Building a more inclusive skills-based economy: The next steps for our global skills initiative

Photoillustration of five people

Last summer, we launched a global skills initiative to reach 25 million worldwide. Nine months later, we have helped more than 30 million people, learned from our projects and are ready to launch the next phase in our work. Today, I’m excited to join my colleague and LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky to share the details. As you’ll see below, this extends our work, expands our vision and commits Microsoft and LinkedIn to a new promise to help 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire in 2021.

Our plans are grounded in a vision of what is needed for a more inclusive post-pandemic recovery. COVID-19 has led to record unemployment numbers, disrupting livelihoods of people around the world. A century ago, the United States and other governments responded to the twin crises created by the Great Depression and World War II by investing in the infrastructure and people of their time. This included not only roads and bridges, but ubiquitous access to inventions such as electricity and the telephone and the biggest educational expansion in human history.

By 1970, America’s high school graduation rate reached 80%, compared to 6% when the century began.[1] Perhaps more than any other single indicator, this explains why the 20th century not only boosted economic productivity but distributed its benefits so broadly.

The world has a similar opportunity today. A new generation of 21st century infrastructure calls for new investments that will broaden access to the digital devices and broadband connectivity that have become the lifeblood of commerce, healthcare and education. And it similarly calls for a renewed commitment to the education and skills that a new generation of technology has made essential for people’s personal progress.

While there are important similarities to the needs the world has addressed in the past, there are significant differences as well. A more diverse workforce confronts a wider array of educational needs and opportunities. Some careers require more formal education while others do not. More jobs require not wholesale retraining, but that people fill in specific gaps among their current skills. Employers and employees alike must increasingly identify and develop these skills and connect them with more dynamic and faster-moving hiring and promotion needs.

This requires new initiatives and more collaboration across the public and private sectors. It’s a global challenge. No government or industry can fully meet this need by itself, and the impact of any single company will be even more limited. But with LinkedIn, GitHub, Microsoft Learn and a wide array of technology that supports the digital transformation of so many enterprises, we have a broad array of digital skills resources to bring to bear. Our global skills initiative has given us new insights into the practical obstacles that people confront and new ways to overcome them.

Today Ryan and I share the next skilling chapter for LinkedIn and Microsoft. This will build on what has worked best for partners and participants in our global skills initiative, extending free content and certification offerings to the end of 2021. We are doubling down at LinkedIn and across Microsoft with new work to support a more inclusive skills-based labor market, creating more alternatives, greater flexibility and accessible learning paths that connect these more readily with new jobs. And we’re strengthening our work in Microsoft Philanthropies to advance digital equity through nonprofit partnerships that serve those hit the hardest by the COVID-19 downturn, including Black and African American communities in the United States.

Start with what’s working…

Not surprisingly, when you pursue a global skills initiative that reaches more than 30 million people, you learn a lot yourself. There’s a lot of cause for optimism, as well as some sobering reminders about the scale of work that lies ahead.

The good news is that most people everywhere want to learn new digital skills. We tested this proposition last summer by providing free access on LinkedIn Learning to more than 500 online courses containing more than 950 hours of content for in-demand roles. We also connected people to Microsoft Learn for free, interactive, hands-on training on in-demand technical skills for Microsoft products and services. Finally, we provided free access to the GitHub Learning Lab and hundreds of free demonstration modules that teach technology and coding.

In the eight months that followed, 30.7 million people in 249 countries and territories took advantage of these opportunities. You can see the details in the interactive map and table below. It’s not surprising that a country as large as the United States accounted for the single biggest number, with 8.1 million participants. But I wasn’t expecting 91 participants from Antarctica. Digital skilling is now literally a global phenomenon. The top 10 countries with learners in our initiative are the United States, India, Brazil, United Kingdom, Mexico, Poland, France, Germany, Canada and Spain.

30,681,893 participants in 249 countries and territories

Global skills initiative participants graphicA second piece of welcome news is people’s focus on classes that appear to be developing the right skills needed for the most in-demand jobs. This is reflected, for example, in the extensive uptake in courses that address horizontal skills needed for a wide variety of jobs, including three of the most popular LinkedIn Learning pathways in the skills initiative. These are pathways for critical soft skills; diversity, inclusion and belonging; and digital transformation. We’re also seeing a strong correlation between the more focused classes people are taking and the jobs that are open in countries around the world. For example, the 10 most utilized in-demand, role-based LinkedIn Learning pathways in our initiative, ranked below in order of uptake, are well represented in most of the labor markets tracked around the world in the LinkedIn Economic Graph.
LinkedIn list of tech related jobsThis wide uptake underscores the importance of bringing training tools to platforms people are already using to advance their careers. Every week, 40 million people come to LinkedIn to look for a new job. Our skills initiative created the opportunity for people to use the LinkedIn platform to identify and take courses to help burnish the skills needed for a new position. That’s likely one reason we saw just over 60% of our initiative’s participants take a class on LinkedIn Learning.

