Joseph Davis Joseph Davis
Director, Communications


June 18, 2024


The demand for work-based learning opportunities has surged in recent years. Employers, policymakers, and educators are actively seeking effective ways to connect students to careers, enhance awareness of in-demand industries, and equip students with essential employability skills. While internships have traditionally served this purpose, their capacity falls short of meeting the growing need. On June 20, one of the U.S. Chamber Foundation's newest initiatives, EPIC — or Employer Provided Innovation Challenges — will host its Summer Meeting, bringing together learners, employer partners, education partners, and host organization partners, to find new ways to connect students to employers through work-based learning. We caught up with U.S. Chamber Foundation Senior Vice President Jason Tyszko to discuss why EPIC is filling a vital need, and how this stands to be a game-changer for learners and employers.

What's EPIC?

JT: EPIC is an effort to significantly scale project-based learning with employers, and while project-based learning has been around for a while, it's often the hardest thing to find as a learner to participate in and it's a big lift on the part of education partners to go out and recruit stakeholders like employers to participate in them. So, EPIC is trying to create a new infrastructure that would allow us to significantly scale up project-based learning with employers through a network.

Was there something that signaled to you there was a need right now in terms workforce development, that indicated we have to create this?

JT: Yes. When we wrote about this many years ago for the National Academies of Science, we were looking at what were some potentially better ways to prepare people for the workforce and a lot of folks were looking at traditional pathway models. And I remember at this conference apprenticeships were particularly discussed as an ideal solution, and we put forward a different idea saying, no, we need people getting more experiences that look like the workplace and the more they can engage as cross functional interdisciplinary teams solving a real-world problem, that's going to better prepare them for the world of work.

The challenge is those are very hard to come by, so how do we create more of those opportunities? A lot of people on the education side are always trying to figure out how to get more access to work-based learning and they typically fall back on place-based experiences like internships. But what we tried to argue is team-based projects with a real stakeholder like an employer are often the best means of exposing people to careers as well as preparing for them.

So, EPIC is trying to solve for the problem of scale. How do you provide more and better access to employers to do these projects? And we think that's better solved through the business community than through the education community, very similar to Talent Pipeline Management®️ (TPM), where we said let's go where employers naturally congregate, build their capacity to provide talent supply chains as a service and we can scale. EPIC is project-based learning as a service.

So, who's involved in this effort? Who's necessary to make this work?

JT: There are three core partners. There's the Chamber Foundation, which is the coordinator and is essentially functioning like in accreditor of sorts for participants and challenges. The second core partner, and the main delivery mechanism, is a technology platform provided by Riipen and they have typically been selling to education stakeholders to use their platform to do virtual work-based learning, virtual internships, etc. And what we're using them to do is provide what I call the project management layer. So, through technology, we could reach more people, connect more teams of learners to more employers.

But instead of their typical model of selling to education partners, they're working through us. We think the business community has been a key component through this technology, their presence and ability to organize and distribute challenges through it. Technology is helping connect a national network of partners and manage all the challenges and provides a home for each node on the network that wants to establish itself as a what we call a challenge host organization — which is the third core partner. So, EPIC involves an accreditor, a technology partner, and Credly as the digital badge provider. Completing challenges earns individuals an EPIC badge, showcasing both durable and soft skills. Employers can customize badge details per challenge. Host organizations play a crucial role by opting in, accrediting challenges, and establishing their presence within the network. The vision is to create scalable infrastructure for career awareness, benefiting learners and employers alike.

EPIC aims to organize the business community to facilitate career connections. By leveraging economies of scale, it offers learners access to more employers and challenges. Education partners benefit from a simplified process, avoiding the burden of finding opportunities. The goal is to create a network where everyone thrives, transforming traditional approaches to career development. But the real magic happens when these clearing houses start activating and using it.

If this evolves in the way that we hope and think it will, what do the beneficiaries of EPIC stand to gain ultimately?

JT: We've segmented challenges into two buckets: career awareness and career exploration. For those students that are trying to explore potential careers in industries they want to go into, this gives them an opportunity to participate in a challenge where they can try to solve a real-world, messy problem that a company or industry tries to solve all the time. It's a great way to say, I'm going to get the opportunity to understand an industry or company I don’t know well, but I see the problem that keeps them up at night and I want to know what it would look like to work with my peers to solve it. And that might get me more interested in exploring careers with that company going forward.

It's a great way to get to know a space when you know very little about it. There's that awareness piece and then there's the preparation where a lot of times we say we're talking about skills that employers are looking for. It's not just claiming you have those skills, it's showing that you have them, and a challenge is a great way to do a performance assessment.

EPIC is a great way to give someone a formative experience without actually having to be employed or necessarily having to show up in person. We think it becomes a great tool for career guidance, but also demonstrates a process that can be credentialed, and shows someone is in fact, ready for work.

If we fast forward five or 10 years, and we come back and ask you again about EPIC, what does that future look like?

JT: Looking into the future, I would say that we would have thousands of students, if not tens of thousands of students, routinely getting recognized for successfully participating in a challenge. That, to me, is going to be a major win if we can solve the problem of scale. And if it's easy for a company to participate, create a challenge, and we're also achieving economies of scale where we make this very affordable and, in fact, revenue generating for chambers of commerce and other business associations that want to offer this as a service.

It's a great way to solve a major problem when it comes to work-based learning experiences, but to do it in a way that's potentially profitable and provides high-quality formative experiences to more youth, and if not for EPIC, tens of thousands of students may never have an experience like this. We think it will bring a very formative experience, but scale is the name of the game. Traditional project-based learning is usually in graduate programs and done as a capstone experience. A lot of times it's an individual doing the challenge, not a team, and this is a great way to infuse capacity into the system in a novel way where you know that a student in a rural community might not be able to connect to that company across the country in a meaningful internship style experience, but they can connect to them through technology to engage in a project. We think it's that access that’s going to be so important. More access to more employers, providing more  formative learning opportunities than they would have otherwise.

Stay tuned for recap of the 2024 EPIC Summer Meeting.

About the authors

Joseph Davis

Joseph Davis

Joseph Davis is communications director at the U.S. Chamber Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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