Retraining and Adult Education Help Close the Skills Gap

Providing technology and learning programs to underserved populations around the world builds a more inclusive future of work.
Dec 14, 2020 11:50 AM ET
Blog

By Michael Walker

The global pandemic has highlighted long-standing economic and social disparities faced by minorities and unemployed and underemployed people. At the same time, businesses and economies around the world were already facing a persistent technology skills gap, where high-paying jobs require knowledge and abilities that many workers lack. Reskilling workers is essential to address these inequalities and close this gap.

By supporting training and skills programs, companies can help create economic mobility and career pathways for underserved communities in the United States and around the world, while strengthening and diversifying their own workforces and productivity, and supporting more inclusive economic growth.

Companies like HPMicrosoft, and JPMorgan Chase foster digital learning initiatives to help workers learn new skills and open up entrepreneurial avenues that were previously shut to them — from laid-off hospitality workers in the United States to women starting businesses in Mexico and teachers at refugee camps in Jordan.

“We are committed to enabling better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025,” says Michele Malejki, global head of Social Impact at HP. 

Jennie Sparandara, head of Workforce Initiatives at JPMorgan Chase, says her company has long been focused on issues of equity, but that the COVID health crisis and protests over racial and social justice and police brutality have brought these issues to the forefront. 

“We recognize that there’s a lot of talent that’s being overlooked and that there are incredible disparities in the labor market along racial and gender lines,” says Sparandara. “We are working to target solutions and focus on how reskilling and upskilling can be important elements of that solution set.”

Building a movement from a trend

Microsoft estimates that, over the next five years, the global workforce can absorb around 149 million new technology-oriented jobs. By the end of 2020, the company’s Global Skills Initiative seeks to equip 25 million people with the digital skills and knowledge to fill these jobs. 

“Microsoft’s philanthropy has long focused on skills, the future of work, our responsibility as a technology company, and how we can help those potentially left behind,” says Naria Santa Lucia, general manager of Digital Inclusion and US Community Engagement at Microsoft Philanthropies. 

As the company behind professional network LinkedIn and software-development platform GitHub, Microsoft has the ability to immediately reach workers who are dealing with pandemic-related underemployment or just looking out at the horizon and realizing they need new skills to stay competitive. 

“This trend just continues to grow,” Santa Lucia says. “The skills initiative aims to help people start their journey to secure in-demand roles.” 

The data shows that more workers themselves are taking the initiative to develop marketable skills to compete in a labor market that was transformed virtually overnight. In May, LinkedIn saw a 382% increase in the number of people watching online learning content, while demand for personal development skills like collaboration and people management is up 1,083% and 933%, respectively. The online learning company Coursera had a 644% increase in enrollment versus 2019, and the HP LIFE learning platform reached more than 126,000 new users in 2020 thus far, a 282% growth from the same period in 2019.

HP LIFE is available in seven languages and has attracted more than 800,000 users since launching online in 2012. New participants from around the world have come to the platform during the pandemic to learn social media marketing and other skills that help people running small businesses and working online. 

“The inclusivity around entrepreneurship is so powerful,” Malejki says. “I spoke with an HP LIFE student in South Africa who said, ‘I am not an entrepreneur because it’s sexy. I am an entrepreneur because I have no opportunities in the existing job market.’ We’re able to hear from so many different voices that we would not have been able to without a platform like this.” 

Creating more inclusive economic growth and opportunities is the driving ethos behind JPMorgan Chase’s New Skills at Work initiative. The program, which started in 2013, helps workers meet the growing demand for digital skills, with a special focus on creating economic mobility and career pathways for underserved populations. JPMorgan Chase relaunched New Skills at Work last year with a new $350 million investment. 

“Our ability to support greater access, more inclusive economic growth, and more inclusive economic opportunity is really a driving ethos for our team,” says Sparandara about the initiative. 

For businesses, partners are key 

In New Skills at Work, JPMorgan Chase works with organizations in local communities like community colleges, technology boot camps, and workforce-development organizations to provide skills training.

“The secret sauce is the partnership that brings together business, the social sector, and the nonprofit sector to work collaboratively,” Sparandara says. 

For Microsoft, nonprofit partners are essential because some job seekers need support that goes beyond what a digital platform can typically provide.

“This pandemic has turned into another crisis — an economic crisis and an unemployment crisis that is disproportionately impacting target audiences that we really care about: young people, women, people from racial and ethnic minorities, lower-wage earners,” says Santa Lucia. “That’s why we launched a dedicated funding opportunity to empower nonprofits that work with adversely impacted populations, including the Black and African American community, and are working with organizations such as Goodwill, Upwardly Global, and the Public Libraries Association to help reach communities impacted the most.” 

HP LIFE is exploring partnerships around the world to meet people where they are in their learning journey, like collaborating with an African telco company that shares a similar ambition to teach coding skills. Malejki says leading companies are increasingly working together to make significant progress on sustainable development goals. 

“There are so many people out there who have creative ways to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time,” she says. “Partners are a core part of our business. With programs like HP LIFE, we’re demonstrating how we’re making a positive, lasting impact on underserved communities, in addition to product donations. We think about who we work with. We want to listen and hear what they actually need.”

Ultimately, companies like HP, Microsoft, and JPMorgan Chase understand that working with nonprofits and individuals seeking new skills is an opportunity for them to learn and create opportunities for their own businesses, as well. 

“Our technology is only going to be as good as how diverse the developers are,” Santa Lucia says. “If we’re going to really be able to leverage technology to solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to have lots of different perspectives in developing that.”   

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