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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

NSF Career Compass Challenge

Enable a future where careers are made up of continuous learning opportunities that build upon your skills and interests.

National Science Foundation

Type of Challenge: Ideas
Submission Start: 04/15/2019 03:30 PM ET
Submission End: 07/26/2019 11:59 PM ET


UPDATE (8/30): Congratulations to the Winners of Part 2!

Click here to learn more.


NSF has a hypothesis.

Technology is changing the way we do our work, and the work itself. To keep up, the National Science Foundation (NSF) plans to invest in its most critical resource – the workforce. And it's not just NSF. The need for an adaptable and ready workforce extends to other Federal agencies and beyond. No industry will be immune to the way advances in technology change the nature of work. As a pressing example, we are facing critical gaps in matching people with data science and cybersecurity skills with the right mission needs. NSF believes that, along with other agencies and organizations, the best way to maintain a workforce ready to carry out its mission is to encourage a culture of continuous learning, and to empower each person to refresh and modernize their skills toward future work. We want to spark the thinking of the best and brightest to co-create a solution that can enable individual skill-matching and tailored training for the Workforce for the 21st Century.

challenge vision for the future

NSF has a vision.

Imagine a mechanism that rapidly enables an individual to match their skills and interests to current and future work opportunities, leveraging advanced technologies which incorporate learning and development needs (traditional, non-traditional, and experiential), and that provides direct access to options for obtaining the relevant expertise to ready the individual for the chosen work. 

The future world of work may not be recognizable yet, however a ready workforce will remain critical for both economic prosperity and mission accomplishment.  Employers must start now to instill a culture of continuous learning in its most critical resource, the workforce. To do this, we must think creatively about broadening the pool of available candidates by lowering the barriers for access to opportunities. This journey begins with a mechanism that enables individuals to self-select and prepare for chosen work that complements their skills and interests. The future of work is one of continuous change, which depends on a culture of continuous learning. 


This Career Compass Challenge is part of an effort to modernize the American workforce, but in order to do that we are focusing on the National Science Foundation as a model. This Challenge will address the changing nature of work, and the pace of change to the types of work, needed to carry out essential missions for the American people and create the Workforce for the 21st Century, starting with NSF. At the conclusion of this Challenge, NSF hopes to have created a "market" for technology solutions that will help employees plot a path for changing careers or identify how to move forward in their current career path, while also facilitating continuous reskilling.

Moreover, the Career Compass Challenge will help inform further collaborative, cross-sector innovation that Federal agencies are pursuing more broadly, such as through the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research—or GEAR—Center. The GEAR Center will facilitate applied research to tackle management challenges at the Executive Branch enterprise level, confronting shared issues like workforce reskilling that cut across Federal agencies and other stakeholders. To the extent that this Career Compass Challenge is intended to explore creating a culture of a continuously ready workforce, on a small scale for NSF—by leveraging thought leaders across the American public, academia and industry—this challenge may be a model for learning how to successfully tackle other broad opportunities through a crowdsourced, test and learn model. 

We want to hear from you!

Let’s explore innovative ways to expose opportunities for NSF employees, within NSF, across Federal Agencies, and even beyond the Government. Let's be creative about leveraging training methods that are broadly accessible and that empower each person to ready themselves to take advantage of available opportunities. 

Can you help us figure out a way to meet the workforce “where they are at”? Can you propose a solution available to anyone, at any time, from any device, in any location, and from any economic or educational background? Think NSF first, and then think beyond.  This challenge is broadly applicable and the outcomes should be scalable.


The different types of roles and opportunities the Government offers the Federal workforce are more diverse than they have ever been, and the way federal staff work is changing. Federal employees no longer stay on a linear career path in the same field for most of their careers. Instead, many employees are branching out by making lateral moves into different fields. In addition, the pace of changes to the types of work that employees do, largely because of the ever-changing pace of technology, has increased dramatically over the past few years. It is difficult for agencies to identify and provide training for the workforce at the same rate of those changes. And it's likely that the Federal Government is not alone.

Part 1 (November 9, 2018 – February 13, 2019)

In Part 1 of this challenge, solvers were asked to submit a concept white paper that describes a solution to the challenge of continuous workforce reskilling and the desire for increased mobility within and between NSF and other Federal agencies (and perhaps even the private sector), as an example. Solvers were asked to think creatively about methods that go beyond the traditional "career path" thinking and "strategic workforce planning" methodology when exposing future skill needs or opportunities for an individual's consideration when choosing a development path. Solvers are also asked to consider relevant research on adult cognition and reskilling, particularly for those that must "work" and "learn" simultaneously. Read the winning submissions in the PRIZES section.

Part 2 (April 15, 2019 - August 30, 2019)

In Part 2, solvers are encouraged to leverage and build upon winning concepts to develop a working prototype for Government testing and evaluation. Solvers need not register in to participate. See the winning submissions in the PRIZES section.


Update (7/11/19): All competition dates have been updated below.

