The News: Last week, Microsoft announced the launch of a global digital skills initiative, focused on helping 25 million people around the world get digital skills training by year’s end. A global pandemic has illustrated the need for many to undergo a career and skill set transition, and on an accelerated timeline. Microsoft’s global digital skills initiative is to ensure the millions of people on unemployment have the skills they need to get another job and help the economy start to recover. A big part of that will be identifying in-demand positions and providing free access to digital training online. In addition to committing to bring digital skills to 25 million people, Microsoft is committing $20 million in cash grants to help nonprofit organizations the world over help the people they serve who most need it, $5 million of which will be provided in cash grants to community-based nonprofit organizations led by and serving communities of color in the U.S. Read more about this at Microsoft.
Microsoft Announces Launch of Global Digital Skills Initiative
Analyst Take: While there are many things we don’t agree on these days, one thing I think it’s safe to say that we all agree on is that the global economy has changed dramatically since January 2020, thanks to the global pandemic we’re navigating through together.
Microsoft’s announcement of a global digital skills initiative, aimed at not only job seekers but also those who need to skill and reskill themselves as they go along their career paths is, to my way of thinking, both a benevolent and a brilliant move.
First, The Benevolence in this Global Digital Skills Initiative
This was news I was excited to see. This move by Microsoft, both in the way of digital skills training and $20 million in targeted, strategic cash grants to organizations and communities who need it most is yet another example of Big Tech stepping up, in a big way, to provide some much-needed help.
There are millions of people the world over who have been hard hit by job losses as a result of the pandemic. Many of them, in fact the majority of them, are people who can ill afford to take a massive career hit. This includes those with less formal education, workers doing manual jobs, people of color, women, people with disabilities, the young, people of color, and even older people struggling to make ends meet. In short, these are people for whom weathering a small crisis has always been difficult — weathering a global pandemic and the resultant economic downturn is, for many, an insurmountable challenge.
Microsoft calculates that global unemployment may reach a quarter of a billion people in 2020. In the U.S. alone, that could equate to some 21 million people out of work. The U.S. isn’t alone on this front — other countries are facing similar challenges.
And just as businesses have had to embrace rapid change in order to stay afloat and undergo two years of digital transformation in the space of a few months, so must the workforce, comprised of what is really a complete melting pot of people, likewise pivot in order to learn new skill sets that will help them continue to work, today and in the coming years.
The Brilliance in Microsoft’s Global Digital Skills Initiative
It’s always a good thing to be benevolent whenever possible, but there’s also a lot of brilliance on the part of Microsoft at work here. This is an extremely well thought out plan, bringing every part of its company to the table: LinkedIn, GitHib, and Microsoft.
The plan is to first use data to research what the most in-demand jobs are and what skills people need to get these jobs. The next step is to offer free access to online content via Microsoft Learn, LinkedIn Learning, and GitHub Learning Lab. Finally, the company will help people complete the certifications they need for their career without spending much.
I’ll note here that there was already a huge skills gap globally, due in no small part to a twenty-year decline in employer investments in employee training. On top of that, training often doesn’t extend to those who need it most, like those in lower-skilled jobs.
Those of us immersed in the technology space know that digital technologies are the key to the future, and that a combination of digital skills and “soft” skills are an important part of the workforce moving forward.
Microsoft has pledged their move to address the global skills challenge will focus as follows:
- Using data and technology to help people develop new skills.
- Focus on a broad set of skills, including both technology capabilities and soft skills needed to find jobs and succeed in them.
- Ask employers to do more, by committing to playing a bigger role in helping employees develop new skills.
- Base their work on partnerships with nonprofits and support for governments, and as it relates to nonprofits, providing real assistance where it’s most needed, including communities of color in the U.S.
- Commit every part of the company to this initiative (Microsoft, LinkedIn, GitHub, Microsoft Philanhtropies, and LinkedIn’s CSR program).
- Commit to using the company’s voice to effect change, sharing data and knowledge, and advocating for public policy innovations to support reskilling opportunities.
Another piece of Microsoft’s announcement around this global digital skills initiative was that the company’s vision is a connected “system of learning,” intended to help empower all people to pursue lifelong learning. The future of the workplace, and the workforce is one that is a continual state of learning and reskilling is a reality, and this initiative addresses and plans for that.
Microsoft announced the development of a new learning app in its Teams product that is intended to help employers upskill both new and existing employees. This learning app will feature content from LinkedIn’s Learning platform, Microsoft Learn, along with third-party training partners, and each organization’s own learning content, all in a centrally located, easy to access place for employees.
See why I say there’s seriously a lot of brilliance here? Hmmmm, should we be a company powered by Microsoft technology, or should we use something else? An offering like this makes Microsoft even more attractive, across the enterprise and elsewhere, than it already is. Well done, Microsoft.
Why This Move Matters
Digital skills training is more important than ever. In the last few months, the world has been relying more than ever on digital elements. People (including senior executives) who have never worked remotely are doing so now, rather than going into the office every day like they once did.
Some may never go back to working in the office, as remote work is the new normal for their company. And even for those who lost their job at the start of the pandemic, their next job is more likely than ever to be partly or fully digital.
To account for this digital transformation — and increase the chances that unemployed individuals can quickly become employed again as the world reopens — Microsoft is putting its money on the table and making a serious commitment to ensure people have free access to the knowledge, training, certifications and opportunities they need in order to both survive and thrive in this digital first new world we’re living in.
I linked to the full Microsoft post at the beginning of this research note, and I’ll note here that it is packed with way more information that I shared here. There is a ton of interesting data, along with LinkedIn’s real-time labor market data and skills insights intended to help governments, policymakers, and business leaders understand what’s happening in their labor markets, what companies are hiring, along with the available jobs and skills needed for those jobs. They identified key jobs and horizontal skills most in demand and links to training courses available right now for those jobs — and so much more. Go check it out, you won’t be disappointed.
In sum, and as I said when I began, this is yet another Big Tech does good moment and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Microsoft is really stepping up here in ways that will impact people and organizations and governments and countries and nonprofits and the communities they serve in myriad ways and for a long time to come.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.
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Image Credit: Microsoft
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”