When Mark Matthews was preparing to leave his 28-year career in the U.S. Navy, he was looking to begin a new chapter. He wasn’t entirely ready, however, for executing on that goal in the civilian world.
Over the years during his service, he’d interviewed a few times for special positions within the armed forces. That was different, though, than meeting with a recruiter for a role he’d never had at a company he didn’t know.
“A lot of that [civilian] skillset, I hadn’t developed in my military experience,” he said. That’s when he found FourBlock. The organization runs a comprehensive career readiness program for people like Matthews: veterans and their spouses who are transitioning from active duty and not always sure where to start, or how to navigate new, civilian terrain.
“The transition from a military culture to a corporate culture can be very difficult,” said Michael Abrams, who founded FourBlock nearly 13 years ago.
“If you’ve been in the military for 10, 15, 20, sometimes 30 years, that’s all you know,” he said. “The things that made you successful in the military—the nuances of how you act day to day in the culture there—are not necessarily what’s going to make you successful in a company that has a very, very different culture.”
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Abrams experienced transition firsthand. But it was a chance encounter with another veteran, one who served in World War II, that inspired him to create FourBlock. That former soldier was beset by depression after returning home from service—until, that is, his uncle pulled him from bed and put him into a job. Decades later, the vet told Abrams, he credited that work with saving his life.
Abrams began considering how he could help the veteran community upon their own returns home. Drawing from the name of a military strategy called Three Block, he created FourBlock to help servicemen and women with the fourth step of service; the one back on domestic turf. The one that wasn’t part of wartime playbooks.
Now, more than a decade since launching, FourBlock runs programs in major cities across the U.S., and remotely for every time zone. The veteran career readiness program runs for 10 weeks starting each fall and spring. The program combines a classroom curriculum and in-person networking for participants to put their lessons into practice. The curriculum teaches two types of proficiencies: soft skills, in which veterans explore what they want to do professionally, define what their personal and professional stories are, and identify their skills. And technical skills: participants learn how to build and write resumes for civilian jobs, how to interview for those jobs, and how to translate their skills and communicate their value for a civilian workplace.
Alongside the in-class curriculum, however, are weekly visits to local companies where transitioning veterans meet with recruiters and executives to learn about each business and potential roles there. It’s that focus on real-life connection that sets FourBlock apart. “At the core of what we do is relationship-building,” said Abrams. “That’s how people get jobs. We help facilitate relationships between the people who are taking the class and the people who are working at these companies.”
Matthews, a Navy veteran, participated in the 2019 fall program. The combination of the classroom curriculum with weekly company visits was especially valuable to him. So much so, in fact, that he now offers his own expertise to incoming FourBlock classes as an instructor.
Those in-person experiences were also essential for Luis Morales, a veteran of the U.S. Army and former FourBlock participant whose cohort visited enterprises like Oracle and Indeed. “All the companies welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “I felt like a VIP coming in the door. We always had CEOs or veterans from organizations at the company come and brief us. “We could talk to recruiters in a low-threat environment when we’re not actively looking for a job, but getting ready. It was great time spent.”
FourBlock’s unique approach to veteran transitions has netted an impressive track record. So far, more than 3,500 veterans have completed the career readiness program and successfully transitioned into civilian jobs. Among all FourBlock alumni, 84% not only find new careers, but remain employed in their jobs for at least one year after completing the program. That’s in contrast to the national veteran retention rate of just 57% for those first 12 months post-service. Plus, alumni tend to get higher starting salaries than their non-alum peers and, in another clear endorsement, they often return to the program as instructors and mentors.
“When we put together the self-reflection, the mastery of the carer skills and most importantly, those relationship-building opportunities,” said Queta Rodriguez, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and FourBlock National Operations Director, “we help people identify what they might want to do and what they might find rewarding in this next phase of their life. And help them to create the framework to get there, by leveraging those relationships.”
For Morales, an Army veteran, that framework has paid off. After completing the FourBlock program, he participated in a fellowship at USAA and went on to get hired there full-time. For the past two years, has been a Sr. Program Project Manager at the headquarters in San Antonio, TX.
“I still wanted to be close to the military and the mission fit perfectly,” he said. “I’m enjoying life right now. Great mission. Great job. Great city. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”