Big Ideas Bright Cities Challenge

GBC-Education’s Big Ideas, Bright Cities Challenge helps to solve an urgent problem: in the US, one in ten young people are not in school and not employed—a total of four million youth. Millions more young people are underemployed. The Challenge invited cities to develop bold, innovative ideas that equip young people with skills to participate in the workforce and address the ten standards for a Skills Friendly City.

We’ve selected 15 city finalists to receive grant funding and come together as a community of practice of change makers across cities nationwide.

The Grand Prize Winner, Action Greensboro (NC), will receive a $100,000 grant. The Runners-Up Sidekick Education in Madison (WI), and Orlando Community Youth & Trust in Orlando (FL) will each receive a $10,000 grant. The remaining finalists will each receive a micro grant to support their work. 

First Place

Action Greensboro, Greensboro (NC)

Action Greensboro’s program aims to link young people from low-income backgrounds and first-generation college students with paid internships with local minority- and women-owned businesses. It will also financially support students in a summer skills development program.


Sidekick Education, Madison (WI)

Madison’s Sidekick Education idea is a text-based chatbot service that acts as a career advisor for 4,000 low-income youth aged 16-24.

Orlando Community Youth and Trust, Orlando (FL)

The Orlando Community and Youth Trust’s Youth Employment Program (YEP) provides career guidance and preparation, job training, and job placement to youth between 15 and 25. Their business partnerships include GAP, Banana Republic, and Old Navy.


Build up Birmingham, Birmingham (AL)

Build UP is a workforce development program that provides low-income youth career-ready skills through paid apprenticeships.

Center for the Future of Arizona, Tucson (AZ)

The Center for the Future of Arizona‘s Pima County School Superintendent’s Cycle Breaker Program (CBP) assist youth by reengaging them with wrap-around services, career exploration, skills development, and job placements.

EmployIndy, Indianapolis (IN)

EmployIndy‘s Project Indy is an online platform that enables businesses to post seasonal, part-time and full-time jobs for young adults between the ages of 16 to 24. Young job seekers can create profiles, upload resumes, and browse job openings by location. Location-based job searching is particularly important for young people who often face transportation barriers.

Jeffco Schools Foundation, Jefferson County (CO)

GROW(Get Ready for Opportunities at Work) Jeffco is a career hub model. Career hubs are physical locations at high school sites with dedicated space for career training, engagement, and employer engagement and mentorship of both school staff and students.

Junior Achievement, Little Rock (AR)

The goal of the Junior Achievement new program is to help youth possess the targeted skills that align with the emerging needs of the City of Little Rock so that they become the “hires of choice”.

New England Basecamp, Providence (RI)

The goal of New England Basecamp leadership  development program is to expose students to a variety of industries, match them with a local mentor affiliated with a job/career of their interest, and connect them to resources/opportunities.

Philadelphia Works, Philadelphia (PA)

This Philadelphia Works program aims at creating a Career Connected Learning (CCL) system to streamline the thousands of career-focused activities already happening in Philadelphia.

STL Youth Jobs, St Louis (MO)

After a successful pilot and a clear demand from a younger audience in search of gaining workplace skills, STL Youth Jobs seeks to scale up the Discover You program by expanding the age range to include 14-year olds and increase the overall number of youth served.

The Trust for Public Land, Camden (NJ)

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) will create an outdoor learning environment that supports an high school’s goals of becoming a green jobs incubator. Designed by students themselves, site features will include green stormwater systems, porous paving, solar collection systems and vegetated roofs for instruction and student-led operations.

Urban Alliance, Chicago region, Chicago (IL)

The Urban Alliance (UA) wants to expand its Teacher Institute program in Chicago to help keep students on track and lay the groundwork for more intensive workforce readiness and paid internship experiences in the nation’s third largest school district.

Education to Employment Partners, Corpus Christi (TX)

Education to Employment Partners’s big idea is to create a Youth Opportunity Center to support underserved and all young people from ages 16-24. Through this Center, Education to Employment Partners (E2E), a nonprofit community-based organization, the City of Corpus Christi, school districts, juvenile justice, workforce, and community partners, will come together to create a more “skills friendly” city for young people.

What is a Skills Friendly City?

The Skills Friendly City initiative outlines ten standards needed to create a “skills friendly” city, including critical activities and indicators of success that lead to a better-prepared generation of youth ready to enter the workforce.

Skills Friendly Cities are working to build more equitable and effective skills enabling environments for young people, at the local level, alongside the business community, education institutions and youth. They strive for conditions and collaboration among actors to positively impact a young person’s ability to acquire relevant skills or a quality job. A skills friendly city fully cultivates a collaborative ecosystem for young people ages 15-25 encompassing: (1) education and training; (2) public policies and public sector efforts; (3) employers; (4) connections and matchmaking between jobseekers and employers; (5) funding and investment from public, private and other actors.

Standards for a Skills Friendly City

1. Direct engagement with young people.

Youth are engaged and involved in efforts related to their future, especially closing the skills and employment gaps.

2. A focus on underserved youth.

There is a commitment to identifying, monitoring, and targeting underserved youth with opportunities for skills and employment.

3. Inclusive and equitable, quality education systems. Local education systems are equitable, accessible, and sufficiently resourced.

Local education systems are equitable, accessible, and sufficiently resourced.

4. Pathways from education to employment.

Clear pathways exist in the city at the high school and post-secondary level.

5. Curriculum adapted to future workforce skills.

Curriculum has explicit focus on 4IR skills (workforce readiness, soft skills, technical skills, entrepreneurship and resilience).

6. Employer engagement in building opportunity pipelines.

Employers proactively engage with public policy officials, school systems and government agencies to build pathways from education to employment.

7. Meaningful and equitable employment.

Employment is meaningful, pays a livable wage and respects the dignity and contributions of young people.

8. Youth-focused funding partnerships.

Local funding and philanthropy, from public to private, reflects the city’s priority on youth futures through programs, subsidies, incentives, and scholarships.

9. Supportive ecosystem.

The design of public services and policies create an ecosystem of support for young people on the pathway from education to employment, including transportation, health care, mental health services, childcare and quality food.

10. Dedicated platform for opportunity dissemination and matchmaking.

The city has a central clearing house, platform, or other mechanisms for making information about skills training, employment and other opportunities available to youth.

Make your city skills friendly.

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Meet the winners

The Grand Prize Winner, Action Greensboro (NC), will receive a $100,000 grant. The Runners-Up Sidekick Education in Madison (WI), and Orlando Community Youth & Trust in Orlando (FL) will each receive a $10,000 grant. The remaining finalists will each receive a micro grant to support their work.