Future of Work Grand Challenge finalists: Top 15 ideas for an equitable economy

A conversation with Dr. Angela Jackson, managing partner, New Profit

In this week’s Work in Progress podcast, I speak with Dr. Angela Jackson, managing partner at New Profit and the leader of the nonprofit’s Future of Work Initiative.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country and economy, New Profit was working to fund programs and initiatives geared toward making sure everyone has equal access to opportunities for good jobs and careers.

This morning, the nonprofit announced a major step forward in that mission—naming the 15 winning solutions of its The Future of Work Grand Challenge. These are a diverse group of social entrepreneurs dedicated to advancing solutions that serve the most under-invested workers.

The Grand Challenge—created in partnership with XPRIZE Foundation, MIT Solve, and JFF—was borne out of concerns that automation, a growing skills gap, low wages, and crippling student debt are increasing inequities in the workforce.

“We had been working on this initiative for two years. We centered it around working adults, people who are in need of upskilling, but who can’t take the opportunity or cost to take off a year or go back to get a four-year degree,” explains Jackson.

“We were looking for accelerated learning programs that would allow a learner or a worker to earn while they learn. We think a lot about the 56 million US residents who are working minimum wage jobs—less-than-living-wage jobs—that need opportunities to skill up in a fashion that works for their complex and busy lives,” she says. “So we really wanted these entrepreneurs to be willing to center on the experience of these learners, and to create solutions that will work alongside their busy lives.”

Jackson says, “we’re giving (the) finalists access to $6 million in funding to implement solutions that will rapidly reskill 25,000 workers over the next 24 months into higher-wage jobs and equip influential workforce boards with vetted tools to help get Americans back to work,” Jackson says.

This next phase—the implementation phase—will be overseen by six new workforce boards. For each of the 15 entrepreneurs, they will be expected to quickly identify 500 people interested in their training. “They will do the training and that training needs to happen over 120 days. And then there’ll be another 120 days where they will get the wraparound supports and look at job placement.”

After those first 240 days, the Grand Challenge will look to expanding the number of people being trained. “If we can prove that we’ve done it for 500, the next step is saying, ‘Can we do that for 5,000? Can we do that in a separate sector?’ So they’re just doing training in one sector, how can they expand their offering to show proof of concept that they can do this accelerated training in several different sectors?,” Jackson tells me.

The ultimate goal is to achieve broader systemic change to help prepare 12 million Americans from underinvested communities for workforce success by 2025.

“Our North Star is around policy change and recommendations. I think we all can agree that our workforce system is not working for the people who are at the margins. And so what we hope to offer from this challenge—this experiment—are some practical recommendations, not only to the 538 plus workforce boards that are out there, but we’re also thinking about our federal government and state governments.”

You can read more about the 15 entrepreneurs piloting these training programs at their website: The Future of Work Grand Challenge.

WorkingNation is a proud Operating Partner for the implementation phase of the Grand Challenge and we will be sharing stories of the programs and their progress.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast here.

Episode 175: Dr. Angela Jackson, managing partner, New Profit
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts