Microsoft is excited to announce a new partnership with the Georgia Department of Education to roll out the Microsoft IT Academy (ITA) Program statewide in an effort to address the industry skills gap and to help make sure students are college and career ready. The program will provide more than 460,000 students in 463 high schools with the experience and know-how they need in order to graduate with industry credentials for Microsoft programs that are globally recognized in the business world.

In a competitive job market, young people can distinguish themselves from their peers through technology studies and IT Academy learning. While ALL kids today can text, IM and chat with their friends on a phone, the ones who can apply deeper technical skills that employers are seeking -- office productivity, collaboration, enterprise applications development – are the ones who will get an edge for today’s jobs and tomorrow’s workforce.

There are almost 10,000 jobs available today in the state of Georgia requiring Microsoft software skills. These are unfilled jobs in their hometowns. Students who go through the IT Academy program don’t have to leave the state to find jobs. This will enable the state of Georgia to retain its citizens and grow its own economy.

Whether a student is studying business and needs advanced Excel skills for finance calculations or a student is going to learn Windows support skills for the enterprise or gain the foundation knowledge to start building apps for Windows Phone, IT Academy has curriculum solutions. ITA is not just about teaching kids how to program, how to operate IT systems and other real-world skills. IT Academy is preparing kids for the future of software, not the last 25 years of computing, but for the next 25 years – including cloud technologies, robotics and other mobile applications.

While Georgia is the 6th state to roll out IT Academy state-wide in the K12 space, Georgia was actually the first state in the nation to have a statewide higher education agreement for IT Academy starting back in 2008 covering all of the Georgia 2-year technical colleges in the system. Ogeechee Technical College is a top-ranked IT certification school in Georgia. Students are getting good jobs and good salary offerings, and over the past several years, graduates have achieved 100% job placement. This is evidence that the IT Academy model works.

It’s also true at the K-12 level where students in ITA programs in Florida with certifications are outperforming peers on key metrics including grade point average, “stay in school” retention rates, and graduation rates. It’s also our experience that ITA students score higher on science and math on high-stakes standards tests, they are more interested to pursue STEM-related careers, and they are more enthusiastic and have higher self-confidence.

In an era where economists and researchers tell us that 1 out of every 2 jobs today requires some level of technology skills and that figure is expected to rise to more than 3 out of 4 jobs requiring technical skills in just 5-10 years, we must take innovative approaches to education and infusion of technology to the curriculum. With the adoption of Microsoft IT Academy, Georgia is leading the way to ensure all students -- regardless of location, demographics or circumstances – have the chance to gain employability skills for the 21st century economy and someday be part of that next generation that will help businesses innovate and excel.

(North Carolina, Washington, Virginia, Hawaii and Louisiana are the other states so far that have made IT Academy available statewide for their students.)