New Coalition to Bring 21st-Century Skills for Employability to 20 Million People Across Europe by 2010

LISBON, Portugal — Jan. 31, 2006 — Today as part of its continued commitment to helping promote digital literacy and supporting programs that provide IT skills training and the benefits of technology, Microsoft Corp. announced new offerings for underserved communities in Europe as part of it 21st Century Skills for Employability initiative. The announcements were made during the keynote address by Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum (GLF) Europe 2006 in Lisbon, Portugal. The GLF is a two-day event that brings together more than 300 high-level government officials and business leaders from across Europe with the goal of driving discussion about the opportunities and challenges that leaders face in the new global economy.

“The most important phase of the European Union’s growth and jobs strategy is underway, and the spotlight is firmly on delivering results. Partnerships between the Member States and the private sector can also make a major contribution to Europe’s competitiveness as a region and for its citizens,” said Vladimir Spidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. “I welcome the creation of the European Alliance on Skills for Employability. The alliance is a leading example of how innovative business-to-business collaborations, working with different stakeholders, can provide opportunities to the European unemployed. Access to skills training, content provision and certification can help older workers, people with disabilities and the young to face the challenges of unemployment and the changing workplace, and so contribute to Europe’s prosperity. I commend this initiative as it represents one of the best practices in this field.”

Information and communication technology (ICT) skills training is a key vehicle for employability and job creation in a competitive and inclusive Europe. It is at the heart of the goals of the European Commission (EC) report “Working Together for Growth and Jobs” and of the objectives recently discussed at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia. In support of these goals, Microsoft, along with other members of the European e-Skills Certification Consortium (eSCC) including Cisco Systems Inc., The European Computer Driving Licence Foundation Ltd. (ECDL-F) and the Examination Institute for Information Science (EXIN), and with the support of State Street Corp. and Randstad Holding nv, announced the formation of the European Alliance on Skills for Employability. The alliance is being created to help better coordinate industry and community efforts to improve the employability prospects of young unemployed people, people with disabilities and older workers. The alliance will work to provide technology access and ICT training to 20 million people in the next five years.

“Raising employment is the most effective way to generate growth and promote social inclusion. The challenges posed by an aging population make the modernization of social protection systems and the promotion of a life-cycle approach to work all the more important,” said Günter Verheugen, vice president of the European Commission in charge of Enterprise and Industry. “To enhance access to employment for people of all ages and to raise productivity, the EU needs higher and more-effective investment in human capital and lifelong learning. Highly skilled people are the strongest currency of the 21st century. Partnership between businesses and stakeholders for the common goal of raising employability skills is key to success. I welcome the creation of the European Alliance on Skills for Employability as a vehicle to drive employability, competitiveness and growth for the people of Europe.”

In support of its 21st Century Skills for Employability initiative, Microsoft today launched a new digital literacy curriculum that will supplement the existing Microsoft® Unlimited Potential curriculum used in community centers across Europe. The digital literacy curriculum will be made available free to governments, academia and other nongovernmental organizations, and will be accessible online. The curriculum includes e-learning and online personal assessments of five modules, and offers a foundation-level training program that will stimulate interest in higher-level professional qualifications.

In addition, Microsoft announced that it will increase the number of Microsoft IT Academies from 1,900 to more than 8,000 by 2010, with the goal of providing local access to technology skills training for more than 6 million adults. More than 2 million citizens will be able to use the IT Academies to secure certifications that are recognized by employers throughout Europe.

“The European Alliance on Skills for Employability will be crucial in enabling European citizens to gain access to training to develop 21st-century skills. We are proud to be working with such a leading group of industry partners to achieve this goal,” Courtois said before his keynote address today. “The expansion of the IT Academies program and today’s launch of the digital literacy curriculum demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to helping individuals acquire foundational ICT skills that will enable them to effectively participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.”

The alliance members are committed to investing more than €60 million ($73.5 million U.S.) over the next five years to achieve these ambitious goals, and to offer concrete support for the objectives of the EC’s “Working Together for Growth and Jobs” action plan. With each partner contributing its core competencies, programs and resources toward a common goal, the alliance has the potential to offer new opportunities to millions of people throughout Europe.

About Microsoft Digital Inclusion

Through a range of innovative technologies and partnerships, Microsoft is working to bring the benefits of technology and technology skills to 250 million people by 2010, with the ultimate aim of using technology to help improve education and learning, create opportunity, and raise living standards for people around the world. Microsoft’s flagship digital inclusion initiatives are Partners in Learning and Unlimited Potential.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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