This learning has helped inform the direction for the next phase of our skilling work.

Develop a more inclusive skills-based labor market…

As Ryan outlines in his blog, we are committed to an expansive skilling vision across LinkedIn and Microsoft. It’s all about creating more alternative, flexible and always-accessible learning paths. LinkedIn is at the heart of Microsoft’s efforts in this area, and other parts of the company will build upon and complement its advances.

LinkedIn at the center. I’m perhaps most excited about the work LinkedIn is announcing today to help build the infrastructure needed for more effective skilling worldwide. As Ryan explains, we need to help everyone speak the same “skills language.” His blog illustrates well the obstacles that arise both for individuals and the labor market more broadly when people talk about the same thing using so many different and confusing terms. It’s as if the modern world has created its own skilling version of the ancient Tower of Babel.

LinkedIn has an antidote to this confusion through its market-leading and widely accepted skills taxonomy in the LinkedIn Skills Graph. LinkedIn will now expand access to this Graph to help create a common skills language for individuals, employers, educational institutions and government agencies.

As Ryan outlines, LinkedIn is also taking steps in two closely related areas, focused first on individuals and second on employers. LinkedIn will pull data from its Economic Graph to help people identify skills that map to in-demand jobs of potential interest. It also will extend to the end of 2021 the free course offerings from our skilling initiative on LinkedIn Learning, and will add new ways for people to demonstrate the skills they’re acquiring. One new feature, announced today, is a video Cover Story that individuals can create for their LinkedIn profile. In a world in which 75 percent of hiring managers find a standard resume insufficient, this provides a new tool for people who want to personally convey what they can bring to a new job. This new feature is in the first phase of its rollout, with captioning capabilities coming soon.

While these steps are critical, the world also needs better recruiting technology. That’s why LinkedIn is piloting a new Skills Path. This will bring together LinkedIn Learning courses with Skill Assessments to help recruiters source candidates based on their proven skills. Initial participants include BlackRock, Gap Inc. and TaskRabbit. As Ryan explains in more detail, this is one piece of LinkedIn’s commitment to help 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire this year.

Putting the rest of Microsoft behind a skills-based economy. We’re bringing together every part of Microsoft to supplement LinkedIn’s work to promote far-reaching digital skilling opportunities.

This starts with accessible and fun computing education for students in K-12 to grow their curiosity and confidence in technology. Minecraft: Education Edition, our game-based learning platform featuring thousands of hours of educational content for students, is launching English-language learning curriculum and expanding on sustainability education for Earth Day 2021. Microsoft MakeCode, our online computing education platform, is releasing a Beginner Skillmap guide to support students learning at home through a self-paced series of tutorials that introduce students to game development and computer science concepts. Additionally, we are releasing a new Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles with Microsoft MakeCode curriculum using MakeCode Arcade for high school students.

To support higher education students and institutions with workforce readiness, Microsoft is also introducing a new Teams for Education app powered by LinkedIn, called Career Coach. This will provide personalized guidance for higher-education students to discover their career path, grow real-world skills and build their network all in one place, using an AI-based skills identifier and LinkedIn integration that aligns a student’s comprehensive profile with job market trends. It also helps higher-education institutions gain insights into student skills, career goals and job market trends.

We’re also supplementing LinkedIn’s work with additional and deeper offerings for more advanced skills-based learning. We will extend to the end of 2021 all the free courses and low-cost certifications we offered in our global skilling initiative through Microsoft Learn and will also extend the low-cost certification offer beyond job seekers to students. These align to 10 high-demand technology jobs. We saw more than 3.5 million people use these offerings as part of our global skilling initiative, including our learning paths for cloud foundations, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and skills relating to our Azure, Microsoft 365, Power Platform and Microsoft Dynamics offerings.

