According to Microsoft calculations, global unemployment in 2020 may reach a quarter of a billion people. It is a staggering number. The pandemic respects no border. One of the key steps needed to foster a safe and successful economic recovery is expanded access to the digital skills needed to fill new jobs.
And one of the keys to a genuinely inclusive recovery are programs to provide easier access to digital skills for people hardest hit by job losses, including those with lower incomes, women, and underrepresented minorities.
Around the world, 2020 has emerged as one of the most challenging years in many of our lifetimes. In six months, the world has endured multiple challenges, including a pandemic that has spurred a global economic crisis. As societies reopen, it’s apparent that the economy in July will not be what it was in January.
To help address this need, today Microsoft is launching a global skills initiative aimed at bringing more digital skills to 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year. This initiative will bring together every part of our company, combining existing and new resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft. It will be grounded in 3 areas of activity:
(1) The use of data to identify in-demand jobs and the skills needed to fill them;
(2) Free access to learning paths and content to help people develop the skills these positions require;
(3) Low-cost certifications and free job-seeking tools to help people who develop these skills pursue new jobs.
At its heart, this is a comprehensive technology initiative that will build on data and digital technology. It starts with data on jobs and skills from the LinkedIn Economic Graph. It provides free access to content in LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and the GitHub Learning Lab, and couples these with Microsoft Certifications and LinkedIn job seeking tools.
The problem we need to solve
Within only a few months, COVID-19 has provoked a massive demand shock, setting off job losses that far exceed the scale of the Great Recession a decade ago. The world will need a broad economic recovery that will require in part the development of new skills among a substantial part of the global workforce.
Manual jobs are more at risk
According to Microsoft calculations, global unemployment in 2020 may reach a quarter of a billion people. It is a staggering number. The pandemic respects no border. In the United States alone, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the country may witness a 12.3 point increase (from 3.5% to 15.8%) in the unemployment rate, equating to more than 21 million newly out-of-work people. Many other countries and continents face similar challenges.
The challenges ahead reach beyond the immediate pandemic. Crises have a way of accelerating trends already in motion, and the COVID-19 pandemic has proven no exception. Our data shows that two years’ worth of digital transformation have been concentrated into the past two months. By one account, the final weeks of March alone witnessed as much broadband traffic growth as would be expected in a full year.
The pandemic has shined a harsh light on what was already a widening skills gap around the world – a gap that will need to be closed with even greater urgency to accelerate economic recovery.
3 challenges to close the skills gap
This longer-term disconnect between supply and demand for skills in the labor market appears to be driven by three primary long-term factors:
(1) the rapid emergence of AI-powered technologies that are propelling a new era of automation;
(2) the growing need for technological acumen to compete in a changing commercial landscape; and
(3) the drop-off in employer-based training investments over the past two decades.
Navigating these challenges to close the skills gap will require a renewed partnership between stakeholders across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
As we look to the future, we can draw insights from recessions in the past. Although recent recessions differed in their causes, each followed a trend of shedding low-skilled jobs and gradually replacing them with less automatable roles.
The great lockdown will accelerate digitization
In the late 1960s, roles that involved repetitive tasks involving manual work made up 34% of all jobs. These have been easier to automate, and as a result these jobs have now shrunk to 26% of all jobs. By contrast, jobs involving heavy cognition and problem-solving have simultaneously risen from 22% to 34%.
This pattern is poised to repeat itself, with an added emphasis on a jobs recovery that requires an increasing focus on digital skills. There are two reasons this appears likely.
First, in the shorter-term COVID-19 will continue to lead to unprecedented reliance on digital skills. In many situations, some workers may spend several months or longer in a “hybrid economy,” where some will be in the workplace while others continue to work from home.
The shorter-term “hybrid economy” is a more digital economy. With continued consumer and employee reliance on almost “remote everything,” we can expect digitization of the economy to continue to advance at an accelerated speed. And as companies respond to a recession by increasing efficiency, this need for digital transformation will increase even further.
Second, the economic recovery will take place amid the longer-term and already-unfolding wave of automation based on the new technologies that underpin what some have called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Over the next five years, we estimate that the global workforce can absorb around 149 million new technology-oriented jobs. Software development accounts for the largest single share of this forecast, but roles in related fields like data analysis, cyber security, and privacy protection are also poised to grow substantially.
149 million new technology jobs will be created by 2025
Of course, the magnitude and mixture of job growth will vary by country, industry, and sector. Although the impact will not be distributed evenly, digital transformation will touch virtually every corner of the global workforce — from food production (324,000 new jobs) to healthcare (2 million) and the automotive industry (6 million).
All this is made more urgent because of a challenge that has been two decades in the making, namely the decline and then stagnation in employer investments in training. Employer investments in training grew substantially throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as personal computers and the internet reshaped the world’s workplaces. This trend ceased around the turn of the century, as the dot-com recession and 9/11 marked the start of a nearly decade-long decline in employer-based investment in training.
What Microsoft is launching today
Today’s global skills initiative is based on months of planning across Microsoft to provide meaningful help to 25 million people globally by the end of 2020. Our activities will be focused on 3 areas:
1.Data and analytics to better understand in-demand skills and jobs
Several years ago, LinkedIn operationalized the world’s first Economic Graph to track workforce trends and provide a window into emerging skills gaps. The Economic Graph is a digital representation of the global economy based on more than 690 million professionals, 50 million companies, 11 million job listings, 36,000 defined skills, and 90,000 schools. In short, it is all the data on LinkedIn and shows available jobs, their required skills, and the existing skills job seekers have.
The Economic Graph also makes it possible to spot in-demand skills, emerging jobs, and global hiring rates. These insights help connect LinkedIn members to better opportunities and assist governments and organizations as they create economic opportunity for the global workforce.
2. Free access to learning paths and comprehensive resources to help people develop the skills needed for in-demand jobs
To help people pursue jobs in these areas, we are making LinkedIn Learning paths aligned with each of these roles available free of charge through the end of March 2021. Each learning path includes a sequence of video content designed to help job seekers develop the core skills needed for each role. Each learning path is currently available in English, French, Spanish, and German.
3. Connecting skills to opportunities through industry recognized certifications and powerful job seeker tools
Today’s initiative also aims to help job seekers demonstrate their skills to potential employers. This part of the initiative has multiple parts.
First, they will offer low-cost access to industry-recognized Microsoft Certifications based on exams that demonstrate proficiency in Microsoft technologies.
They are also making available tools to help individuals identify and pursue potential jobs. This includes a recently developed job interview preparation-feature, powered by MSFT-AI, to prepare and practice for job interviews. It also includes a new feature we are announcing today called #OpenToWork, which enables job seekers to surface to employers the roles for which they would like to be considered.
Looking forward: A foundation for the skills and jobs of the future
As this detailed description makes clear, Microsoft is launching today the most comprehensive approach they have ever undertaken to meet the digital skilling needs of individuals and employers alike. They believe they can provide meaningful help to more than 25 million people globally in the coming months.