Technology Skills Training Initiative Aims to Elevate America’s Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 8, 2010 — Microsoft today launched an initiative to ease the transition of veterans returning to civilian life.

Aligned with the one-year anniversary of the Elevate America program, the Elevate America’s Veterans Initiative brings together public, private and nonprofit organizations to provide veterans and their spouses with skills training and help them find employment in today’s challenging job market.

The initiative builds on Elevate America’s mission to provide technology training that prepares people for 21st-century jobs, says Akhtar Badshah, senior director of Community Affairs for Microsoft. “The men and women who were fighting for our country are now fighting for jobs,” he says. “We believe that when we provide them with IT training and IT certification, both for themselves and their spouses, many of them will have a better opportunity to get reintegrated back into the civilian work force as the economy begins to recover.”

The measure to help veterans was announced by Pamela Passman, corporate vice president of Global Corporate Affairs, in a keynote address at the National Association of Workforce Boards Forum in Washington, D.C. The goal is to support active duty service members who are transitioning out of the military as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve returning to their civilian jobs. Microsoft will contribute US$2 million in cash and up to $6 million in software over the next two years to help support the program, Badshah says. In addition to providing technology training, Microsoft is calling on organizations to help provide job placement, career counseling and other critical support services, such as child care and transportation assistance, to help ensure a successful transition to the civilian work force.

Retooling for Civilian Life

Akhtar Badshah, senior director of Community Affairs at Microsoft.

The Elevate America’s Veterans announcement comes as veterans struggle in the current economic climate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is 20 percent higher than the overall unemployment rate for nonveterans. While veterans are highly trained in military and leadership skills, many lack the formal education, training and certification required by employers, Badshah says. More than half of the jobs available today require some technology skills, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that figure will reach 77 percent in the next decade.

Meanwhile, unemployment in the U.S. continues to rise nationally, from 8.1 percent in February 2009 to a high of 10.2 percent in October 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 4 million Americans lost their jobs in 2009.

The difficult economic climate was why Microsoft launched the Elevate America program one year ago, Badshah says. “As a company, we have always been in the space of providing IT skills training to communities around world,” he says. When the economy soured, Microsoft started having conversations about how to make a bigger impact. The answer was Elevate America, a program that offered no-cost vouchers for Microsoft eLearning courses and select certification exams to be distributed in partnership with state governments.

“When we launched the program, we wanted to make sure that every individual in the country who is underemployed or unemployed, and who is seeking to better their IT skills, has an opportunity to do so through our Elevate America program,” Badshah says.

Skills That Make a Difference

Since the program launched, Microsoft has distributed more than 300,000 vouchers for free technology training and certification to 12 states. According to information provided by the states, around 70 percent of the people who received vouchers were unemployed. More than half of the people who received vouchers proactively took the next step — beginning a training course or taking a certification exam.

One of those who received the training was Jesse Franco, a resident of Illinois who had been unemployed for 14 months. “I never dreamed it would be like this. I’ve worked to keep current on the latest software, I keep searching for jobs online, but there are few jobs available,” he says.

Jesse Franco, Elevate America participant from Illinois.

Franco heard about the Elevate America program and used the vouchers to get training and Microsoft certification in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Franco says he has since seen immediate results. “I applied for a job as an administrative assistant, and when they called me they liked that I had computer skills and certification,” he says. And, following the training, Franco found a job.

Shamra Coy, a resident of Washington state, also signed up for training vouchers through Elevate America. Coy works as a resource development coordinator at a rural community action center.

Through the training she received in Word, Coy gained new skills that are enabling her to communicate more effectively at work and better train the volunteers who are critical to her organization’s success, she says. Coy has also been able to share her new skills with her colleagues and volunteers, which has made them more productive. “Shamra has been a great resource for me,” says Jean Congor, one of the center’s newly trained volunteers. “Using what she learned from her Microsoft Word training, she has been able to teach me how to use the program more efficiently.”

Badshah says that Microsoft remains committed to the Elevate America program and helping prepare people for today’s jobs. “As a company, we will continue to focus our efforts on basic technology skills and jobs because that’s what we do best. We will continue to look at new and innovative ways to expand the work we do, or find new specific groups of people that we can support, like our veterans.”

Learn more about the Elevate America program.

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