If you want a job these days, but don’t speak computer, you’re at a competitive disadvantage. If you’re an employer seeking computer-literate workers, they might be difficult to find.
Washington’s partnership with Microsoft is aimed squarely at both problems, and the solution holds promise. Microsoft’s IT Academy, an online training program, is already helping secondary school students bridge the digital divide. Now, that opportunity is being expanded through a partnership with the state’s library system.
The academy’s 250 online courses will be available at no charge. Students can access them from a home computer or they can use one at about 400 libraries across the state, including those locally. They just need a library card and a Microsoft email account.
Before shrugging off the opportunity, consider the following from a Washington Roundtable report published in March:
• There are about 25,000 unfilled jobs in the state – most in the science, technology and health care fields – because there aren’t enough applicants with the required skills. That number is expected to balloon to 50,000 by 2017.
• Because of the multiplier effect, filling the skills gap by 2017 could lead to the creation of an estimated 110,000 additional jobs, generating $720 million in annual state tax revenues and $80 million in local revenues.
• The state’s unemployment trust fund would see a one-time savings of $350 million.
• About half of all jobs require proficiency on a computer, and that share will continue to grow.
Microsoft and the state had obvious interests in teaming up on this project: greater exposure to its products for Microsoft and bargain-basement prices for the state to gain access to online curriculum. To finance this joint venture, the software giant is discounting the cost of the courses by 90 percent, and the Legislature has authorized $1.5 million to cover the rest. If the state had tried to go it alone and purchase the software for the same number of course offerings, it would’ve cost $22 million, according to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who pushed for the partnership.
If this joint venture puts a serious dent in the skills gap, it could be among the smartest investments the state has ever made. About 40 percent of employers surveyed by the Roundtable reported moving jobs outside the state because of the lack of skilled applicants. About half said they had hired people who were under-skilled for the position.
So job opportunities exist for people willing to master a computer-based skill. Among the skills taught are Web navigation, document management, programming and database development. The academy also offers industry-recognized certification in certain areas that could push a resume to the top of the pile. Those who already have jobs can widen their career choices.
In the meantime, get a library card. You never know where it could take you.