September 13, 2022 – Future of Work

How Catalyze Challenge is Fostering the Next Generation of Career-Connected Learning


Career-connected learning programs allow students to develop the skills they need to find careers best suited for their individual interests and learning styles. Research shows that students who utilize these models are more likely to graduate, remain employed, and have higher lifetime earnings. 

The Catalyze Challenge supports the development of bold ideas that better connect learning and careers. On September 13, it announced 25 new grant winners who will each receive up to $500,000 to generate new models that equip learners to discover their aptitudes and develop new skills that will lead to fulfilling careers. Winners, who represent a range of nonprofits, community organizations, entrepreneurs, employers, and cross-sector partnerships, were selected from a pool of 550 applicants. 

The Charles Koch Foundation began its partnership with the Catalyze Challenge earlier this year. 

“We believe in the purpose and potential of every learner,” said Brennan Brown, CKF’s director of partnership development. “Career-connected learning helps students develop new skills and explore meaningful career pathways. It’s exciting to see so many innovative ideas being catalyzed from those closest to the opportunity: teachers, learners, and education entrepreneurs.” 

This year’s winners have a specific focus on developing solutions that address career identity and development and post-high school pathways, especially for students who come from historically under-represented backgrounds. Selected solution themes include:

  • Community-centric career development: Through local employer partnerships and culturally responsive programming, grantees will equip students with skills necessary to identify and solve challenges in their communities. 
  • Unlocking equity through innovation: By working across industries to anticipate the needs of the future, grantees will build more equitable access to in-demand skills for historically underrepresented learners.
  • Disrupting beliefs around blue collar careers: Grantees will connect learners to high-income employment opportunities in traditionally blue collar fields, such as construction, while training learners with in-demand skills such as data analytics, project management, and engineering.

Grant winners include unCommon Construction’s apprenticeship program, which helps students earn hourly pay and school credit for building a house together, and Builders and Backers, which has partnered with the Education Design Lab to help underrepresented entrepreneurs and learners gain the skills and real-world experience they need to pursue their business ideas and career goals. SkillUp partner LevelUp Dallas also will receive a grant to help students access vetted training programs that are connected to their career preferences.  

Read the Catalyze Challenge’s full press release to find a full list of winners and their projects.