Emerging Tech Training Gets a $30M Boost from NSF

The National Science Foundation launched a new workforce development program called Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies, or ExLENT, aimed at expanding practical opportunities for individuals to learn about and gain experience in emerging technology, thereby bolstering competitiveness in the emerging technology workforce.

The $30 million program—under the Directorate for Education and Human Resources and the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships—will have opportunities in advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum information science, semiconductors and microelectronics. ExLENT will provide awards of up to $1 million over three years to partner organizations in the emerging technology field and those with workforce development expertise. 

The ExLENT program is designed to offer experiential learning opportunities—or “learning by doing” experience—to individuals from diverse professional and educational backgrounds to increase access and interest in emerging technology careers. Part of NSF’s mission is to support emerging technologies and help address workforce shortages, particularly in emerging fields like semiconductors. The program will help address challenges to gaining hands-on learning opportunities, particularly for those not currently enrolled in higher education.

“The ExLENT program offers a new pathway for individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences to gain on-the-job training in technologies that are critical to the nation’s long-term competitiveness,” Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for technology, innovation and partnerships, said. “This program acknowledges that traditional STEM education pathways are not by themselves sufficient to address the large workforce shortages that the nation faces today in emerging technology areas. Training individuals at any and all stages of their careers or with varying experience in the STEM workforce can ensure more equitable access to high-skill, well-paying STEM job opportunities.” 

The program will use a cohort model and focus on mentorship to help connect companies, governments and nonprofits with current or potential STEM learners in the program, who are looking for paid opportunities to explore careers and develop skills in emerging technology. For example, proposed opportunities include “fully immersive experiences, such as internships, to extensive course-based activities that are constructed by (or driven by) workplace partner input to approximate real-world experiences.”

“Partnerships are the future of STEM innovation,” James L. Moore III, NSF assistant director for education and human resources, said. “ExLENT’s cohort and mentoring model will help so many individuals develop much-needed skills to support our STEM workforce needs, especially in areas of utmost importance to our nation’s prosperity and security.” 

The ExLENT program offers three different tracks for people with different levels of STEM experience: pivots, beginnings and explorations.

The pivots track gives professionals in any field a chance to build needed skills to redirect their careers into emerging technology fields. The beginnings track offers people with limited STEM training an opportunity to gain more knowledge and experience to pursue a career in an emerging technology field. The explorations track will give individuals with no prior STEM experience a chance to build “interest, motivation and knowledge” in an emerging technology as a potential career.

Program projects are supposed to “contribute to the knowledge base that informs best practices in STEM education” by, for example, having a plan to gather and analyze appropriate data and assess the effectiveness of strategies. Additionally, projects can show their worth via an evaluation of project activities, impacts or outcomes. ExLENT projects should also “reimagine and/or transform existing approaches to identifying, attracting and retaining diverse talent in emerging technology fields.”

Proposals for the ExLENT program are due March 2, 2023.

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