Today, in recognition of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) is proud to launch Stage 1 of the Future Finder Challenge, a $1 million challenge to reimagine career navigation for adult learners. The Department’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) invites innovators to build digital tools that better support adult learners as they launch and advance their careers.
There are an estimated 43 million American adults who could benefit from adult education. With the workforce and its requirements rapidly shifting, qualifications and skills are no longer enough to thrive in this dynamic landscape. Career navigation tools — which help people understand, choose, and prepare for career opportunities — have become vital to career success. Yet most digital career navigation tools today are not designed for adult learners, leaving too many without the support they need to enter and thrive in high-quality, in-demand occupations and high-growth industries. When adult learners thrive, employers gain access to diverse, skilled talent pools — and their communities prosper.
“Too many working people have been unable to gain entry into today’s fast-growing fields because our adult education programs have not kept up with the pace of technological change in our economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “To build a more equitable and inclusive economy we must raise the bar for adult education in the United States and give learners of all ages the tools and opportunities they need to level up their skills and climb the economic ladder. Our Future Finder Challenge is about encouraging innovation and the creation of tools that help adult learners better navigate the workforce and take advantage of career opportunities in today’s most in-demand fields.”
“Developing digital career navigation tools for adult learners will expand equitable access to career opportunities — which will increase upward mobility and strengthen the broader American workforce,” said Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education Amy Loyd, Ed.L.D. “Through the Future Finder Challenge, we’re using open innovation to invest in the adult edtech ecosystem, driving greater collaboration between adult learners and developers, educators, and employers.”
The Future Finder Challenge builds upon the Department’s history of successful open innovation initiatives to spur the development of services, products, and programs to better support learners of all ages. Open innovation can uniquely stimulate untapped markets and propel needed innovation by offering no-strings-attached funding alongside exclusive access to key resources and collaboration opportunities. In addition to monetary awards, the challenge will provide guidance around topics such as user-centered design, data collection and evaluation, and sustainability planning to help innovators pave the way. Through the Future Finder Challenge, the Department is bringing together adult education providers, edtech companies, and employers to encourage collaboration and information sharing.
Eligible participants, including teams of strategists, app developers, user-centered designers, and educators are invited to submit prototypes for digital tools by 6:00 p.m. ET on December 15, 2022. The online submission should outline how the proposed digital tool will be designed to improve adult learners’ career navigation outcomes, such as increased self-awareness, career knowledge, confidence, and/or job attainment in high-quality, in-demand occupations and high-growth industries. Participants should further describe how their tools will integrate with existing career navigation systems, including by complementing in-person services, as well as how they plan to collect and share usage, user, and outcomes data.
An independent judging panel will recommend up to five finalists to receive at least $50,000 each and progress into Stage 2, which will run from spring to fall 2023. During the second stage, finalists will participate in a virtual accelerator, receiving exclusive access to virtual resources, mentorship from experts, and other support to help them build and test their tools. The accelerator will kick off with an in-person boot camp and culminate in a live demo day.
The Stage 2 judging panel will review the submitted proposals and recommend one grand-prize winner to receive $500,000 and up to two runners-up to receive a share of at least $250,000. The Future Finder Challenge will support winners into 2024 as they deploy their solutions across the adult ed ecosystem.