Digital technologies will be key to narrowing the divide, not only because they can expand the reach and accessibility of training, but because proficiency in these tools is in top demand.
In a recent survey of American workers by Pew Research Center, for instance, 85% of respondents cited digital skills as either extremely important or very important to succeeding in today’s workplace.
But technology is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. The same Pew survey also observed that 85% of respondents regarded “soft” skills like collaborating with others and communicating effectively as highly important. In other words, people-oriented “success skills” remain as essential as ever – perhaps even more so given their durability at a time when technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed.
A principled approach
As we have with our work to protect privacy, security, and environmental sustainability, we’ve concluded that the global skills challenge calls for a principled response. As a company, we’ll base our efforts on six key elements:
- Use data and technology to help people develop new skills. The fastest and most economical way to address the skills shortage is to put technology to work to skill more people faster, starting with digital skills themselves. We’ll use data to identify the skills most in demand and the people who need help the most.
- Focus on a broad set of skills. Even while we focus on tech-enabled jobs, we’ll work to support the development of broader skills as well, including the acumen needed to ensure the responsible use of technology and the soft skills needed to find and succeed in a new job.
- Ask employers to do more. We believe that employers will need to play a bigger role than in recent years in helping employees develop these new skills. As an employer ourselves, we will make new training commitments to our employees. And we will help empower our customers so they can better meet the needs of their own employees.
- Lean on partners. As in so many other important areas, partnerships are fundamental. We will base our work on partnerships with nonprofits and support for governments. And we will focus our support for nonprofits, in particular, on providing added assistance to the people who need this help the most, including communities of color in the United States.
- Pull together every part of our company. We believe the global skills challenge is a problem that Microsoft can help address if we pull together every part of our company.
- Use our voice to change policy. As we learn what helps people most, we will share our data and knowledge and advocate for public policy innovations to support reskilling opportunities.
Although technology companies have an important role to play in helping close the skills gap, success will take a concerted effort among employers, nonprofits, governments, and other stakeholders. The task calls for renewed partnerships and redoubled investments in skills, ensuring that training reaches the broadest group of people with the greatest needs.