NORTH LAWNDALE — The city has partnered with Microsoft to offer free technology courses so residents can seek out in-demand careers that pay livable wages.
At least 300,000 people across Chicago will get the opportunity to develop digital and tech skills through free courses under the Accelerate program, officials said Friday. It is aimed at creating a pipeline rooted in equity to guide residents toward high-demand jobs.
To find programs, events and courses offered by the Accelerate initiative, visit the project’s website.
The initiative will “reimagine our workforce infrastructure” to better serve people who have been excluded from skilled labor industries and “empower them to find long-term stability and prosperity,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference.
“We have an important opportunity to use this moment to better the lives of those who were struggling long before this pandemic ever struck,” Lightfoot said.
The Accelerate program will work with Microsoft as well as local community partners to create an ecosystem for supporting “upskilling, re-skilling and cross-skilling resources for those looking for in-demand jobs,” Lightfoot said. The program will benefit people interested in a wide swath of careers from financial technology to the food and agriculture industry, she said.
“There’s not one industry where there are good jobs that isn’t impacted by technology in some form,” Lightfoot said. “If you want to get something that is a good-paying job, that can sustain your future where you can grow a family, you’ve got to have some that core skills.”
Community partners, including the North Lawndale Employment Network and the Westside NAACP, will work to connect residents to the programs. They’ll particularly try to connect with people who face barriers to employment and those who are susceptible to job displacement.
The local partnerships will elevate the impact of the program by reaching “folks that don’t have that ability to get that skilling today, and to provide that to them,” said Matt Renner, a president at Microsoft.
The program makes available free courses with an emphasis on tech skills that will allow people to bridge the digital divide and excel in careers in all fields. Learning partners — including Dream Hustle Code, General Assembly, Goodwill Industries International and Springboard — will create curriculums for developing specific skillsets as well as a credential system that will help employers identify qualified job-seekers in the program.
Microsoft is also providing free courses through Microsoft Learn and LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft. Those courses will be geared toward specific jobs and careers that are in high demand.
“It’s not useful unless we can create that connected ecosystem that brings those who are skilled into a job and working with that to build diverse talent into our tech infrastructure and ecosystem that we have here in Chicago,” Renner said.
The Accelerate program will amplify the job readiness efforts already happening in neighborhoods around the city, said Brenda Palms-Barber, president and CEO of the North Lawndale Employment Network. The group offers second-chance employment programs, entrepreneurship opportunities and job training for people who are formerly incarcerated or have a criminal record.
The support from the city and Microsoft is essential since “digital education is fundamental. It’s a fundamental baseline for job readiness for every job, for every sector,” Barber said. “Digital skilling of our workforce, especially in communities that are underserved like ours will be a change that people need in order to have a quality and improved quality of life.”
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