Publication Date: June 28, 2017
By Zoë Baird and Brad Smith
Today we announced a three year partnership between The Markle Foundation and Microsoft Philanthropies. Microsoft is investing more than $25 million over three years in Markle and the expansion of its successful Skillful initiative, first across Colorado and then to other states. This is one of the single biggest philanthropic investments Microsoft Philanthropies has made, reflecting the importance of the work involved.
The workforce is undergoing an upheaval unlike anything we’ve seen since coal and steam propelled machines to the forefront of industry in the 19th Century. Technological advancements, like cloud computing, computer automation, and artificial intelligence, are demanding new skills and making long-familiar occupations almost unrecognizable. Here in the United States, millions of Americans, whose skills were valuable just a few years ago, find themselves underemployed—or worse, out of work altogether. On the flip side, employers who are digitally transforming their own operations are unable to find enough skilled workers to effectively run their businesses.
The Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce found that for workers whose highest level of educational attainment is a high school diploma, there are 7.3 million fewer jobs today than there were in 1989. Today, eight in ten middle-skill jobs—those that call for more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree—require new skills and digital competencies ranging from productivity software to advanced networking skills to computer-controlled machinery.
But for many, reskilling isn’t easy. Prohibitive costs, time constraints, or an unawareness of what skills are in demand presents a barrier that many simply can’t surmount.
Markle’s Skillful initiative aims to use the very forces driving change – technology and data – to build an ecosystem of workers, employers, state and federal government, educators, community organizations, and workforce centers to help Americans adapt to the changing workplace. Skillful’s coaches and online services will help job seekers learn what skills are in demand and where to find training at any stage of their career. LinkedIn tools will help individuals meet these needs, and Skillful will align employers and educators so training programs teach the skills required to succeed in today’s digital economy.
Our goal is to create a skills-based labor market model that can be replicated across the U.S.. Whether it’s young adults looking for their first break or experienced workers interested in adapting their existing skills to open jobs, any job seeker should have the ability to obtain the training they need for today’s growth jobs.
With the right skills, job seekers can fill the millions of well-paying jobs available today in industries including financial services, IT, manufacturing, and health care. More than half of America’s employers say these jobs remain open because they can’t find enough workers with the digital skills necessary to fill them.
Of course, there’s no easy fix. Our labor market is a complex, multi-layered, multi-stakeholder system and millions of Americans don’t have the information, tools, or skills needed to succeed in the digital economy. Reimagining it for the 21st century is an enormous undertaking.
Over the course of the 19th century, our country evolved from an agrarian to an industrial society. We have faced and emerged successfully from big changes before. Now, it’s time we do it again. There is a growing coalition of organizations from all sectors working to solve this issue, and already we are seeing the impact of our partnerships in Colorado. If America’s leaders come together and take on the big challenge of preparing all Americans for the economic opportunities of tomorrow, we can unlock the true potential of our nation’s best asset: our skilled and talented workforce.