Upon returning home from deployment in Afghanistan, Mike Abrams found himself in the same position as many of his fellow veterans — looking for a new career. The Marine and Legionnaire of Post 754 in New York City quickly realized that his military job as an artillery forward observer was a difficult skill to translate into the private sector. As a result, he struggled to find a company that understood and valued the skills and experiences he acquired in the military.
However, with a little encouragement from a fellow Legionnaire, Abrams utilized the G.I. Bill and earned his master's degree at New York University. As a student veteran, Abrams noticed that none of the job programs offered to veterans focused on helping them obtain competitive internships — no matter their age — at respected corporations. So, Abrams says, "I started focusing my studies at business school to explore the viability of launching a program that filled this need." And in 2010, he launched "Four Block ."
Internships are common for young college graduates just beginning their professional career, but servicemembers transitioning back into the workforce encompass all ages. "Companies have to understand that the culture of their internship and entry-level program is not going to be diminished by hiring a 28-year-old veteran," Abrams said. "Four Block's mission is to help student veterans obtain the relevant experience they need, through internships, to become more competitive job seekers upon graduation and to ultimately begin new careers.
"In order for veterans to become more competitive job seekers, they cannot rely on their military experiences alone — they have to obtain the skills, qualifications and experiences that employers will value and better understand. One of the best ways to obtain the relevant and valued experience needed to gain employment is to do an internship."
Four Block derives from a term used to describe a war-fighting strategy that the Marines implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan called the "Three Block War." Within three consecutive city "blocks," Marines conducted humanitarian aid missions, peacekeeping operations and full combat. "Four Block represents the final stage of this war strategy, which is the mission to ensure all returning veterans have the resources they need to successfully transition back home and begin new careers," Abrams said.
Four Block is a semester-long program that assists post-9/11 veterans who are New York residents, enrolled full or part time in a two- or four-year college and hold a 3.0 GPA or above. Abrams currently partners with City University of New York to conduct the professional development classes for eligible student veterans.
The program's curriculum focuses on how to make a successful transition, identify and translate professional skills, prepare for an interview, develop networking skills and create an internship plan.
"Four Block provides a support base that veterans can lean on to help them get to the next step in their lives," Abrams said. "We help them determine where they are, where they want to go and how we can help them get there."
In 2011, the program helped 15 student veterans land competitive internships at renowned financial companies such as J.P. Morgan, Citibank, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and the New York Stock Exchange Euronext Inc., as well as the New York State Department.
"At Four Block, we become the advocate for student veterans," Abrams said. "Through our relationships with our corporate partners, our student veterans have an ‘inside' connection that will ensure they get a solid look for any open positions."
Abrams' foresees Four Block reaching veterans beyond New York City, but until then, he recently launched a more accessible tool for returning servicemembers: "Networking for Veterans: A Guidebook for a Successful Military Transition to the Civilian Workforce ."
"The book teaches transitioning servicemembers how to properly network and build relationships with the people in their community who are most willing and able to help them launch new careers upon their return," Abrams said.
A few of the pertinent topics the book covers include how to overcome the challenges of making a military transition, properly apply military skills and experiences to business situations, build a network of contacts, and overcome the fear of communicating. Overall, Abrams said, "it is a fundamental ‘how to' that all veterans can apply to their transition into the business world."
As Four Block continues to serve transitioning servicemembers in the New York area and beyond, Abrams' biggest reward since launching the program is "seeing the student veterans land internships at their target companies."