Microsoft Corp. will provide free online classes and job-hunting resources to 25 million people in 2020, as the global economy suffers in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The training teaches digital skills for ten occupations, including help-desk technician, digital marketer, and data analyst. Microsoft chose the ten jobs based on growing demand, relatively good pay, and providing opportunity for those with or without college degrees. 

The company relied on data from its LinkedIn business to address employability of workers around the world. LinkedIn’s large set of economic data allowed educators to analyze useful information, such as job postings, profiles, and geographic data. 

According to Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, the effort is a response to two long-term trends: Automation and artificial intelligence change the skill set needed for nearly every occupation, so workers without digital skills will continue to fall behind. Simultaneously, employers have failed to increase their investments in training and education over the past two decades. Mr. Smith called the training plans “the largest skills initiative” in Microsoft’s history. 

With the emergence of new providers of online classes, skills training has recently moved increasingly online. Providers, such as LinkedIn Learning, Udacity, and Coursera, offer accessibility and often lower costs to individuals and employers than traditional options. Employers often resist accepting online credentials in the place of work experience or degrees from accredited institutions. 

Microsoft intended to respond to a widening skill gap and the creation of new technology; COVID-19 prompted these efforts forward. “Everything we envisioned when 2020 began has accelerated more quickly than we imagined. That leaves a short-term challenge of truly daunting proportions,” said Mr. Smith. After the pandemic, training workers “will remain an extremely important priority for companies like us and for the economy as a whole,” Mr. Smith added. 

The online training provides access to LinkedIn content for “learning paths” and adds digital skills to the candidate’s profile. Content for more technical positions is available through GitHub and Microsoft. Classes are taught in English, Spanish, French, and German. Users can take discounted exams to earn necessary certificates to augment employability. 

With the COVID-related economic downturn and social upheaval connected to George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, economic inequality has gained a national spotlight. Alongside Bank of America and the Walmart Foundation, Microsoft takes action. The tech giant committed to granting $20 million to organizations that support students of the training program. 

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