The opportunity

A growing need

The workforce and its requirements are rapidly shifting. To thrive in this dynamic landscape, qualifications and skills are no longer enough. Career navigation services — which help people understand, choose, and prepare for career opportunities — have become vital to career success. Technology has the potential to elevate existing career navigation services, expanding access for all learners across the United States.

An underserved market

Although there are a growing number of digital career navigation tools for professionals and higher education students, few are designed specifically for adult learners — a diverse group that includes adults who have not completed high school and/or who are learning English. Many adult learners, who are often already underserved, do not have the support they need to enter and thrive in high-quality, in-demand occupations and high-growth industries.

With over 43 million adults who could benefit from adult education programs — there is a large, untapped market of adult learners in need of career navigation support. This creates an important opportunity for innovators looking to make an impact for adult learners as well as the broader U.S. workforce.

Overcoming barriers to innovation

In the past, innovation in the adult education space has been stifled by several factors: a lack of resources, a complex landscape, limited access to data, and difficulty accessing adult learners. This is where the Future Finder Challenge came in. The challenge aimed to bring together stakeholders from across the adult ed ecosystem and adjacent fields to encourage collaboration and information sharing. The challenge provided funding and guidance around topics such as user-centered design, data collection and evaluation, and sustainability planning to help innovators pave the way.

Challenge overview

The Future Finder Challenge is a $1 million challenge to reimagine career navigation for adult learners. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education invites innovators to build digital tools that better support adult learners as they launch and advance their careers.

Stage 1: Open submissions

In the first stage, innovators — including strategists, developers, user-centered designers, and educators — were invited to submit prototypes and accompanying proposals for digital tools that will improve the career navigation experience for adult learners. Submissions closed on December 15, 2022. Five finalists were selected to receive $50,000 each and progress to Stage 2. Each finalist also received an additional $10,000 to support accelerator activities.

Stage 2: Accelerator

Finalists had access to virtual resources, mentorship from experts, and other support to help them build and test their tools. This included guidance around topics such as user-centered design, data collection and evaluation, and sustainability planning. At the end of Stage 2, finalists submitted their market-ready tools and accompanying proposals for review and participated in a Demo Day in Washington, D.C. One grand-prize winner received $500,000, and one runner-up received $250,000.

Beyond the challenge: Deployment

The challenge team is supporting the winners as they deploy their solutions across the adult ed ecosystem. Deployment support includes guidance around outcomes measurement, communications, and sustainability planning.