Microsoft Releases Job Training Vouchers in Washington

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Microsoft is offering 30,000 vouchers for free worker training classes in Washington state, at an estimated value of US$3 million, the company said on Monday.

The vouchers are part of Microsoft's Elevate America program, first announced in February, that is designed to provide technology training to 2 million Americans. Initially, Washington, New York and Florida are part of the program. Any state in the nation can simply call Microsoft and request to be part of the program, said Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, during a press conference in Seattle.

April Livingstone, who was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant about six months ago and attended the event, has already redeemed her voucher, which she plans to use to take an online course about using Microsoft Office products. She hopes the computer skills will give her an edge. She recently lost out on an opportunity where she was second choice for a job that attracted 500 resumes.

People with technology skills might have a better chance at finding jobs and potentially at earning more money, said Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel of Microsoft. In King County, which includes Seattle, jobs that involve the use of computers pay an average of $5,000 more a year than jobs that don't, he said.

"Our focus is on helping people add to their technology skill base," he said.

The vouchers can be used to take online classes that teach people basic skills like how to use Microsoft Word as well as higher level courses. People can also use the vouchers to take certification exams.

"In many respects, it's easier to provide access to a computer than it is to provide the skills they need to get the most out of it," Smith said. Elevate America is one program of a larger effort at Microsoft to help people get technology training, he said.

The program comes at no cost to the state and focuses exclusively on training for Microsoft projects. The governor encouraged other companies to consider offering similar programs. "I'll ... challenge every other company to step up to this kind of generosity and leadership and volunteerism," she said. "That's how we will come out of this recession and be more prepared than we were when we went into this recession."

Microsoft won't know the full cost of the Elevate America program until all the vouchers are used. The online courses range in cost from $100 to $300 each and certification exams cost $85, Smith said.

Earlier this year Microsoft laid off 1,400 workers and said it plans to let go a total of 5,000 by 2010. It also said it plans to create 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs during that time frame.

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