December 5, 2023

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has received a $1.5 million grant to create more training opportunities for high school students, post-secondary students and current workers, according to the notice dated March 6.

The grant will fund the pilot launch of the program Innovative challenges of the employer (EPIC) initiative, an online platform that aims to bring users together to create solutions to real challenges in employer-led workplace learning. The program, set to begin in fall 2023, is designed to prepare students and workers for career advancement as well as address workforce shortages.

“EPIC will provide opportunities for students to work as a team on real industry problems that not only promote career awareness but also career preparation,” Jason Tyszko, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said in the announcement.

Regional and national partners – including large corporations, SMEs, government agencies, municipalities and non-profit organizations – will address the challenges. The challenges will focus on the development and implementation of new ideas and new actions to create social value, rather than traditional business cases or entrepreneurial challenges that favor the creation of new businesses.

By 2025, the foundation will organize up to 50 challenges and reach up to 500 students through project management tools, frameworks and rubrics. As part of this phase, microcredit options will be tested.

The grant comes from American Student Assistance, a national nonprofit organization working to change the way students learn about careers and pathways to postsecondary education. The aim is to remove barriers to access to authentic work-based learning and soft skills credentials.

“Through our innovative partnership with the American Chamber Foundation, we can better engage employees in work-based learning opportunities. This provides support for career exploration and real-world learning and increases the opportunity for more young people to build skills to be workforce ready,” Julie Lammers, ASA’s senior vice president of advocacy and corporate responsibility, said in a statement.

According to recent research from the ASA, about 79% of high school students would be interested in work experience, but only 34% knew about opportunities for students their age. Additionally, 2% of students completed an internship during high school.

Within EPIC, challenges will be based on the needs and interests of local partners who will design and host experiences in remote, hybrid, and in-person environments. Organizations will be involved in many industries, including healthcare, information technology, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, government, and civic and community opportunities. Within the industry focus, participants will be able to gather their credentials, allowing them to continue their journey from broad career awareness to specific professional training.

Employers have been promoting similar employee development programs in recent years as a way to build alternative skill-building pathways and increase brand awareness among younger workers. At the same time, both employees and potential employees have expressed concerns about the outcomes of these programs and whether digital credentials lead to success and job offers.

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