Last week Microsoft SA held a webinar to unpack how it plans to deliver more digital skills locally, which forms part of a global initiative that has seen the company parter with the likes of LinkedIn and Github to help job seekers during COVID-19.

While the session proved informative, there were naturally a few more questions we had that could not be answered at the time. Consequently we reached to Microsoft SA’s Legal and Corporate Affairs director, Siya Madyibi, for more insight on the initiative.

Madyibi co-led last week’s webinar and will be overseeing many of the elements of this initiative, making him the perfect person to chat too.

Here’s what he had to say.

The local outlook

One of our most pressing questions is how many local people Microsoft SA aims to help in the coming year. On a global level Microsoft has outlined the goal of 25 million, but what does that mean for those in this country.

As Madyibi explains, the number is actually of little relevance, with Microsoft SA’s goal being to assist as many as possible.

“We are not breaking out the numbers by region and our objective is to reach as many people as possible. We’re also committed to partnerships with non-profits, and in discussions with Government and private sector about other ways to increase the number of people who benefit,” he says.

Next was the LinkedIn portal that went live alongside the announcement. We wondered whether the most in-demand jobs listed there would be localised to any degree. Thankfully it is, with an additional tool being made available by LinkedIn.

“LinkedIn is sharing free, real-time labour market data and skills insights to help governments, policymakers and business leaders understand what’s happening in their local labour markets: what companies are hiring, the top jobs companies are hiring for and the trending skills for those jobs,” says Madyibi.

“This data can be accessed using a new interactive tool at linkedin.com/workforce. Data is available for more than 180 countries and regions (150+ cities, 30+ countries), including South Africa. Data for South Africa shows top trending jobs and top trending skills,” he continues.

Partnering up

During the aforementioned webinar, one of the constant questions was how other training and skills development-focused companies can get involved with this initiative. Microsoft SA has already announced one key partner in Afrika Tikkun, but the organisation is definitely looking at others.

“Microsoft is backing the effort by partnering with strategic long-term partner non-profits like Afrika Tikkun to drive the programme and assist the people who need it most,” the director notes.

“Microsoft is also partnering with corporate companies and customers, who have committed to make training labs with connectivity available to jobseekers, co-fund some Microsoft certifications and market the programme on their social media channels to raise awareness,” adds Madyibi.

Shifting back to the LinkedIn portal. It is currently listed to be available until 31 March next year. We wanted to confirm what would happen with the Microsoft and Github elements of the collaboration post that date.

“The offer for LinkedIn will expire on 31 March 2021, however the Microsoft Learn and GitHub offer will remain free, as it was before this announcement,” Madyibi confirms.

One of the other aspects that interested us is the training that this initiative will bring to the fore, and in particular the Microsoft-certified courses and skills that one can learn. Here, we wanted to know what value they held outside of Microsoft’s partner network for example.

“Microsoft certifications help validate knowledge and ability required to perform current and future industry job-roles in a modern digital business. They give a professional edge by providing globally recognised, industry-endorsed evidence of skills mastery that demonstrate abilities and willingness to embrace new technologies,” says the Microsoft executive.

“They signal a track record of increased productivity, demonstrate business value for organisations, and help companies identify talent with greater simplicity,” he adds.

More to come

We also wished to find out what would be done locally in terms of the $20 million that Microsoft has outlined for non-profits. Already $5 million of that has been earmarked for the those in the US, so what about other parts of the globe.

In this regard Madyibi says more information will arrive in coming weeks, but non-profits do have a point of contact at Microsoft SA.

“We will share more information on our non-profit partnerships in the coming weeks. For more information, non-profits can contact Charlene Verzmoter, Philanthropies Lead at Microsoft South Africa,” he explained.

Those local non-profits interested in the initiative can contact Verzmoter at a-charlv[at]microsoft[dot]com.

Along with non-profits, the final question we posed to Madyibi was what steps Microsoft SA is taking to assist as far as connectivity is concerned, especially as this has become a glaring issue locally during COVID-19.

Here, the Legal and Corporate Affairs director could not go into specifics, but did note that an announcement would be in the offing, with Microsoft SA set to share more details in coming weeks.

As such it looks like the digital skills initiative could do a lot of good for those wanting to upskill themselves, both during COVID-19 and beyond. For now though, we need to give Microsoft SA time to get all the moving parts in order.