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The #RealWorkChallenge

The #RealWorkChallenge crowdsources “real-work” projects to share as challenges with students, so they can learn and tackle skills — problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, analytics, etc. — needed to succeed in knowledge-economy work. The purpose is to provide 1. students with scenario -based, 21st century skills centered around real-life work and context, enable 2. employers to articulate exactly what skills they need in their workforce, and 3. educators to identify what skills are most in-demand, and to access open-source projects to use in classrooms. This simple but scaleable challenge can help tackle the divide between educators and workforce, to shape education and workforce development. See

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The challenge opens up the channels between educators, the workforce, and students, using the power of technology, data, and platforms. This will allow anyone - regardless of who they are - to be able to submit #realworkchallenges and to impact workforce development. 

We are asking people everywhere to tell us about the work they are currently doing in their jobs: their deliverables, projects and assignments, from across all industries. What is "real work"? Is it creating a GTM strategy for a new product? Preparing a P&L statement, scripting and producing a short marketing video, researching a feasibility report? The platform asks for a detailed project scope: the industry, deliverable, requirements, tools, and resources - just as one would be asked to complete at work. By opening up and crowdsourcing this challenge, we will be able to get a huge range and diversity of real-time projects that educators would not be able to access anywhere else. 

Using direct data from companies and employers, we can get a more nuanced layer of labor market data and the current skills gap (currently at 14.6% rate of un/deremployment in the U.S.), to better understand what capabilities are most needed in today's fast-growing competitive global industries, and to shape our educational curriculum to include such skillsets and capabilities. By improving the information gap, we can identify and highlight the skill shortages we need to address.

Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

In the adult education space, we often hear of the huge disconnect that students are feeling between school work and “real work.” Students don’t see the relevance of what they are learning academically in school, or how that schoolwork is providing them with the right skills to land immediate job opportunities in high-demand careers. Many of our adult learners also don’t have access or visibility into knowledge-economy jobs: what these jobs require, what employers are looking for and expecting. Employers are frustrated by the skills gap and the inability to find and hire qualified people for their work; and educators want to better identify the the right skills to prepare their students for success, but struggle to build the right partnerships with employers. By engaging educators, employers and students - all of whom need to be deeply invested in order to truly improve workforce development - the #RealWorkChallenge can open the critical channels between educators and employers, to support students in a new and interactive way, and to activate all in a scaleable and powerful movement.

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

Studies have shown that students are much more likely to be engaged in their learnings if there is real-life application involved. Rather than learning a basic geometry problem, teachers can apply a real engineering company's project scope around it - so students are learning by doing, and also getting exposure to what employers are looking for and expecting in today's knowledge economy. For additional, detailed examples of what some of these projects might look and sound like, see: By placing detailed projects on the site, we also enable students to "test drive" what what work on jobs are like. This will hopefully allow our students to better understand what industry they'd like to be in, and what kind of real work they can expect to do. Perhaps a student believes that marketing sounds "cool": but after reviewing a number of #realworkchallenges focused on brand marketing, she may come to realize her analytical skillsets are better suited for the data field. It is our hope that these projects can also help students make better educated decisions about what field they would like to enter, prior to investing years and education dollars in a poorly-suited job or industry. With scale, the project can generate enough content and data to shape and create an open-source curriculum that all teachers and educators can use and apply in their classrooms, to empower and foster interdisciplinary, creative and hands-on learning.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We have created a v1 platform at, where there is a simple online form asking for everything one would require to complete a real work project: the deliverable, requirements, tools, and resources. The site lists all submitted projects, that anyone can check out. At this point, we are encouraging all to go to the site to fill out a short form with details of a real work project; and allow us to test UX/UI to understand if there are barriers to submission. In order to build projects and data points, we will need to call upon the communities with huge demand for jobs - i.e. computer technology, nursing, high-tech manufacturing - and ask them to submit real projects and challenges. This will require a shift away from the traditional "job description" employers are used to writing, with a focus on actual deliverables required. We will then ask educators to review the materials and understand what additional data points are needed for them to be able to effectively use and apply the projects in their teaching and classrooms. We will also test different messages and "nudges" to understand what resonates with the different communities, to activate them.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Would love to get additional feedback, ideas and suggestions on how we might be able to make this project go "viral" with key communities, reduce any barriers to submitting challenges, and to tell the powerful story of how a simple project like this can make huge impact in improving workforce development.

The idea emerged from:

  • An individual

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to prototype it, find partners and pursue implementation


Join the conversation:

Photo of Liz Duffy

Hi Jessica, I would be happy to talk to you. Please call my office 609-896-0408 to set up a time for us to chat. Congrats on all the progress you've made on your idea. Liz

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