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Microsoft Aims to Train 25 Million Workers Free in 2020

30/06/2020 4:29pm

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By Lauren Weber 

Microsoft Corp. will provide free online classes and job-hunting resources to 25 million people by the end of the year as the global economy reels from the coronavirus pandemic.

The training, available to workers around the world, is designed to teach digital skills Microsoft says people need to enter 10 occupations, such as help-desk technician, digital marketer and data analyst. Microsoft, in concert with data from its LinkedIn business, chose the 10 jobs because demand for them is growing and they pay well relative to other roles and most of the jobs have the potential to provide opportunities for those with or without a college degree, the company said.

The effort is a response to two long-term trends, said Brad Smith, Microsoft's president: Automation and artificial intelligence are changing the skills required for nearly every occupation, so workers without digital skills will fall further and further behind. At the same time, employer investments in training and education have declined or stagnated over the past two decades.

Skills training in recent years has moved increasingly online, as providers of online classes, such as LinkedIn Learning, Udacity, Coursera and others, have emerged. They offer accessibility and often lower cost to individuals and employers than traditional education options. But employers in many cases remain resistant to accepting online credentials in place of work experience or degrees from accredited academic programs.

When Microsoft executives were planning the initiative early in the year, they saw the effort as a response to a widening skill gap and the evolution of new technologies. Then the new coronavirus arrived.

"Everything we envisioned when 2020 began has accelerated more quickly than we imagined. That leaves a short-term challenge of truly daunting proportions," said Mr. Smith, who called the training plans "the largest skills initiative" in the company's history. Even when Covid-19 is in the rearview mirror, he added, equipping individuals with work skills "will remain an extremely important priority for companies like us and for the economy as a whole."

The announcement comes as multiple corporations step up their investments in job training for their own employees and in their communities. While early commitments were made in direct response to the coronavirus-related economic downturn, social upheaval related to George Floyd's death at the hands of police spotlighted the broader persistence of economic inequality in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Bank of America said that job training and career reskilling would be one of four focus areas for $1 billion in funding for economic-opportunity initiatives over the next four years. Also in June, the Walmart Foundation donated $6 million to Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit dedicated to identifying and scaling successful workforce-development programs. Microsoft's commitment includes $20 million in grants to organizations that will support and assist people using the free resources, including $5 million to organizations serving communities of color.

"We're seeing a number of leading companies making tangible dollar and policy commitments," said Maria Flynn, chief executive of Jobs for the Future. Beyond the money, what will also be critical is "how they respond in terms of hiring practices, assessing talent, and investing in workers."

Microsoft will give users access to LinkedIn content for "learning paths" corresponding to the 10 jobs through the end of 2020. Employers will likely expect a candidate to have a college degree for some of the roles, and the online training will add digital skills to build on education they already have, the company said. For some, the online training will add digital skills to build on education they already have. The paths require from five hours to more than 30 hours to complete, and additional content is available for the more technical roles through GitHub and Microsoft.

The classes are available in English, Spanish, French and German, and the content comes from Microsoft and two companies it owns: LinkedIn and GitHub, a network on which software developers and other tech professionals gather to share code, post profiles and learn skills. Users will then be able to take discounted exams to earn certificates in their chosen fields.

Microsoft identified the 10 jobs by analyzing job postings, profiles, geographic data and other information on LinkedIn. LinkedIn calls its massive data set the "economic graph," and is pledging to make data and analysis from the product available to governments so they can better plan for local labor-market needs.

The plan provides some benefits to Microsoft as well. The 25 million users may well register on LinkedIn, though that is not required to access many of the classes and benefits. Some of the training will focus on learning Microsoft's own software programs.

Write to Lauren Weber at lauren.weber@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 30, 2020 11:14 ET (15:14 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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