Microsoft this morning announced the launch of a global skills initiative aimed at delivering digital skills to 25 million people.

Expanded access to digital skills, especially in the wake of COVID-19, is an important step in the economic recovery process, especially for the people and business hardest hit by job losses, Microsoft said in a press release.

“The biggest brunt of the current downturn is being borne by those who can afford it the least,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith in a statement. “Unemployment rates are spiking for people of colour and women, as well as younger workers, people with disabilities, and individuals who have less formal education. Our goal is to combine the best in technology with stronger partnerships with governments and nonprofits to help people develop the skills needed to secure a new job.”

Microsoft says the initiative will be grounded in three areas of activity and will lean on its own platforms LinkedIn and GitHub to facilitate them:

  • The use of data to identify in-demand jobs and the skills needed to fill them.
  • Free access to learning paths and content to help people develop the skills these positions
    require
  • Low-cost certifications and free job-seeking tools to help people who develop these skills pursue
    new jobs.

Microsoft is backing the effort with $20 million in cash grants to help non-profit organizations worldwide assist the people who need it most. Three Canadian nonprofits – NPower Canada, Canada Learning Code (CLC) in partnership with Juno College of Technology and Information Communications Council of Canada (ICTC) – will be receiving some of those funds.

One-quarter of this total ($5 million) will be provided in cash grants to community-based nonprofit organizations that are led by and serve communities of colour in the United States.

“Leveraging the full potential of our talent base in this increasingly digital-based economy will be critical for Canada’s prosperity in the coming years. Our partnership with Microsoft Canada has paved the way for a wider onboarding for underrepresented and underemployed populations into digital careers, empowering a shared and inclusive digital future for all Canadians,” Namir Anani, president and CEO, Information and Communications Council of Canada, said in a statement.

According to the technology giant, global unemployment in 2020 may reach a quarter of a billion people. In the United States, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the country may witness a 12.3 point increase (from 3.5 per cent to 15.8 per cent) in the unemployment rate, equating to more than 21 million newly out-of-work people.