Microsoft plans to provide digital skills training for 25 million people this year under a new, multi-million dollar initiative that will bring together multiple branches of the company, including LinkedIn and GitHub.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith announced the initiative Tuesday and stressed the urgency of training workers for the jobs of the future at a time of severe economic distress. The U.S. unemployment rate has surged past 14% with more than 20 million Americans out of work since the outset of the pandemic.

“Talent is everywhere but the opportunity is not,” Nadella said during the virtual event. “Over and over again, we see that when people have access to education and skilling they create new opportunities for themselves and other people.”

Microsoft leaders were joined by philanthropists and workers who have used the company’s education tools, as well as a celebrity guest. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah appeared via video call to endorse the initiative.

The goal is to create a “system of learning” that allows workers to evolve as technology evolves throughout their careers. Smith calls it “the most comprehensive approach we have ever undertaken to meet the digital skilling needs of individuals and employers alike.”

Microsoft will use data from LinkedIn to determine which jobs are in the highest demand and what skills are needed to fill them. The company plans to report that information to the government so that policymakers can use it in recovery plans. LinkedIn will begin sharing free labor market data, including the top jobs companies are hiring for and the highest demand skills in those positions.

A new LinkedIn dashboard will offer tracks like “Become a Software Developer” and “Become an IT administrator.” The “learning paths” will provide online training for free through March 2021 in each field. There will be opportunities to practice the skills in GitHub’s Learning Lab.

In addition to the free resources, Microsoft will offer low-cost certifications required to fill tech roles. The certifications are based on exams that determine a student’s skill in Microsoft technologies. They will be available for a discounted fee of $15 to anyone whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19. The exams ordinarily cost more than $100, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Teams will launch a new learning app that helps employers provide “upskill” training to existing employees so that they can adapt as technology changes.

All resources will be available at Though the initiative is designed to help workers and other employers, it also has benefits for Microsoft. Tech companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple often put their products at the center of philanthropic endeavors, like donations to schools, in part to reinforce longterm use of those services. The technology industry also has a major talent shortage that it has struggled to fill over the past decade. With work visas looking like a less reliable way to fill the gap, the need for talent could become even more acute.

Smith said Microsoft hopes to directly hire some of the workers trained through the program in an interview with GeekWire.

“We’re at a moment in time where short- and long-term trends are really coming together,” he said. “The long-term trend is obviously the increasing digitization of the economy and the growth in jobs that have more digital content. The short-term trend is the urgent need to help people develop the skills to get a new job, especially people who’ve lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic.”

Microsoft isn’t the first big tech company — or even the first from the Seattle area — to launch an ambitious skills training program. A year ago, Amazon announced a $700 million initiative to retrain its workers in high-demand skills like data science and business analysis. But the breadth of Microsoft’s program and the focus on workers and employers outside the company sets it apart.

As part of the initiative, Microsoft will provide cash grants totaling $20 million to non-profits to help organizations distribute the new resources to marginalized communities, including people of color, workers with disabilities, and other groups that are underrepresented in tech. Microsoft will set aside $5 million of the grants for community-based non-profits that are led by and serve communities of color. The company plans to publish more information on the grant program later this summer.

“As is often the case the biggest brunt of this downturn is being borne by those with lower educational attainment, people with disabilities, people of color, women, younger workers, and individuals who have less formal education,” Smith said in the blog post.

Though the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on employment, Microsoft believes there are underlying threats to the workforce that must be addressed too. The company hopes its initiative can mitigate a trio of risks to workers: automation, the growing need for digital skills, and a decline in employer-based training investments. The company hopes that this initiative will begin to tackle those challenges and inspire other employers to follow suit.

The announcement comes one week after Microsoft pledged to double its number of Black-owned suppliers and spend an incremental $500 million with those companies, double its investment activity with Black-owned financial institutions, and establish a $50 million investment fund to support Black-owned small businesses.

The commitments are part of an aggressive philanthropy program at Microsoft that also includes a promise to become “carbon negative” by 2030, removing more carbon than it emits. And by 2050 Microsoft has vowed to erase a volume of carbon equal to all of the greenhouse warming gas that the company has emitted since launching in 1975.

That initiative, announced in January, came one year after Microsoft vowed to spend $500 million on the housing and homelessness crisis in the Seattle region, where the company is based.

This article was written by Monica Nickelsburg and originally appeared in GeekWire

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