Mobilizing the 21st century workforce

According to Dr. James Canton and the Institute for Global Futures, competition for skilled labor is the number one issue facing the global workforce. “A global war for Smart Talent will be the top driver of competitive advantage, as educated, skilled and experienced employees will be in demand,” Dr. Canton says in his Top Ten Workforce Trends for 2009.

Amidst the global recession and this scramble for high-tech skilled employees, several states and the federal government are taking Dr. Canton’s point seriously by looking for ways to promote American competitiveness.

“This is a big concern,” Gail Thomas-Flynn, general manager of State and Local Government for Microsoft, said in an interview with CivSource, “We need to mobilize more efforts through public-private partnerships.” And mobilize is exactly what Microsoft is trying to do with their Elevate America program.

“Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to workforce development and e-learning,” says Ms. Thomas-Flynn. “Elevate America is the culmination of Microsoft’s digital inclusion and literacy efforts to address economic conditions,” she said. “The program also furthers the stated goals of the stimulus package, namely by increasing competition and building the economy through skills and educational development.”

First launched in February of this year, Microsoft’s Elevate America will provide up to 1 million vouchers nationwide for Microsoft e-Learning courses and select Microsoft certification exams at no or low cost to recipients. The company expects to provide online and real world technology training to as many as two million people during the next three years.

“We think it’s a good time for us to make our workforce development offerings more consumable, more formal, to help states accelerate their workforce development initiatives. Elevate America is designed for anyone, especially students, displaced workers and people who want to advance in the workforce.”

In addition to Virginia, the Washington-based company has partnered with the state of Illinois, as well as its home state. But Microsoft hopes to expand programs to every state. “We’re actively speaking with all states. The February launch was a broad invitation, but some states are at different stages,” in their workforce development programs, Ms. Thomas-Flynn said. “It’s also a timing issue to make sure we’re leveraging what the states already have in place.”

In Virginia, Microsoft is involved in a partnership with the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), the Department of Education and Virginia’s workforce centers. Coordinating how Elevate America integrates with a state’s preexisting infrastructure is what makes Elevate America dynamic, but it’s a process. “It has a lot to do with how vouchers are redeemed – which vehicles to work through, often they’ll have existing programs,” Ms. Thomas-Flynn said.

In Illinois, 51,000 residents will be eligible to receive Microsoft e-Learning courses and select certification exams. Illinois’ network of Microsoft partners include the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois workNet Centers, Digital Inclusion Community technology centers, high school career and technical education programs approved by the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Community College Career and Technical Education Network and Illinois Community College Board Adult Education Network.

“We’re having positive and on-going discussions with other states and I expect that we’ll be looking forward to many more launches over the coming months,” Ms. Thomas-Flynn said.

Also in development are a series of metrics Microsoft will use to measure the program’s effectiveness. “We’re still in the [program’s] early days, but were seeing more traffic on the website and getting more phone calls from interested parties.” Among some of the questions Microsoft is looking to answer about Elevate America is “How is it contributing towards employment and job creation?” a key ROI of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “We’re anticipating good things, in terms of the metrics were tracking like job placement, job retention, wage increases, and certifications.”

At a time when many workers in both the public and private sector face uncertain futures, Microsoft’s Elevate America program may be one way the nation’s unemployed and underemployed retool their resumes.

For more information on Elevate America, or to see if your state is looking to join the program, click here.

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