As part of its ongoing efforts to strengthen the U.S. work force and boost the ability of the nation's companies to compete in a global economy, Microsoft Corp. announced it is donating cash, software and a curriculum to help provide training in technology skills to adults.

In a two-year alliance with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), One-Stop Career Centers around the country will receive a total of $3.5 million in cash and software, in addition to a donated Digital Literacy training curriculum, to further advance technology skills and training programs. Initially, grants will be made to One-Stop Career Centers in 9 cities: Boston and Framingham, Mass.; Pittsburgh and Lancaster, Pa.; Rockledge, Fla.; Sunnyvale, Calif.; Seattle; Chicago; and Beckley, W.Va.

Digital Literacy is a five-course curriculum that provides a foundation of basic computer skills to learners with little or no previous computing experience. The curriculum culminates in a Digital Literacy certificate test, which assesses knowledge across all five courses.

"Microsoft has a very strong interest in the readiness of America's work force, and as a company we believe access to learning is critical in advancing U.S. interests globally," said Pamela Passman, vice president of Global Corporate Affairs at Microsoft. "By partnering with the DOL, we are opening yet another avenue for the ongoing education necessary for workers to remain competitive."

The Department of Labor's One-Stop Career Centers are nationwide resources that help businesses, job seekers, students and work-force professionals find employment and career resources, and obtain training and work-force credentials.

Today's grants will give One-Stop Centers the chance to build on existing models of technology skills training and to test new directions. In addition to increasing the centers' capacity to provide training in IT skills to adults with barriers to work and increase the pool of available workers with a command of IT skills, this new program has several other goals.

By integrating IT training into the ongoing programming of the public work-force system, Microsoft hopes to contribute to a better understanding of what types of IT skills curriculum and delivery are most effective for individuals whose barriers to work are due, at least in part, to deficiencies in IT skills.

Passman noted that in addition to an aging population and other demographic shifts, the nature of the country's work force is rapidly shifting. As enterprise moves from a manufacturing- to an information-based economy, the skills that workers require increasingly revolve around knowledge-creation and information-sharing, insight and analysis, and collaboration and advanced communications skills. She pointed out some sobering statistics, citing recent research: Only 13 percent of American adults surveyed are "proficient" in the knowledge and skills needed to search, comprehend and use information, a 13 percent drop since 1992. And just 13 percent of American adults surveyed are proficient in the knowledge and skills needed to identify and perform computational tasks, a number that hasn't improved in 15 years.

In the past decade, Microsoft has been addressing this digital literacy issue. The company has developed a range of commercial and philanthropic programs to address the need for IT education and skills training, as well as validation and certification of such skills.


Today's DOL alliance is part of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential program, which is designed to provide underserved populations with IT education and skills training through community-based technology centers around the country. On a global level, Microsoft has made a commitment to bring the benefits of IT education and skills training to a quarter of a billion people by 2010.


In the three years since the Unlimited Potential program began, the company has made more than $25 million in cash and software grants and provided technical support and training to more than 4,000 technology learning centers in the U.S., about half of which target work-force development. One of the great benefits of Unlimited Potential is that, in addition to cash grants, the technology skills curriculum and the availability of free or low-cost software help create a comprehensive program in the community technology centers.


Microsoft invites other industry leaders to join with the company in an alliance that will work with other leaders in the private and public sectors to create a national work-force development policy framework, goals and agenda for the United States. The company also hopes to work with the public sector to more effectively align successful private sector models of technology skills training and certification with public sector work-force development programs. Passman said she hopes that by 2010 every individual in the U.S. work force who wants a basic level of technology and computing skills will have access to the training they need to succeed in the knowledge economy.

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