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Microsoft’s digital skills project benefits 300K South Africans

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Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft SA.
Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft SA.

Thousands of South Africans have gained new digital skills since the COVID-19 outbreak through Microsoft’s global skills development initiative.

Microsoft says 300 000 locals acquired new digital skills through the programme, and it is extending its commitment by launching new resources to help job-seekers and 250 000 companies make a skills-based hire this year.

Launched in June last year, in the middle of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, the Microsoft global skills development initiative was aimed at helping to create employment opportunities by training 25 million people worldwide in digital skills by the end of 2020.

Microsoft believes expanded access to digital skills is an important step in accelerating economic recovery and maximising employment opportunities for the people hardest hit by job losses, those with lower incomes, women and underrepresented minorities.

In response to the economic turmoil, Microsoft believed key steps were needed to foster a safe and successful economic recovery, and access to digital skills was one such step.

SA’s economy contracted by 7% in 2020 and unemployment increased to 32.5%, with the number of unemployed rising from 6.5 million in the third quarter of the year to 7.2 million in the fourth quarter.

As a solution to the worsening job crisis, Microsoft joined forces with LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab to provide free digital skills.

Good fortune

Ten months after launching the project, Microsoft announced yesterday that it has helped over 30 million people in 249 countries and territories, and nearly 300 000 in SA had gained access to digital skills.

The company says beneficiaries ranged from laid-off factory workers to truck drivers, as millions of people turned to online learning courses from GitHub, LinkedIn and Microsoft during the pandemic, to help prepare for and secure the most in-demand roles.

“Extending access to these learning paths, skills and tools comes at a critical time for South Africa: a declining economy and unemployment remain a mounting and widespread challenge in the country,” says Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft SA.

“This illustrates the critical need to accelerate economic recovery, especially for those hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic. Digital skills are the most effective way to drive this recovery because of the growing shift to digital technologies and increasing demand for people with digital skills.”

Furthermore, Barnard says: “It is becoming ever more critical to reimagine how people learn and apply new skills that will equip them for the workplace of the future – and it is a priority for Microsoft to create opportunities that will enable and empower unemployed South Africans by providing them with the relevant digital skills needed to secure future-ready jobs.”

Next chapter

Microsoft says the next stage of the initiative sets a new foundation for a skills-based economy through a suite of new tools and platforms designed to connect skilled job-seekers with employers.

It adds LinkedIn plans to help 250 000 companies make skills-based hires this year through new and existing hiring products.

According to Microsoft, LinkedIn will provide new ways for job-seekers to demonstrate their skills and new tools for employers to connect to candidates based on their skill proficiencies.

It says the pilot of LinkedIn Skills Path is a new way to help companies hire for skills.

“Skills Path brings together LinkedIn learning courses with skill assessments to help recruiters source candidates in a more equitable way − based on their proven skills. LinkedIn is piloting Skills Path with various companies, including BlackRock, Gap and TaskRabbit, committed to broadening their hiring practices to better include candidates with diverse experiences.”

“For a long time, the way people got hired was based solely on the job they had, the degree they earned or the people they knew. That’s starting to change. Workers are now better understanding and articulating the skills they have and the skills they need, while businesses are looking not just at those familiar credentials but also at the skills that workers from often-overlooked communities have to get the job done. We want to help accelerate that change,” says Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn CEO.

“Since last June, Microsoft and LinkedIn have helped more than 30 million people worldwide gain access to digital skills.”

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