Part 1

  • PART ONE COMPETITION OPENS: November 9, 2018
  • PART ONE SUBMISSION DEADLINE: February 13, 2019, 8:00 pm ET
  • 1st ROUND OF JUDGING (Part One): February 26 - March 22, 2019

Part 2

  • PART TWO SUBMISSION DEADLINE: July 26, 2019, 11:59 pm ET
  • 2nd ROUND OF JUDGING (Part Two): July 29 – August 23, 2019
  • PART TWO WINNER ANNOUNCED: August 30, 2019

Federal Agency Partners

Submissions will be evaluated by a panel of judges consisting of representatives from multiple agencies, that also participate on the President's Management Council.



Part 1

Based on the quality of submissions received, five white papers were selected to win the award purse for Part 1. Each winner or winning team will receive a one-time prize of $5,000.00 to be issued in the form of an electronic direct deposit payment. For a participant’s concept submission to be eligible to win Part 1 prize monies, the submitter must agree to have their winning concept materials posted on and for the Part 2 solver community to be able to leverage the concept materials for prototype development.


Part 2


Amy Huber's prototype, PathwayU, is an innovative tool which uses predictive analytics to identify alignment among personal characteristics, vocational choices, and job opportunities. The platform enables individuals to both identify optimal career paths and focus their reskilling efforts. Specifically, the platform:

  • Measures interests, values, personality, and workplace preferences with scientific assessments
  • Uses an algorithmic approach to recommend careers
  • Provides up-to-date information about required knowledge and skills for matched jobs
  • Guides users to relevant learning opportunities, and
  • Identifies well-fitting job opportunities available both within and outside of the federal government.

Click here to see a video demo of Amy Huber's prototype.


Levi Perkins' prototype, SteppingBlocks, harnesses over 60 million career paths to provide users with real-world statistics on ways to expand your career horizons. Users can view and analyze the career paths of their aspirational job, view the skills required, and find links to learn them.

Click here to see a video demo of Levi Perkins prototype.



  • For a participant's prototype submission to be eligible to win Part 2 prize money, the submitter must make the prototype available for live testing and evaluation by the Federal government.  A demonstration of the developed app must be included either via weblink, as a downloadable app from a website, or as a prototype app on a demonstration mobile device.  If a login is required, demo accounts with password should be provided which will enable judges to access all parts of the product.  If there are different interfaces provided (for example, for differing user personas) separate logins should be provided.  If the team or individual solver opts for submitting the app on a demonstration mobile device, then four such devices must be submitted via mail.  Following judging, all demonstration devices will be returned via mail to the submitter.
  • All entries must be submitted to, or postmarked to NSF by 11:59 p.m. ET on July 26, 2019. If applicable, demonstration devices allowing the government to evaluate the submission must be postmarked by July 26, 2019 and can be mailed to: 

    NSF Career Compass Challenge Prize Submissions
    C/O Robyn Rees/Adrienne Deitemeyer
    2415 Eisenhower Avenue
    Alexandria, VA 22314

  • In no more than 2 pages, submitters may provide a narrative describing how the functional prototype addresses the challenge stated.  This short narrative must adhere to one or more of the following formats: Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe PDF, or Visio.  
  • The narrative may include a link to privately hosted video (such as YouTube, Google Drive, OneDrive or similar), to demonstrate and/or present the functions of the prototype. The total duration of the video cannot exceed 10 minutes.
  • The Career Compass Challenge judging team plans to test using NSF Persona(s). These are five mock NSF employee profiles that each contain the person's demographics, his or her individual goals for using your reskilling prototype, and other information about his or her respective environment and background (such as personal interests, etc.). We have made these available to assist you with building your functional prototypes and user stories.  Use of Personas is highly recommended, though not required.  If you have other suggested test criteria, please provide them and we will try to accommodate your criterion.
  • Entries should ensure products leveraged in the solution adhere to industry best practices for cybersecurity and personally-identifiable information (PII).  For the purposes of this prototype, solvers need not comply with all Federal cybersecurity and PII guidance and requirements, however solvers should bear in mind that any scalable, commercially-viable solution must meet these requirements.  
  • A challenge entry constitutes an agreement to adhere to the rules and stipulations set forth by the contest sponsor, NSF.
  • Entrants must meet the eligibility requirements described in the Eligibility section.
  • Any entrant or entry found in violation of any rule will be disqualified.
  • Each individual or team entrant certifies, through submission to the contest, that the entry is his/her own original, creative work and does not violate or infringe upon the creative work of others, as protected under applicable intellectual property law.
  • By entering the contest, the entrants agree to hold NSF harmless from all legal and administrative claims to include associated expenses that may arise from any claims related to their submission or its use.
  • All Federal Career Compass judges' and NSF’s decisions are final and may not be appealed.
  • NSF will not be responsible for any claims or complaints from third parties about any disputes of ownership regarding the ideas, technology, white papers, prototypes, or images included in entries.
  • Winners are responsible for all taxes or other fees connected with the prize received and/or travel paid for by the sponsoring organization.
  • NSF reserves the right for any reason, including but not limited to an insufficient number of qualified entries, to modify or cancel the competition at any time during the duration of the competition.
  • Should NSF decide to bring winning contestants to the Washington, D.C. area, or to any other location for promotional and other purposes, expenses paid by NSF will be within the limits set forth in law according to federal travel regulations.
  • All contestants agree that they, their heirs and estates shall hold harmless the United States, the employees of the Federal Government, including all employees of NSF for any and all injuries and/or claims arising from participation in this contest, to include that which may occur while traveling to or participating in contest activities.
  • NSF has the final say on any point not outlined in the entry rules.
  • NSF, at its sole discretion, shall determine eligibility of any contestant or team, and may disqualify anyone at any time for any reason.
  • Participants understand that entrants retain all copyright and equivalent rights but give NSF nonexclusive rights to use their names, likenesses, and quotes for educational, publicity, and/or promotional purposes.  This includes, but is not limited to, website display, print materials, and exhibits. 

