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Help Coming For the Trailing Spouse

 

Longtime residents of Flagstaff are familiar with the trailing spouse dilemma: one partner lands a good job and the other struggles to find employment in his/her field. It is a problem for employ- ers when their top choice for a job vacancy turns the position down or when turnover is high because employees’ loved ones lack career options.

The City of Flagstaff has a plan to make a dent in the problem. The city was just awarded a grant for a new Website geared at helping the professional trailing partner find gainful employment. Greater Flagstaff Employment Resources will become part of the city’s economic development Website by the end of June.

Kurt Haskell, Flagstaff’s business retention and expansion manager, says this issue has impacted a number of companies and institutions. “If it’s a female profes- sional recruited into NAU, 70 percent of their spouses are also professional,” said Haskell, quoting local employment statistics. “It’s not much different for men; 60 percent of them have professional spouses. So, it’s a big issue.”

Carol Bousquet is a trailing spouse with a background in city planning. Her husband, David, works for Northern Arizona Univer- sity as the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs. Bousquet says while she has enjoyed volunteering and being more available for their kids, she misses her professional life.

“If I lived somewhere with more places that I might be able to apply my skills, I would love to work,” said Bousquet. “If you don’t get a job in Flagstaff, where you going to go? There are not a lot of outlying areas where one might be employed as a city planner.”

The rural nature of Northern Arizona creates a unique job market, says Diane Verkest, NAU’s human resources director.

“If we were closer to a metropolitan area, then a partner might have an easier time finding the kind of job they’re interested in and could drive the 45 minutes or whatever,” said Verkest. She knows of couples that live in Flagstaff but have one partner who spends the workweek in Phoenix.

A trailing spouse herself, Verkest previously worked for Motorola in the Valley. As human resources director for Flagstaff’s largest employer, she oversees a payroll of more than 4,000 employees, approximately 2,600 of whom are eligible for benefits. NAU has a process for partners of employees to identify themselves as seeking employment and HR will write a letter on their behalf. Verkest says her department works closely with other major employers in town.

“We’ve created a listserv to share infor- mation about trailing partners who are looking for jobs so we can circulate résumés and share information.”

Verkest says she is happy the city is able to move forward with the new Website.

The economy has created increased competition for job openings, she noted.

Beth Caplan agrees. She has had an up-close look at Flagstaff’s challenging job market since opening Performance Staffing 14 years ago.

“They move here because of the profes- sional jobs, love the area, love the outdoor,

eco-friendly people, and the spouse isn’t able to find something, so they move,” said Caplan. “Another scenario we see is one of the couple finds a job and the other one becomes very much underemployed.”

Caplan has also observed many in- stances where the trailing partner remains unemployed, which she says often leads to a move from the area because of the relatively high cost of housing.

The grant to create the new trailing part- ner Website is $15,000. Flagstaff is match- ing it with some cash and in-kind services. The job search tool will be part of the City of Innovation Website, says Kurt Haskell.

“It’s really a one-stop resource for exist- ing businesses in town where we can talk about economic development incentives, workforce training funds, consulting and who’s lending at any given time,” said Haskell.

For the trailing partner, there will be links going in and out of the site, connect- ing professionals with jobs, and creating a greater likelihood that they will find success in Northern Arizona.

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