Microsoft created Microsoft Learning with a mission: to ensure that the lack of available skills is never a barrier to using Microsoft software.
Although the group has always dedicated the vast majority of its education and training attentions and resources to teaching current and aspiring IT professionals to develop, implement and manage Microsoft software, its mission has been evolving. This has been particularly true over the last decade as a result of changes including:
- The need to expand beyond training IT professionals to develop, implement and manage IT environments and applications, to training business people to use specific Microsoft tools and to teaching students the value of IT tools in all disciplines and endeavors;
- The dramatic post-IT-bubble decline in interest in IT professions in developing countries, combined with a simultaneous explosion in interest within emerging countries;
- Schools rapidly growing recession-era interest in teaching (and certifying students in) skills that will directly improve employability by complementing conceptual education with the training of practical skills; and
- The recession-era trend for students, employees and the unemployed to take greater control of their own careers by proactively developing their skills and preparing for defined career paths.
The company has—and will continue to—adapt its traditional skills training models to accommodate and capitalize on each of these changes.
From IT Professionals to Students and Business People
Microsoft Learning’s primary objective has always been, and will continue to be the training and certification (2.4 million technology certifications to date) of IT professionals on Microsoft technologies. Although Microsoft has long-since offloaded the sale and delivery of this training to its worldwide network of 1,500 Certified Partners for Learning Solutions, it continues to develop the courseware and manage the certification process.
While many new certifications go to professionals that currently have other certifications, 60% of the 300,000 new professional certifications issued each year are to new entrants. And since college and university students (as well as career changers) now account for a rapidly growing percentage of total trainees, the company is authorizing more academic institutions to deliver training directly to their students.
Although Microsoft will continue to devote the vast majority of its training efforts to current and aspiring IT professionals, the company also wants to ensure that all types of people, across all industries and job functions, understand how to use its personal productivity applications in their daily work. Therefore, the company has developed a wide range of courses to help business users and students more effectively use Microsoft tools in their day-to-day work and has so far certified 2.5 million professionals to support its business products (in addition to the 2.4 million for its technology products). The company, in fact, estimates that it and its partners train 10 times more business users than IT professionals each year.
But since the training of IT professionals is much more complex and detailed, and since IT work is becoming increasingly difficult at a time when productivity applications are becoming easier to use, Microsoft Learning will continue to focus the vast majority of its efforts on IT training.
From Developed to Developing Countries
Like all IT vendors, Microsoft initially focused its training efforts overwhelmingly on those developed countries that accounted for the vast majority of total IT spend. Now, however, emerging countries are dramatically increasing their IT investments. Their demand for IT training, however, is growing even more rapidly than is their demand for hardware and software.
The reasons are two-fold:
- The explosive success of India’s IT outsourcing services has prompted dozens of other emerging countries to train large numbers of their own citizens in efforts to replicate India’s success. Certifications are instrumental in allowing offshore service providers to demonstrate their skills and to level the playing field with developed country competitors; and
- The tech crash of 2000, combined with the growth in offshoring, dramatically reduced the interest of IT careers in developed countries (and especially in the U.S.), thereby reducing the need for specialized IT training in these countries. Many developed countries, in fact, are already experiencing shortages in key disciplines.
This double whammy shifted the locus of the IT training market. India, for example, now accounts for 25% of all new Microsoft certifications and other emerging countries, such as China, Mexico, are growing rapidly. Microsoft has recruited new training partners to address these developing country opportunities (including the giant NITT, which trains more than 500,000 people per year across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America) and has formed relationships with hundreds of additional universities.
Schools as Development and Delivery Partners
Microsoft has introduced a number of innovative IT programs (which I will discuss further in future blogs). The Microsoft IT Academy, which it launched in 2007, serves as an umbrella under which the company’s academic IT training offerings (curricula, courseware, software, online learning, certifications, etc.) are aligned. The program, which is primarily targeted at engineering, computer science and related disciplines, has expanded rapidly, encompassing close to 9,000 schools with plans to grow this number five-fold over the next five years.
This program, which adds hands-on, practical experience to the academic education of many curricula, is intended to enhance student employability by adding focus and certifications at special student pricing to the student’s resume and help them deliver immediate value to employers. Microsoft also offers a number of additional services and tools (ranging from career planning tools to resume, cover letter and interviewing guides) plus a newly launched career portal that go even further in helping graduates improve their employment prospects.
The company’s academic programs, however, go far beyond the teaching of aspiring IT professionals. The Partners in Learning program is intended to help educators develop and test new methods for using IT tools to enhance education and for highlighting and sharing best practices among schools. It also has a number of programs targeted at college, elementary, middle and high schools students. For example, it provides pre-packaged, online courses to help college students learn to use Excel in business analysis and PowerPoint in presentations. It also offers a number of pre-defined lesson plans to facilitate the learning of specific topics across fields including geography, history, mathematics, science and language. But while Microsoft directly develops the curricula for its IT courses, it relies primarily on schools and other experts to develop non-technical program materials.
Individual-Led Training and Career Development
With the recession prompting a number of companies to cut back on their funding of employee training, growing numbers of employees, students, unemployed workers and independent contractors are taking more active roles in developing their own skills. Microsoft’s new career campaign intends to help these individuals, such as by:
- Emphasizing the demand for IT skills and certifications, such as by citing independent studies on the current and future demand for IT specialists;
- Providing justification for individuals to pay for such courses themselves by demonstrating ways in which certifications can help individuals achieve their own career goals (in addition to emphasizing their value to companies);
- Proactively assisting in career planning by laying out potential career paths and explaining the types of skills, training and certifications that will be required for each step along the way (rather than by focusing on the value of specific courses); and by
- Distributing up to 1 million free vouchers for select Microsoft eLearning courses and certification exams.
Into the Future
The future will see more these types of programs. Although the demand for skills training will continue to grow, the type of training, the purchasers of the training and the types of organizations that deliver the training will continue to evolve.
Some of these changes, such as the growing demand from emerging countries and the growing roles of schools in developing and delivering all type of IT training, are long-term trends. Others, such as the decline in corporate spending and the growing role of individuals in planning their own careers and paying for their own courses, were created—or at least exacerbated—by the recession. Such exigencies have prompted Microsoft Learning to take a much more pragmatic approach to positioning and promoting its courses. Its new mantras are for immediate employability and self-directed career development.
While some of these changes may be new, all are likely to shape Microsoft’s education and training programs for years to come. Although the company will continue to focus its primary efforts on the training of IT professionals, it will work increasingly closely with partners—especially all types of educational institutions—to integrate IT more seamlessly into all academic disciplines, curricula and coursework. It will also continue to increasingly position its training materials as providing at least as much value to the individual, as to the employer.