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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.

27 mins ago - Health

Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific COVID vaccine

A health worker in Palestine preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 24. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they have started clinical trials for a reformulated vaccine to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Why it matters: The rise of the Omicron variant has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.