Posted by Pamela Passman 
Corporate Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs

Given the constant flow of dreary news battering American workers – including today’s announcement that jobless claims soared to 524,000 in December as the unemployment rate jumped to a 16-year high of 7.2 percent--  my colleagues and I at Microsoft are heartened that Congressional leaders and President-elect Obama have proposed historic investments to get the economy growing again.

We are particularly pleased that workforce training and skills development are core elements of the stimulus packages now on the table.

An improved public system for training must make better use of technology to deliver skills training, especially for adult workers who need to combine work with learning. It’s absolutely critical that workforce development remain a centerpiece of the economic stimulus package that is ultimately passed by the new Congress.  

Government can’t do it all, nor should it.  The private sector and government each need to find ways to strengthen the U.S. workforce while extending opportunity for all Americans.  For several years, Microsoft has tried to do its part to arm workers with deeper skill sets.

To provide basic tech skills and job training in underserved U.S. communities, for instance, our Unlimited Potential Community Technology Skills Program has provided $85 million in cash, software and training support to more than 4,500 community technology centers since 2003.

We’re also a major supporter of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which takes an innovative approach to workforce development by focusing on regional workforce collaboratives.  The NFWS seeks to train over 250,000 low-wage American workers for higher paying jobs by 2011. Microsoft is providing $10 million of cash and software for the 21 NFWS partnership sites around the country.

And Microsoft annually certifies thousands of technical workers around the world to repair and maintain Microsoft products, a seal of approval that significantly raises workers’ value and attractiveness to employers .  Microsoft has trained roughly 51 million software developers and technology workers globally over the past decade.  In the past six months we’ve seen an 18 percent increase in technical certifications as workers seek to differentiate themselves in a challenging economy.

Nevertheless, the unprecedented economic dislocation currently underway has raised the urgency for the federal government to do more.  The technology sector is a vital engine of growth, even during tough times, yet many Americans lack the skills to qualify for even entry-level information economy jobs that could support them and their families for years. 

A technologically-sophisticated workforce benefits Microsoft, of course, by expanding our pool of potential recruits and business partners.  But technological fluency is essential to develop careers and achieve success in virtually every sector of the economy, from health care and construction to agriculture and manufacturing.  More than half of today's jobs require some technology skills, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and some estimates project the share to reach 77 percent in the next decade. 

We recognize that negotiation and compromise are inevitable parts of the legislative process, and the stimulus bills introduced this week will change – perhaps radically – before President-elect Obama signs them into law.  But the workforce development components, which can help unemployed citizens find jobs and empower current workers to enhance their skills, are too important to sacrifice.   We urge lawmakers to keep workforce training and skills development front and center as they finalize these critical pieces of legislation.