Microsoft launches worker training program

Microsoft has launched a new program with the goal of providing technology training to up to 2 million people in the U.S.

The company on Sunday announced Elevate America, a program that expands on existing Microsoft worker training efforts. Elevate America includes a Web site aimed at helping people understand the technical skills they will need for jobs today and in the future, and the program will also work with state governments to provide direct training to workers.

Washington state, New York and Florida will be the first three states working with Microsoft to provide training to residents, Microsoft said. Microsoft will partner with other state and local governments to deliver tech training, the company said.

More than half of all jobs today require some tech skills, and that percentage will likely rise in the future, Pamela Passman, Microsoft's corporate vice president for global corporate affairs, said in a blog post.

"Jobs in every industry at every level need basic proficiency with computers and other digital technologies," she wrote. "By providing workers and governments with free and low-cost access to technology training and certifications, Elevate America can help workers succeed in this rapidly changing economy."

The Elevate America announcement comes a month after Microsoft said it planned to lay off 5,000 employees over the next year and a half. This weekend, there were news reports that Microsoft sent letters to some recently laid off employees, saying it had overpaid their severance package and asking for the money back.

After the layoffs were announced, critics questioned why Microsoft continues to call for the U.S. to allow more high-skilled foreign workers into the country. But Elevate America is not related to the criticism over the controversial H-1B visa program, said Microsoft spokeswoman Ginny Terzano.

"Microsoft has a several year-long effort on helping to train workers and build IT skills including partnerships with federal, state and local governments, nonprofit groups and colleges," Terzano said. "Elevate America is one step in our long-standing commitment to build workers' skills in the IT area."

The program is available to government on a low-cost or free basis, and it will not generate revenue for Microsoft, Terzano said.

An economic stimulus package recently passed by the U.S. Congress has money for workforce training, Terzano noted. "An ongoing partnership of business with governments and community organizations is needed to solve this challenge," she said.

As part of Elevate America, Microsoft is providing 1 million vouchers for free access to Microsoft eLearning courses and certification exams. Elevate America will also include cash and software grants to community partners and discounted membership rates for institutions participating in the Microsoft IT Academy.

"At the federal, state and local level, leaders are working together to help start the engine of economic growth," Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said in a statement. "The private sector provides much of the spark needed to jump-start that engine. Elevate America is a great example of Microsoft's leadership on education and work force development -- issues that bring us a step closer to recovery by helping us provide critically important help to our citizens."

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