Siblings Michelle and Grace Cho have long held a stake in career navigation — a commitment born of their experience as the children of immigrants with few connections and little social capital. Together, they created Gladeo, a virtual career day for high school students struggling to find their place in the world of work. Now, they’re honing Gladeo to support the unique needs of adult learners. In pursuit of this goal, Gladeo entered the U.S. Department of Education’s Future Finder Challenge to reimagine career navigation for adult learners.

As one of five finalists, the Gladeo team is now participating in a six-month virtual accelerator to build and test its digital career navigation tool. We spoke with CEO and co-founder Michelle to find out more about Gladeo’s digital platform as well as the team’s plans for the accelerator and beyond.

Gladeo helps users explore a variety of careers and pathways. How does it work?

Michelle: Gladeo has a media-rich, interactive web platform where learners can watch inspiring videos of relatable role models, take a personality and skills assessment, and explore career pathways. Users also receive personalized recommendations for skill-building courses and training programs, internships and jobs, and wraparound resources. It’s similar to a social media newsfeed, but one that’s focused on career development opportunities.

Underserved learners often encounter three significant gaps that pose challenges as they pursue careers: an information gap, a belief gap, and a network gap. These gaps, which involve disparities in access to knowledge, self-perception, and social capital, can be particularly pronounced and difficult to bridge for individuals with limited resources and opportunities. Gladeo utilizes leading career development and learning research to design inclusive and equitable interventions like video storytelling, digitized informational interviews, personalized resource recommendations, and an integrated program finder to help bridge these three gaps in an inclusive, holistic, and user-friendly way.

What motivated you to enter the Future Finder Challenge?

Michelle: To be connected with an institution like the U.S. Department of Education is so valuable. During our participation in the New York City boot camp, we had the opportunity to engage with experienced professionals like Deborah Kennedy, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Literacy, about the adult education ecosystem and the needs of adult learners. And we learned so much. These interactions allowed us to delve into the intricacies of the adult education ecosystem and gain invaluable insights into the specific needs of adult learners. It reinforced our strong motivation to be part of this challenge as an edtech company, recognizing that meaningful, large-scale impact can only be achieved by actively engaging with established systems.

What have you found to be most inspiring about designing for adult learners? How will Gladeo help learners meet the challenges they face?

Michelle: Working with adult learners is truly inspiring, as it showcases the remarkable diversity within the population, with adult learners coming from such a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. What’s even more fulfilling is the profound impact that extends beyond the individual learner. Empowering an adult learner to acquire new skills and enhance their career prospects often results in transformative change that positively influences the trajectory of their entire family and even the next generation. While the diversity and complex circumstances of learners can present significant challenges, our impact-driven tech company finds these challenges to be a constant source of inspiration and motivation.

Gladeo collaborates with job centers, adult schools, and existing support systems, empowering case managers and transition specialists to provide quality career navigation. Our online platform offers flexible, asynchronous guidance to accommodate adult learners’ schedules. At Gladeo, we adopt a human-centered approach to career development that recognizes the diversity of professional and life experiences that learners bring. This diversity is reflected across our platform’s features, from our storytelling and skills assessment, to the UX, language translation capabilities, and accessibility features we provide. After using Gladeo, learners will walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves, including their personality, their interests, and their skills, and a broader and better understanding of the family-sustaining career opportunities available to them. They’ll also benefit from clear and informed goals for their career paths, guidance on how to pursue those career goals including free or low cost education and training options, increased confidence, and connections to wraparound service and resources that can meet their needs.

 Empowering an adult learner to acquire new skills and enhance their career prospects often results in transformative change that positively influences the trajectory of their entire family and even the next generation.

Michelle Cho

What aspects of the accelerator are you finding most helpful as you develop Gladeo to better support adult learners?

Michelle: I think one of the most valuable things is gaining a comprehensive understanding of the adult education ecosystem, because it’s very complex and it isn’t standardized. We’ve noticed that even between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, the ecosystems are different. That’s why it’s really important that we are connected to the U.S. Department of Education. The ecosystem comprises a diverse range of providers — from libraries to job centers to NGOs — making it a challenging landscape to navigate. Through our participation in this accelerator, we are determined to thoroughly comprehend this intricate ecosystem and effectively address its unique challenges.

In addition to understanding that ecosystem, what are your priorities for the accelerator in terms of the tool itself?

Michelle: We are actively working on two key initiatives: to enhance accessibility and bridge the skills gap for adult learners. First, we are focused on increasing accessibility for English learners by integrating text-to-speech technology. Currently, our platform can be translated into six different languages, but we understand that translation alone may not be enough as different literacy levels exist within each language. Second, we are developing a skills gap analysis tool that recognizes the valuable skills that adult learners already possess. We’re creating a tool that allows them to articulate their skills, find higher-paying career paths that incorporate their existing skills and personalities, and find free or low-cost skill-building training programs that bridge their skills gaps.

Looking ahead, what’s next for Gladeo? Where would you like to be down the road?

Michelle: In the short term, our aim is to deliver a market-ready product by the upcoming demo day in mid-September, showcasing the culmination of our efforts. Looking ahead, our long-term vision involves expanding nationwide and seamlessly integrating with adult service providers, K-12 schools, and colleges. Our ultimate goal is to establish ourselves as the go-to, modern career navigation platform that learners from all backgrounds depend on throughout their lifelong career journeys. Simultaneously, we strive to cultivate trust and reliability among institutions, positioning Gladeo as their preferred partner in empowering individuals to navigate their career paths with confidence.

Looking ahead: Judging and beyond

At the end of the accelerator, finalists will submit their market-ready tools and accompanying proposals, and present at a live demo day this fall. A judging panel will review the submissions against the Stage 2 criteria and recommend a slate of winners to the Department. One grand-prize winner will receive $500,000, and up to two runners-up will receive a share of at least $250,000, to be announced in fall 2023.

Beyond Stage 2, the challenge will support winners into 2024 as they deploy their solutions. To help promote further innovation, challenge resources and videos will remain available to all entrants as well as to those who did not participate in the challenge. Innovators are encouraged to continue using these resources to develop new digital tools that reimagine career navigation for adult learners.

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