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Mary Snapp: Ensuring more Americans can benefit from the digital economy

Advancements in technology like cloud computing and artificial intelligence are transforming our economy and reshaping the future of work as profoundly as the Industrial Revolution did a century ago. Technology is creating a new digital economy, full of new economic opportunities, but for too many people, those opportunities remain out of reach because they lack the skills these jobs require. Earlier this year, an OECD report showed automation will have a major impact on nearly one out of every two jobs. According to the report, 1 in 10 jobs in the U.S. is at high risk of becoming automated, and approximately 28 percent of jobs will be significantly changed by automation.

Addressing this issue involves changing the way we educate and train people, while also changing the way companies hire and support their employees. We need to ensure all workers are empowered to gain relevant skills – both technical and foundational or “soft-skills” – for jobs in the new economy, no matter where they are in their careers. Most importantly, we need to increase the pathways to connect job-seekers to employers. We need to ensure the skills, knowledge and abilities individuals possess and those that employers need are demonstrated in new ways, whether it is a certificate, apprenticeship, or college degree, and must create better systems to validate these credentials. This new skills-based approach will create greater opportunity and equity for individuals and employers. We believe corporations like ours have a chance to make sure the future we’re building is for everyone.

Over the past year, Microsoft and LinkedIn partnered with the Markle Foundation to develop Skillful, a model involving key players across the labor market, so more Americans can benefit from the digital economy. Our work has focused on creating change to shift to a more skills-based labor market, ensuring people across all skill levels and geographies have greater access to opportunities and connections to employment as the economy evolves. In the first year of our partnership, we began our work in Colorado, where we have seen a significant impact, helping more than 3,000 individuals onto a better career pathway. Skillful not only helps individuals gain the skills necessary for jobs in in-demand industries like advanced manufacturing, healthcare and tech, but just as importantly, it enables employers to more quickly find the talent needed in a tight labor market by considering a new employment pool. Skillful’s success in Colorado provided us with a proof of concept, but we also know that every community is distinct and has unique needs.

This is why we are expanding our work. For example, over the next decade, Indiana will need one million skilled workers to fill open jobs and support economic growth. Today, with Governor Eric Holcomb, we expanded Skillful to the state where we are tailoring Skillful Indiana’s programs to its unique strengths and needs: employer programs for Indiana’s distinctive mix of large and small, and urban and rural employers; education initiatives tailored to Indiana’s innovative higher education system; and investment in career coaches as an important support for Hoosiers navigating educational and job opportunities.

As we sought to build on the program’s success and expand Skillful, we knew we needed to have local partners at the table. We have learned over the years that change, and more importantly, sustainable change is driven by developing trust and having the work owned by the local community and organizations who know the needs and assets of their communities most deeply. We are excited to have key Indiana partners like the Lumina Foundation and Purdue University join this important work and play a vital role in the program’s impact in the state.

As technology continues to evolve quickly, those of us who create AI, cloud, and other innovations know we must be intentional in our work to ensure the digital transformation creates economic opportunity for all. This requires partnering with government, academia, business, civil society, and other interested stakeholders to come together to help shape this future. Each of us has a responsibility to participate and ensure everyone is empowered with the digital skills they need to pursue the jobs of today and tomorrow.

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