The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it massive health, economic and unemployment crisis. It's a big job to get people a job, and Microsoft and LinkedIn are tackling it head-on.
Naria Santa Lucia is Senior Director at Microsoft Philanthropies. She's helping to provide people with the skills they need to work in a digital economy.
"It's those individuals that are able to promote those skills that are in the best position now to receive a job and gain employment but also to recover faster in the aftermath of the COVID crisis," Santa Lucia said.
To reach those 25 million people, Microsoft and LinkedIn have identified the skills employers are seeking now and in the future. Santa Lucia's job involves getting people the content they need, helping them obtain low-cost certifications and then making connections to employment.
"Once you have a skill, it's really important to signal and show you're learning to employers that are looking to hire," she said. "A really critical piece is making that move into finding a job."
The program also teaches people how to work online, how to successfully communicate and how to work as the team. It's open to anybody.
Microsoft and LinkedIn have identified 10 in-demand job fields: software developer, sales development rep, project manager, customer service specialist, digital marketer, IT support, network administrator, data analyst, financial analyst and graphic designer. The companies have curated "learning paths" or courses for all 10 job fields.
"Once that learning path is completed, it automatically goes on to your LinkedIn profile showing you've completed that certification, and then employers can see that," Santa Lucia said.
Microsoft is also giving away $20 million in grants to non-profits that help people who live in underserved and underrepresented communities. $5 million of those grants will go to 50 organizations that serve communities of color.
"It's women, it's people of color, younger people right out of college — we want to make sure they have the support to take advantage of the content and some of the other programs that they have available so they can get a job," Santa Lucia said.
Among the organizations working with Microsoft is the Public Library Association. Ramiro Salazar, the former president of the organization and the director of the San Antonio Public Library, says the grant could help libraries further serve the public.
"(The funds could be used) to provide equipment and connectivity to a service provider — WiFi nodes, for example — to offer WiFi within the library," Salazar said. "It's possible the rural library may work with another local entity to accomplish that."
Many people across the country depend on the services that libraries provide — services that disappeared when COVID-19 sent the country into lockdown. Without access to a public library, many immediately lost their most reliable source of internet access.
"It emphasized the importance of public libraries, especially what Congress has recognized as the digital divide," Salazar said. "There's a more serious conversation going on about connectivity. Access to the internet should be like any other activity — like water and gas and electricity."
The Public Library Association is doing research now on which areas need the most help. With the new partnership, they're hoping to get more resources up and running by early fall and into 2021.
"There is a lot of challenge right now that we face, but there's also a ton of opportunity," Santa Lucia said. "So if we can do this right and make sure we focus on the skills that are in demand and help people learn those skills and get a foothold in a positive step, we can have an inclusive economic recovery that's different than what we've had before.",