Entrepreneurs Showcase Next-Gen Career Navigation Solutions
Participants in the JFFLabs Career Navigation accelerator take different paths to a common goal: helping workers and learners who face barriers to employment and education chart pathways to rewarding careers.
The seven entrepreneurs who participated in the JFFLabs Career Navigation Accelerator program offer a wide array of products and services designed to address a variety of different needs, but they all share similar goals: To create innovative opportunities for workers and learners to tap new resources, build networks, and chart pathways to rewarding careers.
In online presentations during the accelerator’s Demo Day event on October 13, they showcased solutions, ideas, and plans for an audience that included potential partners and funders.
Their offerings ranged from groundbreaking training apps to programs that open new doors to careers for people from populations that have faced systemic barriers to education and employment opportunities. All are aligned with Jobs for the Future’s mission of transforming the American workforce and education systems to drive equitable economic advancement for all.
Here are five key insights that emerged during their presentations:
- Technology can expand awareness of career and education opportunities.
For many people, access to career and education opportunities is limited by a lack of resources and support. EdVisorly founder Manny Smith recognized that this could be a problem for community college students who are interested in moving on to four-year degree programs but may not be aware of their options because their schools don’t have the capacity to offer comprehensive college advising services and they’re not sure where to find that information on their own. EdVisorly’s platform helps connect those learners to four-year institutions. Students use an app to build personal profiles, and then the company’s platform matches them with schools offering programs that reflect their interests. It also provides information about financing options and even tells them what community college classes they should take so they can transfer without losing credits.
- Building networks accelerates the career navigation process.
Several of the entrepreneurs in the Career Navigation Accelerator program lead organizations that connect individuals with employers and industries and introduce them to career paths that they may not have been aware of. For example, Metro Esports founder Shaon Berry told Demo Day attendees that his company brings a community of gamers into a “brand-focused ecosystem.” Offering an e-sports platform for competitive gamers, as well as media and marketing services for brands and educational programs for gamers who want to learn how to code, Metro Esports is well positioned to provide learners with skills and connections that lead to careers in gaming or the broader tech industry.
And Terrell Blount, executive director of the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network (FICGN), has a firsthand understanding of the important role a strong network can play in career navigation. He recalled that when he pursued a college education after leaving prison, he thought he would be traveling that road alone, but instead he became part of a community of other formerly incarcerated students who helped one another persist in their studies. He says the FICGN offers that same type of community to help other formerly incarcerated individuals succeed in school and learn about career opportunities they may not have found on their own.
- Scaling access to education and training creates career opportunities for wider populations of learners and workers.
Finding ways to bring training and education opportunities to more people profoundly increases impact. Charlene Brown told Demo Days attendees that she launched CNA Simulations to fill a gap in in-person clinical training opportunities for frontline health care workers. Her team is building a library of digital simulations of clinical care lessons, and the first is a platform for students in certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs.
Similarly, AnetaEd founder Afua Branoah “B.B.” Banful said one of her company’s goals is to “democratize access to the beneficial resources of the internet.” She explained that parents and educators can use the Aneta platform to build curated internet learning experiences for young children and thereby foster “a lifelong love of learning in kids”—which is important, because the journey of learning and career exploration begins at a young age.
- Platforms can reveal a world of possibilities.
For many people, the process of navigating career pathways may begin when they first learn that they can make a living doing something they love.
At Martk’d, founder Dion Wolcott has built a platform that uses art as an engagement tool to connect young people to those kinds of opportunities. Through in-person programs lasting six to eight weeks, young artists engage in project-based learning by designing things like graphic T-shirts or custom sneakers and then working with brands to market them. He said Martk’d is “a bridge between brands and creative communities” that gives participants opportunities to showcase their skills and learn about career pathways they may not have known about.
- Creating a sense of belonging and agency can be a game-changer.
Career navigation can be an overwhelming challenge for all learners and workers—and especially those who feel a poor sense of belonging in workplaces that don’t have effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and practices. At Unpacking, founder Kristina Williams partners with employers to solve that problem using an experiential learning platform that supports a next-generation approach to DEI training. The “secret sauce” of Unpacking’s model, she said, is that the learning process incorporates gamification and collaboration. Participants work together to develop DEI action plans and identify measurable goals. The end result isn’t a policy that’s mandated from the top down, but a new approach that employees of all levels had a hand in creating.
Different Solutions, Common Goals
While each member of this JFFLabs Entrepreneur in Residence cohort focuses on a different aspect of career navigation, their solutions and ideas evoke common themes.
In their Demo Day presentations, they made it clear that the most effective platforms, services, and programs are those that not only provide guideposts that clearly mark the way to rewarding careers, but also enable workers and learners to acquire the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to succeed, and offer access to supports that ease the load when they encounter challenges.