Finally, we expect that our new Viva Learning app for Teams will play an important role in fostering better skills-based training for employers and employees. Viva Learning will provide a central hub for learning where people can discover, share, recommend and learn from content libraries across an organization. It will include content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, Microsoft 365 trainings, third-party content providers, Learning Management Systems and an organization’s own custom content – making learning a natural part of an employee’s day. Viva Learning will be available in public preview in April.

Invest in digital equity…

We decided last summer to make digital equity a special focus of our global skills initiative. We based this on a recognition that the biggest brunt of the COVID-19 downturn is being borne by those with lower educational attainment, people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, women, younger workers and individuals who have less formal education. We were especially persuaded by the insights offered by Black Lives Matter and created a special focus on Black and African Americans in the United States.

As part of the initiative, Microsoft Philanthropies has invested $20 million in grants to nonprofits around the world to help people from underserved communities that are often excluded by the digital economy. This total includes $5 million in grants to 50 Black and African-American-led and -serving digital skilling and workforce development nonprofits in the United States. And we also partnered with nonprofits around the world like Africa Tikkun to reach underserved learners.

One of the most striking aspects of our initiative has been the skilling successes of nonprofits that are trusted by the community. Our goal was to reach 5 million people through our nonprofit partners. To date, we have already reached nearly 6 million learners. But more important than these quantitative results is the qualitative impact of the wraparound support, coaching and mentoring, and connections that have resulted in on-track program completion rates that have exceeded those for learners that are not connected to nonprofits. For example, roughly half of the 1.1 million people in our initiative that completed the multiple courses involved in a full learning pathway had the support of a nonprofit partner.

We also know that people skilled by our nonprofits need that last-mile connection to a job. Building on progress over the last year, we are launching Microsoft’s Career Connector, a new service that will help place 50,000 job seekers skilled by Microsoft’s nonprofit and learning partners in tech-enabled jobs in the Microsoft ecosystem in the next three years. Career Connector will have a specific focus on women and underrepresented minorities in technology.

Microsoft’s Career Connector will anchor the next phase of our global effort to help these successful digital learners find job opportunities that utilize these new skills. One example of this work is in Northeast Wisconsin, where a significant number of service-related jobs were impacted due to the pandemic. In response, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit supported by Microsoft, New North, is leading an effort to address these job losses and help people find new work in Wisconsin and beyond.

After our global skills announcement, New North brought public and private sector leaders together with a local startup accelerator called gener8tor to create a new talent development program called gener8tor Upskilling. With 700 applicants and a 79 percent graduation rate, the program is helping jobseekers quickly pivot to new careers through training, interview preparation and connections to new jobs. With support from Microsoft’s TechSpark program, gener8tor Upskilling has since expanded to Wyoming and Virginia, with plans to take the program to Alabama, Indiana and Alaska.

In many ways, this nonprofit work and other aspects of our skills initiative point toward additional important innovations for the delivery of our programs. Across Microsoft we are investing in multiple learning methods – reading, video and hands on interactivity – to enable learners to use technology within the context of the content they are trying to learn. For Microsoft Learn, which leverages these different modes of learning, our completion rate for modules is 58%and our completion rate for learning paths is 21%, exceeding the industry average of 8%. We will continue to build on these multiple modes of learning to deliver content.

These advances also point to a broader need. Self-paced learning without accountability and additional support doesn’t keep learners engaged and motivated to continue. We are committed to new efforts to keep learners engaged, such as project-based learning and incentives such as job interviews and network connections to help learners progress and complete learning paths.

A brighter future based on digital skills…

While we’re excited by these next steps, the world’s need to re-skill remains daunting. A global village comprised of private enterprises, employers, governments and nonprofits will need to join together to create the digital skilling opportunities to meet this challenge.

We believe that digital technology and tools can play a central role in fostering a more inclusive skills-based labor market. But individuals will need to invest more time and employers will need to invest more energy in the hiring and training practices that will be critical to success. Governments will have a critical leadership role to play, including by providing support for people with greater needs and economic incentives for smaller businesses. And as we’ve seen firsthand, the nonprofits of the world will be indispensable in the front-line work needed to make digital equity a reality.

The promise is worth pursuing. The world’s most successful nations a century ago were not prepared to leave rural communities without electricity, homes without telephones or people without an opportunity to graduate from high school and go to college. Their bolder ambitions, while always imperfect, created decades of economic growth and broadening benefits for a growing middle class.

Similar success in the 21st century is within our reach. But it requires that we all work together in new ways that will not only provide people with easier access to technologies, but the skills needed to put them to use.


[1] Robert J. Gordon, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since World War II” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 544.

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