Jun 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Microsoft aims to prep 25 million people for the future of work — for free

Microsoft president Brad Smith at the White House. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images.

Microsoft president Brad Smith at the White House. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Gerry Images

As the pandemic erases millions of jobs and transforms millions more, Microsoft is aiming to provide free digital skills training to 25 million people around the globe this year.

Why it matters: Around half the U.S. population is currently out of work, and the unemployment numbers are similarly high in other countries.

  • Learning tech skills — from sophisticated arts like coding to tasks as seemingly simple as using online collaboration and conferencing software — will help huge numbers of people get back to work.

The big picture: "We’ve seen two years of digitization take place in two months," Microsoft president Brad Smith tells Axios. "And we’re seeing just this vastly accelerated need for new skills."

  • The debate over who will pay to train workers — an effort that is projected to cost around $34 billion in the U.S. alone — has been going on since long before the pandemic started. Microsoft's approach shows one way in which firms can help shoulder the burden.
  • Smith says he has talked to congressional leaders and the Trump administration about offering tax credits to businesses that spend money to train (or retrain) their employees. "This is the kind of thing that the tax code can be used to encourage," he says.

As part of this initiative, LinkedIn — a subsidiary of Microsoft — scoured its troves of data on job postings and hiring trends to pick out what it believes will be the top 10 most in-demand jobs post-pandemic, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky says.

  • These roles include software developers, graphic designers, sales and customer service reps, IT administrators, and data analysts.

But, but, but... While many unemployed Americans are retail employees whose stores aren't going to make it through the pandemic lockdowns, their skills are also key for sales reps and customer service reps, two of the in-demand jobs identified by LinkedIn. "In retail, there's some real cause for optimism," says Smith.

Of note: Smith told the Financial Times that "there is no need to be bashful" about the fact that Microsoft's free training will involve teaching millions how to use its own products, like the Microsoft Teams video platform or Azure cloud computing services.

  • That could give the tech giant a leg up against competitors like Slack or Zoom.

Go deeper: The future of work is already here

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