestions discussed here, among others. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts, please feel free to contact me at nicole@aafsw.org. And, don’t forget to visit the updated AAFSW spousal employment page for more resources and related articles

Some Ideas for Improving EFM Employment in Overseas Missions

Reach Out & Share Information

Missions should reach out to family members upon their arrival at post (or better yet, contact them earlier), to assess their skills, and to find out whether they are seeking employment. This could be part of the standard welcome communication between the incoming family members and the CLO and/or HR, MGMT. CLO could then use this information as a basis to advocate on behalf of family members (e.g., circulate newcomers’ resumés around relevant departments).

Current Status: CLOs provide employment information as part of the standard welcome process but the level of support varies depending on the size and needs at post (larger posts may even have a dedicated HR staff member who concentrates on family member employment). CLOs are encouraged to review their arrival communication packets to ensure accurate information is sent to spouses/partners with questions related to employment and connect them to appropriate offices.

Create an organized “boilerplate” employment brochure including an overview of available programs, resources, and contacts, for posts to email to family members either before or upon arrival. This can also be posted on on the post-website to allow timely updates. The overview of programs can be created by the Family Liaison Office (FLO); posts can tailor the information to their situations.

Current Status: A FLO brochure providing an overview of EFM employment and training options is in production (to be released this spring in print to all CLOs and posted to the FLO internet site). Some posts already provide tailored employment materials.

Tap Into the Wealth of Family Members’ Expertise

Take advantage of family members’ skills and areas of expertise. EFMs come from a number of professions and backgrounds so why not make use of those resources by hiring family members on an individual appointment or contract basis in areas of their specialty if matching needs arise within the mission. An example would be to develop an “EFM Professional Corps” database or to require HR/CLO to interview new EFMs upon arrival and create employment profiles to be shared regularly with section heads and/or post on the post Intranet site. CLO could also send an earlier “employment questionnaire” to EFMs to determine capabilities and interests.

Current Status: Sending an “employment questionnaire” to determine interests is a best practice for CLO or HR at many posts. Contract work may be a more flexible way to utilize the skills of specific EFMs. Some centrally-funded hiring programs, like the Extended Professional Associates Program (EPAP), do pre-qualify candidates for writing and job area skills.

Security Clearances

Family member security clearances should be portable and stay with the person not with the job, as is currently the case. There are an increasing number of instances in which positions remain unfilled for many months while family member applicants (especially foreign-born spouses) await security clearance.

After seven years of marriage to a US-direct hire officer, spouses should be offered a secret clearance concurrent with the resubmission of the Officer’s clearance. This would require minimal additional work for the investigator and would pre-clear a pool of potential staff at post making them much more quickly available when needed.

Comments: The AAFSW EFM working group will be looking into these ideas and report back.

More Flexibility & Support for Family Member Positions

Split some full-time positions into multiple part-time positions. With gaps during transfer season being an ongoing issue at overseas posts, having two part-time EFMs covering a single position would benefit the mission as well as the employees. This could be an especially useful measure for Community Liaison Office Coordinator (CLO) positions, which often remain unfilled during the time of year when a CLO is needed most.

Current Status: This is already happening at some posts, but is always subject to post policy and based on the needs of the mission. Family members can raise this possibility with CLO and HR at post.

Allow EFMS to apply for more positions before arrival at post. Spouses/partners rarely get a chance to work the entire duration of the tour since it takes many months to secure a position. Provide EFMs the opportunity to apply for more jobs inside the mission before they arrive at post.

Current Status: This is being done by most, but not all, posts. EFMs are encouraged to apply early and before arrival at post when a desired position opens up (check CLO newsletter, inquire with HR/MGMT/CLO; review post employment policy).

Fund family member positions centrally. Family members are generally paid out of the post budget (with the exception of Expanded Professional Associates Program, Consular Associate, Professional Adjudication Specialist Program, and Professional Associate Program). When budgets get tight, family positions are usually the first eliminated. .

Current Status: Expanding the number of positions covered by such programs is a goal worth pursuing. The value of these programs to bureaus has been established, family member interest (and qualifications) is clear – but budget limitations limit progress. Centrally funded positions are also subject to budget constraints.

Set realistic job qualifications. Language and education requirements for family member positions often exceed the level actually needed carrying out the work. Requiring 4/4 level language skills for support positions in which fluency in the local language is not actually needed is one common example of this practice. The MGMT section should review that job and language requirements match and should take EFM feedback into account.

Current Status: The policy is to match requirements to actual post needs, but some EFMs in the field believe this is not always the case. CLOs are encouraged to monitor community concerns and convey these to MGMT, as appropriate.

Simplify the job application process. Applying to positions inside the mission is very burdensome with many standardized forms and confusing acronyms/program names. Streamlining the application process would benefit both applicants and management at post.

Current status: Hiring procedures are government-wide and cannot be changed, but some steps may be taken to make things easier for family members (e.g., being able to save information when filling out online PDF application forms).

Provide more training for EFMs taking on EPAP positions. Family members in EPAP positions are working essentially as entry-level officers but often lack advanced training necessary for their work.

Current status: This is being done if post budgets allow (individual posts pay for training EPAP positions). HR and EPAP hiring officers are encouraged to consider training options especially when the EFM is already in the Washington, DC area and/or explore distance training options.

Inform employees (both inside and outside the State Department) about the benefits of hiring family members. DC employees, especially, need to be trained in understanding Executive Order 12721 (EFMs who have worked 52 weeks or longer in an “appropriate funded position” abroad, are eligible for non-competitive appointments to the Civil Service upon return to the US). Within the State Department, this training should take place in the HR tradecraft course, at MGT conferences, and other courses that cover family member hiring.

Current status: This is being done (although more efforts would be useful). FLO provides information on its website that can be presented to the employer

This article was originally featured in the May 2013 issue of Global Link. For the links that were included in the print version of the article, please visit our new and improved Family Member Employment Links section.

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.

We love it when you share our content! Anyone in the American Foreign Service community, especially Community Liaison Office Coordinators (CLOs) and newsletter editors at posts worldwide should feel free to reprint or otherwise share the articles on our website.

Please credit the original author of the article, and include the following: This article was originally published by AAFSW, a non-profit organization connecting and advocating for the American diplomatic community. Find more articles and resources at www.aafsw.org.

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