Program S brings professional opportunities to an Air Force wife

As the spouse of an Air Force technical sergeant, Jennifer Primus knows the drill: Receive a PCS (permanent change of station) order, pack up, relocate, look for a new job in an unfamiliar community, repeat.

As the spouse of an Air Force technical sergeant, Jennifer Primus knows the drill: Receive a PCS (permanent change of station) order, pack up, relocate, look for a new job in an unfamiliar community, repeat.

Then, in 2016, Primus learned of Program S – the Military Spouse Preference Program – and it has already shown her much promise as a pathway to professional opportunities with the Department of Defense.

But let’s back up and learn more about Primus and her journey, because ultimately Program S is about people, not the bureaucratic details of federal employment.

Years ago, Primus, her husband and their three small children were stationed in New Mexico, where she worked as a human resources assistant at a local college. Then in November 2011, they received a PCS order that took them to Okinawa, Japan, where they welcomed two more babies to the family.

“I stay home with each child until they reach preschool age, so I have a lot of employment gaps,” says Primus. Of course, some private employers show understanding of military families’ situations, and some do not.

The next arrival, in July 2016, wasn’t a sixth child, but rather another PCS order, destination Robins Air Force Base, just outside Warner Robins, Georgia. Primus believed there would be ample professional opportunities on the base, which employs more than 25,000 civilians and military members, making it the largest industrial complex in the state.

“I knew I wanted to work on base for job stability and the good benefits,” says Primus. “Program S kept coming up in my Google searches, though I didn’t learn about the program until last year.”

Also recurring in those searches was The Resume Place, so she got in touch with us. “Kathryn responded the next day and walked me through Program S, how to contact the HRO [human resources officer] on base, and how to register. Within two days I was registered with the program.”

The very next month, Primus “matched” for a job as a DoD secretary. Although Program S gives registrants “noncompetitive” status for job openings and ranks their preference very highly, there was, in fact, competition for the job: two other military spouses, one of whom was offered the position.

But the beauty of Program S is that, as long as applicants keep up with their obligations, they will continue to be considered for a match. “I recently received another match for HR assistant, an even better role for me, a couple of weeks ago,” says Primus. “It will probably be another month before I hear anything about that one.”

Late last year, Program S became even more accessible: President Barack Obama signed into law a measure striking the rule that military spouses must register with the program with two years of relocating. Now there’s no time limit.

What’s the bottom line for military spouses in situations like Primus’? Program S has its complexities, but if you connect with a couple of key resources, put a few critical tasks on your calendar and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’re much likely to find success. Here’s an official Program S fact sheet.

Primus does have choice words of advice for military spouses seeking professional employment after a PCS relocation: “Be persistent. The Program S process is daunting, and it can take a long time to get a job. So, maintain contact with your HRO so they keep you in mind. I recommend volunteering in the unit where you’re trying to get a job; I’ve volunteered to strengthen my resume and network. It’s your best way to get a foot in the door.”

Will Primus receive an offer for the HR job she recently matched? Stayed tuned to this blog – we’ll keep you posted!

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