March 4, 2024 – Future of Work

Catalyze Challenge awards grants to help Americans pursue purposeful careers


A career that connects to who you are as a person — your unique interests and skills — improves outcomes for both employees and employers. That insight is reflected in the 15 winners of the Catalyze Challenge, who are developing innovative programs that will help more Americans discover their unique purpose and gain the skills needed to find a career they love. 

In total, these organizations will receive $3.3 million in grants that will help education and business leaders work together to advance a culture where work and lifelong learning are connected. The grantees are expected to positively impact more than 25,000 learners in the next year alone.   

Recognizing learners’ unique skills and strengths is a win-win

A growing body of research shows that starting career exploration at a younger age can have profound implications for a person’s career trajectory. Two out of three high school students and recent high school graduates surveyed by American Student Assistance say they would have benefited from more career exploration in middle and/or high school.

“It’s exciting to see what’s possible when you connect the aptitudes and agency of people with hands-on and meaningful career exploration,” says Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) Director of Partnership Development Brennan Brown. “This leads to greater fulfillment for the individual and it’s a win for employers too since it results in a more engaged, productive workforce.” 

CKF supports the Catalyze Challenge.

New grantees include the Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) Schools, which operates a network of tuition-free, industry-led, career-themed elementary and high schools where students learn by doing and gain real world experience through internship, job shadowing, and mentorship opportunities. Grantee RevX is expanding its hands-on career offerings for learners in the Bronx and rural Mississippi, equipping them with the professional technology skills of tomorrow while The New Trade Program offers hands-on, skills-based training that will help learners gain employment in the technology sector. 

How employers can help identify purpose and build skills

To help individuals connect their unique purpose and interests to a job, businesses can partner with community organizations and schools to create meaningful experiences that help young learners envision, define, and pursue their career paths. 

“These experiences are a win-win: they equip future workers with the skills and experiences necessary to succeed and connect employers with people ready to contribute and grow,” Brown says.  

Through Catalyze support, grantees are engaging employers in new and innovative ways. Escalate will partner with CVS to launch three new career pathways for frontline workers to upskill and advance within the company and Project Success will launch a career pathway initiative with Minneapolis Public Schools and local employers to facilitate workshops, expeditions, and certificate programs for students. 

“Employers have a huge role to play in increasing young people’s exposure to high-quality, career-oriented learning experiences,” says Dr. Michelle Cheang, director of Catalyze. “By investing in and expanding early access to hands-on career experiences, Catalyze is laying the groundwork for brighter, more successful futures for all learners.”

Click here to read the full press release announcing the Catalyze Challenge winners and to read more about all 15 grant recipients.