By Andrea Downing Peck
“Military spouses are a force to be reckoned with. More people should know about you.”
Those words were the catalyst Army spouse Erica McMannes needed to turn her talents toward connecting job-seeking military spouses with companies seeking remote workers for positions ranging from accountants to virtual assistants.
“I had this light bulb moment,” said McMannes, whose own career trajectory saw her transition from child development specialist to community manager and consultant to Silicon Valley start-ups focused on the military community. “I could create my own company matching spouses to companies that had distributed teams.”
A baby and a military move kept McMannes from immediately acting upon her idea, but the nagging feeling she could help other spouses find fulfilling employment that meshed with the unpredictable military lifestyle stayed with her.
In 2016, McMannes founded MadSkills, a virtual staffi ng service matching military spouses with portable, remote jobs. Her cofounder, Army spouse Liza Rodewald, had built her own software consulting company after leaving a tech industry job a decade earlier. Rodewald had the high-tech know how McMannes needed to bring her idea to fruition.
“If I was going to do this, I knew I needed to have a website and somebody that knew what they were doing,” McMannes said. “Liza brought that talent to the table, which was awesome. She also thinks like a program manager and has an operations background. It was a really good match for us to get down and dirty and knock something out.”
A few years earlier, the two Army wives had met through a virtual fitness group when both were living in Virginia. Their friendship was limited to Facebook until McMannes asked Rodewald to join her on a video call where she pitched her idea of matching military spouses with “mad skills” to employers who could capitalize on their talents through remote work.
“As soon as Erica told me about it, I told her I was onboard,” Rodewald recalled. “We started the next week laying the ground work.”
For Rodewald, Madskills was a “natural fit” because it provided her with a platform to scale the oneon-one mentoring she already was doing helping military spouses find work as consultants, contractors and entrepreneurs.
In less than a year, while McMannes was living at Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Rodewald was at Fort Drum in New York, MadSkills blossomed from a concept to a reality. That’s right — the virtual cofounders started a virtual company virtually.
“We tell people that and they always laugh,” McMannes says. “But we live by the name of what we’re trying to sell.”
Today, more than 2,000 military spouses have profiles on the MadSkills website (www.hiremadskills.com) and many spouses have found virtual jobs, both part-time and full-time, though the actual number of placements may be even higher since spouses may apply directly to job listings. MadSkills is open to active duty, veteran, National Guard and Reserve spouses. While military spouses create free profiles, companies pay $197 per month to post unlimited jobs, browse and contact spouses directly and manage applications on the site. For a $300 monthly subscription, MadSkills will vet candidates for employers and select a “top 3” group of candidates for job openings.
“Every time we get a spouse a job, it is very fulfilling,” says Rodewald, who left traditional employment to regain control over her time and family life. “When I started working from home and saw the fl exibility I had – I was able to be there when my kids got off the bus and put them on the bus. I took them on field trips. Once I had that, I wanted other women and other spouses, male and female, to be able to have that fl exibility too.”
While MadSkills attracts many job listings from employers seeking graphic designers, content writers, website developers and other creative types, work-from home opportunities are becoming mainstream in industries ranging from social work to law.
“Companies are seeing the value of having a distributed team, not only for cost savings but also for talent acquisition,” Rodewald explains. “Now companies don’t have to be location based only when searching for the top talent they need. There are opportunities in every single sector in every industry at every job level. We have jobs that are entry level based – call center and help desk type of positions – up to project managers and software developers.
Army spouse Katie Wright has an established photography business in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which she will be setting aside when her husband begins a seven-month school at Fort Gordon in Georgia. Knowing she couldn’t relaunch her business during such a short assignment, Wright, who has a degree in journalism, recently landed a job through MadSkills for a remote position writing blog content and providing graphic design work for online marketing company Fearless Social.
Wright is grateful for the work MadSkills is doing to educate employers about the untapped talents of the military spouse workforce. “I hope more and more employers will use this avenue to look for employees,” she said. “Employers are saving money by finding people that can work remotely, and there are so many spouses with skills they want to put to use.”
Because MadSkills screens all job opportunities posted to its site, spouses do not have to fear falling for envelope-stuffing or other remote work scams.
“We want to be known in the military spouse community as the place to go for very legit and prevetted virtual work opportunities,” McMannes states. “We want to be presenting virtual job opportunities that are career paths. These are opportunities to have a job and move it with you. Not having to start and stop, and not doing something you hate just because you need a job.”
MadSkills encourages spouses to tell potential employers how their military experience has increased their marketable skills, pointing out the demanding and transient lifestyle makes spouses resilient, reliable, adaptable, multitasking team players – soft skills valued in virtual employees. She also recommends spouses “put their best foot forward” with potential employers, using every interaction as an opportunity to position themselves as “the most desirable candidate” a company will come across.
“If you’re a stay-at-home mom and haven’t worked for 12 years, don’t put ‘Stay at Home Mom’ as the title of your profile, which we’ve had people do,” she says. “It’s about who you are and your career goals.”
The MadSkills team is convinced virtual work can play an important role in solving the military spouse underemployment problem, while acknowledging it is but one piece of the puzzle.
“Sometimes people don’t have the right personality or skill set to want to work from home or to be able to work from home,” McMannes notes. “So, I don’t think it will ever 100% solve everything, but it is a huge opportunity that hasn’t before been delivered directly in this way to the military spouse community.”
Andrea Downing Peck is a freelance writer, Accredited Financial Counselor® and retired Navy spouse from Bainbridge Island, Washington. She received her accreditation as an AFC through the FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship program.Read comments