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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

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 7, 2020 - Technology

Slack to let different companies’ users connect

Image: Slack

In the next major step in its quest to replace email, Slack plans to start allowing direct messages between people who work at different companies, regardless of whether the companies are themselves connected via Slack.

Why it matters: Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told Axios this is the company's biggest product move since it started allowing companies to have shared channels with outside vendors, suppliers and partners.

The recovery needs rocket fuel

Data: BLS. Chart: Axios Visuals

Friday's deeply disappointing jobs report should light a fire under Congress, which has dithered despite signs the economy is struggling to kick back into gear.

Driving the news: President-elect Biden said Friday afternoon in Wilmington that he supports another round of $1,200 checks.

1 hour ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.