UI aids dual-career couples

BY MEGAN DIAL | MARCH 13, 2009 7:30 AM

Jon Houtman made the decision to join the UI’s faculty as an assistant professor of microbiology largely because of one UI program: the Dual Career Network.

“That was important, because my wife was a professional, too,” he said.

Jennifer Houtman worked with the program’s directors during the summer and fall of 2005. With their help, she successfully landed a job with the Iowa Donor Network.

The Houtmans’ success story is not uncommon among clients of the Dual Career Network — a program that helps spouses of new UI faculty and staff find employment in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and the surrounding area.

“It’s a great resource for newcomers who don’t know the lay of the land,” program Director Joan Murrin said.

The program has worked with almost every conceivable occupation, she said, from accountants to dog trainers, and the economic crisis has not affected the number of clients in search of jobs.
But she admitted the economy is affecting how fast people can gain employment.

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“That’s not because there’s not hiring going on,” she said. “I think employers are being very cautious.”

Jobs are available, but are becoming more challenging to find, Assistant Director Heidi McLaughlin said. Dual Career Network employees must “diligently, proactively go out and meet with businesses.”

Murrin said she is not aware of any other programs in the Iowa City area that are branded as dual-career programs.

“Of course, there are outplacement companies everywhere, but they operate differently from the [UI’s]. Their target is people who have been laid off,” Murrin said. “It’s really apples-to-oranges in the whole concept.”

The Dual Career Network works mostly with dual-career couples rather than dual-academic couples — cases in which each spouse works for the university. Several academic couples are employed at the UI, including President Sally Mason and husband Ken Mason, a lecturer in biology.

The UI’s program began in 1994, and it has been instrumental in starting close to 40 other similar programs nationwide, Murrin said. She works with several other colleges and universities and communicates almost daily with the other programs.

Iowa State University recently launched a dual-career program, and the University of Northern Iowa has also contacted Murrin for help with starting their own program. Grinnell College contracts with the UI’s network to handle its dual-career issues.

“The UI is held as a model in the country,” Murrin said.

The program is free to both clients and businesses, she said, making it a “win-win” situation for everyone. It provides an incentive for potential UI faculty and staff to work for the university, is a cost-effective way for employers to find qualified professionals, and brings workers to the Iowa City area.

Jennifer Houtman said the program was helpful in assisting her job search. McLaughlin helped by tweaking her résumé, providing job postings, and offering advice on interview techniques.

“It’s really what its name says,” Jennifer Houtman said. “The network part of it was key.”

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