Nearly 300 000 South Africans acquire digital skills during COVID-19

Microsoft and LinkedIn launch next stage to help job seekers and employers move to a skills-based economy

Johannesburg, South Africa – 30 March 2021: Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced it has helped over 30 million people in 249 countries and territories, and nearly 300 000 in South Africa gain access to digital skills, topping its initial goal of 25 million last June. This is why the company is extending its commitment by launching new resources to help job-seekers and 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire in 2021.

From laid-off factory workers to retail associates and truck drivers, millions of people turned to online learning courses from GitHub, LinkedIn and Microsoft during the pandemic to help prepare for and secure the most in-demand roles, including customer service, project management and data analysis. The announcement builds on the company’s efforts to help people by extending through 2021 free LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn courses and low-cost certifications that align to 10 of the most in-demand jobs. The next stage of the initiative sets a new foundation for a skills-based economy through a suite of new tools and platforms designed to connect skilled job seekers with employers.

“Extending access to these learning paths, skills and tools comes at a critical time for South Africa: a declining economy and unemployment remain a mounting and widespread challenge in the country,” says Lillian Barnard, Managing Director at Microsoft South Africa.

South Africa’s economy contracted by 7 percent in 2020. Unemployment also increased to 32.5 percent, with the number of unemployed rising from 6.5 million in the third quarter of the year to 7.2 million in the fourth quarter.

“This illustrates the critical need to accelerate economic recovery, especially for those hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic. Digital skills are the most effective way to drive this recovery because of the growing shift to digital technologies and increasing demand for people with digital skills,” says Barnard.

The value of digital skills is backed up by the success of Microsoft’s Global Skills Initiative so far, especially in South Africa. In addition to the nearly 300 000 engaged learners reached, strategic partnerships with non-profits like Afrika Tikkun as part of the initiative have also yielded success: in October last year, Microsoft South Africa provided a $150 000 (over R2.5 million) grant to the youth development NPO.

This was used to extend the reach of the programme to more South Africans by: recruiting jobseekers into the Global Skills Initiative programme; assessing job-seekers to determine the best learning pathway for them, as well as supporting and incentivising them to access and complete at least one learning pathway; enrolling and helping job-seekers with formal certification; and sourcing work experience, job placement and entrepreneurial opportunities.

LinkedIn plans to help 250,000 companies make skills-based hires this year through new and existing hiring products. The company will provide both new ways for job seekers to demonstrate their skills and new tools for employers to connect to candidates based on their skill proficiencies including:

  • The pilot of LinkedIn Skills Path, a new way to help companies hire for skills. Skills Path brings together LinkedIn Learning courses with Skill Assessments to help recruiters source candidates in a more equitable way — based on their proven skills. LinkedIn is piloting Skills Path with various companies, including BlackRock, Gap Inc. and TaskRabbit, committed to broadening their hiring practices to better include candidates with diverse experiences.
  • New expressive, inclusive and personalised LinkedIn profile features will help people share more about themselves, their career and goals in a more authentic and engaging way. This includes a video Cover Story that allows job seekers to demonstrate their soft skills to recruiters and hiring managers. Seventy-five percent of hiring managers believe a standard resume is insufficient in evaluating a candidate’s soft skills, and almost 80% believe video has become more important when vetting candidates.*
  • Expanded access to LinkedIn’s Skills Graph will help create a common skills language for individuals, employers, educational institutions and government agencies to help improve workforce planning, hiring and development programmes.

Microsoft is bringing together every part of the company to supplement LinkedIn’s work to promote far-reaching digital skills opportunities, including Career Coach, a Microsoft Teams for Education app powered by LinkedIn that provides personalised guidance for higher education students to navigate their career journey. Career Coach offers educational institutions a unified career solution for students to help them discover their goals, interests and skills using an AI-based skills identifier and LinkedIn integration that aligns a student’s comprehensive profile with job market trends and helps them grow real-world skills and connect with mentors and peers all in one place.

“For a long time, the way people got hired was based solely on the job they had, the degree they earned or the people they knew. That’s starting to change. Workers are now better understanding and articulating the skills they have and the skills they need while businesses are looking not just at those familiar credentials but also at the skills that workers from often- overlooked communities have to get the job done. We want to help accelerate that change,” said Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn CEO. “Since last June, Microsoft and LinkedIn have helped more than 30 million people worldwide gain access to digital skills, and today we’re extending our commitment to skills by helping 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire in 2021.”

As part of the initiative, Microsoft has worked closely with its nonprofit partners to help provide wrap-around support with coaching, mentoring and networking to nearly 6 million learners. Microsoft will apply these lessons more broadly and is announcing a new online service, Career Connector, that will provide 50,000 job seekers with the opportunity to secure a tech-enabled job over the next three years. It will focus on learners who have built skills via Microsoft’s nonprofit and learning partners, with an emphasis on women and underrepresented minorities in technology.

“It is becoming ever more critical to reimagine how people learn and apply new skills that will equip them for the workplace of the future – and it is a priority for Microsoft to create opportunities that will enable and empower unemployed South Africans by providing them with the relevant digital skills needed to secure future-ready jobs,” says Barnard.

Individuals interested in accessing these critical digital skills can learn more on the Microsoft microsite. All of the resources for the Global Skills Initiative are also available at

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