Microsoft Aims to Bring Americans Up to Tech Speed

Microsoft has introduced an initiative to provide up to 2 million people with job training on its applications. Called “Elevate America,” the program consists of two main offerings: free training available through an online portal; and more elaborate, hands-on training offered in conjunction with several states including Florida, New York and Washington.

The online portal is upright now. The Web site provides access to several Microsoft online training programs that range from the very basic — how to use the Internet, send email and create a resume — to more advanced programson using specific Microsoft applications.

It intends to provide “a broader range” of training programs and certification exams in partnership with state and local governments.

Microsoft will be providing 1 million Microsoft Learning vouchers for free access to Microsoft eLearning courses and certain certification exams. It will also be providing grants of cash andsoftware to community partners for in-classroom training and discounted membership rates for institutions participating in the Microsoft IT Academy program.

Microsoft was unable to provide TechNewsWorld with an interview in time for publication.

Target Audience

Without further details, it is difficult to assess the scope or value of the new public-private partnership Microsoft is spearheading.

However, “it certainly won’t hurt,” said Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president ofHuman Resource Solutions.

In general, the tech community values certification and training even for lower-level skills, she told TechNewsWorld. “In this economy, you need to differentiate yourself as much as possible.”

Still, such training is unlikely to be the sole determinant for a job seeker landing a position.

“It is a good start — especially for people whose tech skills have not been updated for a while, Anne Hennegar, publisher of Productivity Portfolio, told TechNewsWorld. Hennegar provides a review of Elevate America in her blog.

One feature she likes for beginners — or people with rusty skills — is the assessment test that visitors can take to rate how their skills compare with those of their peers. “You don’t see that in similar onlineofferings and I think it can be a good guide or benchmark for people,” says Hennegar.

The portal’s five online classes are Computer Basics; The Internet and the World Wide Web; Productivity Programs, which covers word processing, spreadsheet, database and presentation software; Computer Security and Privacy; and Digital Lifestyles.

Each class can take between two and three hours to complete, estimates Hennegar — although thetest is the only portion that must be completed in one sitting.

“The classes are nicely organized with discrete topics [and] the system allows you to view specific topics or search for content,” she notes.

The site has its own navigation system, which Hennegar grew to appreciate, though she didn’t like it at first. “It segments content so if you just want to see multimedia content, you can click the dedicated icon,” she comments in her review.

“Although I liked the usability aspects of the navigator, there were other items I disliked. To begin, I couldn’t get the courses to operate on my notebook. I got an error stating the program requires aminimum screen resolution of 1024×768. My notebook setting was 1280×720.

“I also disliked that a course, at times, opens too many browser windows. In some cases, a demonstration would play in the same window. Other times, such as when I clicked the Launch button, two more browser windows opened. In some cases, the window was not sized correctly and I couldn’t maximize it. This resulted in me hunting for some of the controls that weren’t fully viewable. Thus time I was using a monitor with more than the minimum required size: 1152×854.”

Windows-Centric Offerings

The courses are Windows-centric, which means using Internet Explorer, Hennegar notes. Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003 or Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 are also necessary.

“From what we can tell, the plan basically entails price cuts on classes in Microsoft proprietary technology and fee reductions on Microsoft certification exams,” says Silicon Alley Insider in a blog post on the offering.

“Generally, this is a good idea by Microsoft. One of the company’s biggest assets has always been its warm relations with developers who use Microsoft tools. And a larger pool of Microsoft-skilled workers raises the value of Microsoft software to prospective corporate clients, especially as the IT labor market contracts as new restrictions on H-1B workers go into effect.

“But we wish Microsoft would just say they were encouraging certifications and leave it at that. Promising to ‘elevate’ the country with such a transparently self-serving program seems a bit ofa PR reach.”

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