For more information, review the Part 1 Entry Guidelines.

Judging Criteria

How will submitted prototypes in Part 2 of the challenge be judged?

Judges will evaluate a collection of prototypes submitted. Based on the scoring, a single winning submission will be identified. A submission is considered a functional prototype at any stage of maturity (e.g. beta, v1.0, etc.)

2nd Round of Judging 

All entries will first be screened for compliance with the rules.  All compliant submissions will be scored by a panel of judges, using the following four criteria: 

  • Creativity (20%):
    • Extent to which the proposed solution demonstrates uniqueness and innovation
    • Extent to which the proposed solution demonstrates originality and ability to fill a gap and/or answer a question in a unique manner
    • Extent to which concept demonstrates use of advanced technologies
  • Clarity of concepts and ideas (20%):
    • The prototype is clearly and accurately illustrated through the visual representation of the solution/solution set.
    • Extent to which the proposed solution indicates why it is an improvement over existing products and/or how it fills a need
    • Extent to which proposed solution can improve employee engagement with development opportunities
  • Communicating concept in an accessible and exciting way (20%):
    • Extent to which proposed solution demonstrates the potential value for stakeholders
    • Extent to which proposed solution demonstrates ability to coordinate with relevant stakeholders, such as academia, industry, Federal systems
  • Performance and Usability (40%)
    • Demonstrates use of best practices. Prototype leverages user-centric design, in line help, secure technologies, etc.
    • Extent to which the proposed solution demonstrates how the design elements will attract, engage, and influence users to take intended action
    • Extent to which the proposed solution provides evidence that it is replicable and scalable; potential for use in other and/or larger settings must be addressed
    • How well the proposed solution is positioned for use in the marketplace, both in the public and the private sectors
    • How well the proposed solution demonstrates potential of user acceptance of the product
    • Extent to which proposed solution demonstrates product functionality; the product should be functional as described in the competition overview
    • Extent to which proposed solution demonstrates implementation feasibility across intended platforms, sites, and/or users
    • Extent to which proposed solution indicates potential for sustainability and profitability

Click here to read Part 1 Judging Criteria.

How To Enter


  1. All entries must be submitted to in accordance with the deadlines stated for Part 2 of this competition.
    • Note that solvers need not have participated in Part 1 to participate in Part 2.
  2. Entries may be submitted by an individual or by a team.  Anyone who registers as an individual or team member will automatically give NSF permission to use their name and likeness.

Competition Eligibility

  • All contestants (including individual entrants and all team members) must be at least 14 years of age on November 9, 2018 and be: 
    • U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or
    • Residing legally in the U.S. on November 9, 2018
    • Incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, if the contestant is a private entity
  • Only one entry per individual or team is permitted. 
  • For each part of the challenge, a contestant may submit an entry as an individual or as a member of a team, but not both.
  • For each part of the challenge, a contestant may only be on at most one team. Contestants may participate in one or both parts of the challenge and need not participate on the same team for both parts of the challenge.
  • Entries are welcomed from amateurs and professionals alike.
  • Teachers are encouraged to enter on behalf of their classes.
  • All team members must be named.  One member of the team must be designated and named as the team leader in the submission.
  • The following individuals are not eligible to participate in this contest:
    • Employees of NSF, including but not limited to those with career, temporary, term, or VSEE (Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator) appointments;
    • Fellowship holders working at NSF, e.g., NSF/American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellows and Einstein Fellows;
    • Others working at NSF, e.g., Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignees;
    • NSF Advisory Committee members;
    • Career Compass Challenge judges;
    • Family members of, persons living in the same household as, and anyone who has a financial relationship with: employees of NSF (including but not limited to those with career, temporary, term, or VSEE appointments), Fellowship holders working at NSF, others working at NSF (e.g. IPAs), and Fed Career Compass Challenge judges; and
    • Federal employees working within the scope of their employment and/or on official time are not eligible.
  • Federal grantees and contractors may not use federal funds to develop entries for this contest.
  • For a participant’s concept submission to be eligible to win Part 1 prize monies, the submitter must agree to have their winning concept materials posted on and available for the Part 2 solver community to leverage for prototype development.

For a participant's prototype submission to be eligible to win Part 2 prize money, the submitter must make the prototype available for live testing and evaluation by the Federal government.