Feb 24 2023

XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling began as an idea: How do we rapidly train Americans for the future of work, which is changing at a rapid pace? How do we upskill workers for the technological changes of tomorrow? And how do we create tools that get people into employment fast, closing the unemployment and skills gap? 

Inspired by the work of the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE, which challenged teams from around the world to develop open-source, scalable software empowering children to teach themselves, we created a new competition: XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling

A $5 million dollar, 30-month competition to quickly reskill under-resourced workers for the digital revolution, Rapid Reskilling took as its goal to improve equity and inclusion by creating new pathways of access. It challenged teams to develop novel solutions to uplift the labor market in the U.S. — especially important when we consider that new research shows almost 58% of employees need new skills to do their jobs successfully.

With a focus on representation and equity for all, the competition — sponsored by New Profit — centered on folks who were vulnerable to employment loss during the pandemic (a period when we saw U.S. unemployment rise to the unprecedented level of 13%). It also focused on a demographic of individuals who have a high school diploma but have not necessarily obtained higher education degrees, as well as younger workers with seasonal or part-time jobs, women, people of color, and other groups typically excluded from the labor market. 

As Rapid Reskilling comes to a close, XPRIZE Technical Lead Dr. Monique Golden reflects on how far the competition has come since it launched in June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 employment crisis. A total prize purse of $1.2 million was awarded to participating teams over the course of the 30-month competition. The teams deployed their training technologies, trained workers using their programs, and hundreds of those workers were subsequently placed in jobs within 60 days post-training. Plus, new technology was developed that can cut traditional training time by an average of 50%, leveraging human-centered designs and novel technologies that incorporate AR, VR, and other advanced learning tools. 

Even with all this acceleration in the space, there is still more work to be done, says Golden: “We’ve only scratched the surface on what it means to create rapid systems opportunities,” she comments. The teams’ tech is still nascent and has room for development and scale, as we continue to understand that there’s a need to embrace more than “traditional” training pathways as we consider the future of training and work.

To get there — to a more equitable future for all — we also need to lean into a new outlook on career pathways, says Golden. “For entry-level employment especially, we need to look at career pathways that present job opportunities that hold different views on job readiness and competencies, rather than seeking just the old ‘standards and minimums’. Fast-paced training programs benefit from employers who are willing to recruit employees who hold experiences and possess skills gained from non-traditional pathways; they are interested in reskilling and upskilling workers quickly in partnership with workforce and training organizations, and they get the right people to say ‘yes’ (reducing time to decision making) in collaboration settings.”

Golden also believes the next generation of training will involve immersive technologies. “As AR/VR headsets are needed to experience entertainment (e.g., games, concerts) in multiverse platforms, there are broad and promising implications for adult education and workforce development. Want to earn a Commercial Driver's License? Start a career in healthcare, construction, or manufacturing? Your next career could begin from your headset!” 

Finally, for real acceleration to happen, we need to see policy change and top-level support of the kinds of new training solutions and approaches to justice in access that the Rapid Reskilling competition championed. “We hope the important work of these teams will both influence future reskilling efforts and drive policy change that centers the voices, needs, and assets of these communities,” comments Abby Marquand, Partner and Economic Mobility lead at New Profit, the competition’s sponsor.

Overall, the competition showed us what’s possible. A workforce that is prepared and skilled for the integration of AI into new job roles. A society where equal access to job opportunities reaches those who are less privileged or structurally discriminated against. A future where we are more open-minded and imaginative about new career and training pathways because we understand there is not a one-size-fits-all model for a world of work that includes everyone. 

The XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling finalist teams are at the cutting edge of training technology. With growth and investment, they can scale their impact on communities not just in the US, but globally. Interested in leveraging their tech, or reaching out with investment and grant opportunities? Contact the teams here.