Future of Work Challenge: Crowdsourcing solutions to finding the right career path

The National Science Foundation's Career Compass Challenge is a national competition with a $75,000 prize for the best idea.

The shifts in the workplace caused by rapid innovations in technology present challenges to businesses large and small, and to jobseekers trying to maneuver the changing landscape. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is looking to address the country’s concerns about the changing nature of the future of work by crowd-sourcing solutions through a newly-launched competition, the NSF Career Compass Challenge.

NSF wants to modernize the American workforce. “I do think that it’s perhaps the first time at NSF that we’ve used this kind of challenge to identify a technological solution that we intend to leverage tactically and operationally,” explains said Robyn Rees, a spokesperson at the National Science Foundation. “We are trying something new and seeing what we can learn from it.”

The goal of the challenge is to spark innovations needed to build a small-scale digital tool capable of a broad range of applications for employers in both the public and private sectors. NSF envisions having a “market” for technology solutions that will help show pathways for both changing careers and facilitating continuous learning.

“If we can say here’s a priority for NSF, perhaps it’s a priority for the federal government. Perhaps it’s a priority for your private sector company, as well. Could we then get people interested in investing their own capital to make a variety of solutions and therefore have a competitive marketplace for solutions rather than each agency building one in a one-off manner?” asks Rees.

Career Compass Challenge graphic
Credit: National Science Foundation

The challenge is designed to inspire participants to conceptualize solutions that will help match jobs most suited to an individual’s strengths and aspirations in order for them to develop the skills needed to qualify for current and future careers. It is one of the many competitions sponsored by which allows federal agencies to solicit ideas from the public to solve problems affecting communities and industries throughout the county.

“Knowledge is the first part of the individual empowerment, so if you can identify what skills you have and how they might be leveraged, and what attainment of further skills would make you more relevant for future work, you might feel more empowered and encouraged to attain those additional skills,” explains Rees.


The challenge is broken up into two parts. “The first part solicits concepts that say if you have ideas about how advanced technology and research on adult cognition and other things could be brought to bear to enable this vision that we see, what might those ideas be. And so we ask people to submit their narratives or maybe a visual of what they’re thinking of,” according to Rees. The top five submissions will each get a $5,000 prize for sharing their ideas and those concepts will then be entered into a second round of competition.

“The second part of the competition will ask for people who are interested in building out a functional prototype of a tool that can be tested to meet the objective of this challenge. The judges will review and the top one will walk away with a $75,000 prize.”

Part 1 of the competition began on Nov. 9 and the submission deadline for concepts is Feb. 13. Part 2 of the competition begins on Feb. 25.

“Success, for us, is encouraging and continuing to stimulate a conversation about leveraging advanced technologies to enable a culture of continuous learning and open opportunities for people,” says Rees. “If at the end of the challenge people are talking about it, and a market starts to build up outside of the federal government to build tools that can enable this to happen, we’ve succeeded.”

For more information on the NSF Career Compass Challenge, click here. For questions, please contact: [email protected]