By Fiona Carney, Chief Marketing & Operations Officer, Microsoft Asia Pacific

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on one of the most challenging years in our lifetime – spurring a global economic crisis and severely impacting job markets. Our calculations show that global unemployment rates in 2020 may reach the staggering figure of a quarter of a billion people.

At the same time, the demand for digital skills continues to grow, and we estimate that digital job capacity – or the total number of technology-oriented jobs – will increase nearly five-fold by 2025, rising from 41 million in 2020 to 190 million in 2025.

These numbers are in stark contrast, and they illustrate the digital skills gap that has accompanied the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to ensure greater access to digital skilling opportunities, and even more so in the Asia Pacific region, which is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing digital economies.

Taking a step towards bridging this gap, we launched a Global Skills Initiative early this year, which aims to enable 25 million people worldwide with opportunities for digital skilling. We recognize that no company can come close to doing this alone, and have been actively working with governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations to expand access to digital skilling in the region.

WORKING WITH GOVERNMENTS TO IMPACT NATIONS

In Indonesia, we partnered with the Indonesian Teachers Association (PGRI) to launch the Training of Trainers (TOT) program, which equips users with operational know-how of Microsoft 365 and enhances their tech competency. This has been a crucial step with the onset of distance learning programs which the government announced during the pandemic.

We also partnered with Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) to launch the “Advancing the Future of Work” program. The program will seek to close the digital skills gap and enhance the employability of a new generation of 6,000 vocational school graduates with in-demand digital skills through training sessions for 120 vocational school teachers from 60 institutes in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and on the Future Ready ASEAN platform.

As part of the Para sa Bayan program in the Philippines, we are working with the Department of Education (DepEd) to enhance the online learning experience of 20 million public-school students from K-12, junior high and senior high by providing them with Microsoft 365 accounts. In the coming months, we will also support more training and teacher enablement for 48,000 schools as part of the program’s agenda to impact 25 million Filipinos over the next three years.

We also recently announced a partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority Singapore to launch the #GetReadySG initiative, which aims to equip 1,000 people with digital skills. As part of the initiative, Microsoft will work alongside non-profit organization Generation to design and execute a training curriculum tailored to equip program participants – which includes fresh graduates and mid-career professionals – with digital skills to boost employability.

SKILLING EMPLOYEES WITH INDUSTRY PARTNERS

The need for lifelong learning is critical, and employers have a big role to play in providing their employees with skilling opportunities throughout their careers. This will help to build a well-prepared and equipped talent pool for the rapidly evolving economy.

In 2019, we embarked on a regional partnership with Grab to equip workers with necessary technology skills through training, skilling, and career development support to create pathways for Grab driver and delivery-partners to pursue tech-enabled careers. As of April 2020, our partnership with Grab Indonesia has empowered 379,000 active driver-partners through digital literacy training.

In Singapore, this initiative aims to benefit up to 5,000 driver and delivery-partners and 250 tertiary students by the end of 2021, and will also see the opening of tech traineeship roles at Grab as part of the SGUnited Skills program.

This year, we also signed a five-year partnership with PTT Public Company in Thailand to develop workforce skills through initiatives and learning centers run by PTT, which includes the prospect of establishing an AI Learning Center at Wangchan Valley, Rayong province.

To support the gig economy and boost economic recovery and employability in the republic, Microsoft Malaysia partnered with Biji-biji Initiative to launch the Digital Skills and Gig Economy Employability Programme. This program aims to train 500 youths comprising of graduates from the below 40 percent (B40) communities and budding professionals interested in building a viable freelance career.

Across the region, our commitment to ensuring an inclusive economic recovery is making headway with the Microsoft Enabler Program we launched this September. In partnership with employer partners and non-profit organizations, Microsoft will provide people with disabilities (PwDs) with online training in data engineering and programming, cloud computing on Microsoft Azure, and application development in GitHub. Employer partners will also receive training from non-profit organizations (NPOs) to become inclusive employers, and these businesses will in turn provide employment opportunities for the PwDs.

STARTING FROM THE FOUNDATIONS: EMPOWERING YOUNG TALENTS

Microsoft has also accelerated our partnerships with the education sector and is actively collaborating with schools and non-profit organizations to close the digital gap from the ground up.

Since the beginning of July 2020, we’ve provided 33,000 New Zealanders with in-demand skills training as part of the Global Skilling Initiative and launched the Industry 4.0 Accelerator (i4) in collaboration with Massey University and The Collaborative. We are working with industry bodies to identify the skills that their employees require for key projects and provide relevant training and upskilling opportunities as well as digital work-integrated learning. By the end of the year, we are hopeful to roll out this program to 50,000 students across the country.

To support the government to build, protect and educate for a digital Vietnam, Microsoft, together with the Dariu Foundation jointly launched the Skills4Future Project: An Information Technology (IT) club which selected and trained 35 high school teachers on the topic of Smart Connection (IoT), 3D printing and application programming. The club will also provide free equipment and mentorship for over 1,000 students, award 200 IT vocational scholarships and support the implementation of career-oriented programs to connect students with universities, businesses, and experts in the tech sector.

In Korea, we partnered with SK Telecom and JA Korea to conduct online coding lessons via Minecraft for students and parents. Students can tackle four different missions to develop their coding skills while exploring the world of Minecraft and receive a certificate and coding upon the completion of each mission. We are also working with JA Korea to develop a coding curriculum and train instructors, to help students develop their computational thinking skills.

And in Sri Lanka, we’ve launched a strategic partnership with the AI Academy to provide students and working professionals with cloud-enabled software and tools for teaching and learning through our in-house Microsoft Hands-on Labs, as well as other industry-recognized programs such as Microsoft LearnAI LabAI School, and AI Business School.

ADOPTING A GROWTH MINDSET FOR THE FUTURE

Even as we accelerate digital transformation across industries and economies, unlocking the true potential of technology will require both human ingenuity and new skills. While Microsoft continues to work with partners across the private and public sector to provide more digital skilling opportunities, we should each, as individuals, also actively seek out these opportunities and embrace digital tools and new technologies in the workplace.

Until the end of March 2021, Microsoft is offering free access to content on LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and GitHub Learning Lab along with Microsoft Certifications and LinkedIn job-seeking tools. Job seekers who have been affected by the pandemic can also enroll for Microsoft’s accredited certification exam – which equips students with five fundamentals certifications and eight role-based certifications, including Microsoft cloud platforms Azure and Microsoft 365 – at a discounted rate.

Possessing a lifelong learning and growth mindset is key for the future as technologies and the economy continue to develop and evolve at a rapid pace. We must realize the importance to constantly skill, upskill, and reskill ourselves. In today’s hybrid work environment, career development has taken on a new charter – lifelong learning is essential for employees to future-proof themselves and thrives in the digital economy.