Microsoft has launched a new AI Skills Initiative as part of its Skills for Jobs program, aiming to democratize artificial intelligence (AI) skills across global workforces. This move acknowledges the growing demand for AI skills in the digital economy and targets to empower individuals to effectively harness the power of AI.

A report from the World Economic Forum listed AI skills as the third-highest priority for companies’ training strategies, following analytical and creative thinking. In response, Microsoft’s AI Skills Initiative is introducing free coursework developed with LinkedIn, a new open global grant challenge in partnership with data.org, and free digital learning events and resources to bolster AI fluency.

These efforts are in response to a common workplace dilemma that AI can address. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index reveals that 62% of workers spend too much time searching for information during their workday. While half of the people are apprehensive about AI replacing their jobs, a larger proportion (70%) would delegate as much work as possible to AI to reduce their workload. The new AI Skills Initiative aspires to bridge this gap, allowing workers to leverage AI technologies to stay ahead of emerging skills gaps.

A key component of the initiative is the Generative AI Skills Grant Challenge, a program designed to explore and develop training strategies for generative AI. The challenge, backed by data.org, Microsoft’s AI for Good Lab, and GitHub, aims to encourage non-profit, social enterprise, and research or academic institutions to develop and implement AI training programs. The focus is on fostering fair and community-led implementations of generative AI, especially within historically marginalized populations. Awardees will receive financial support, access to Microsoft events, Azure-based cloud computing resources, and technical guidance from Microsoft and GitHub experts.

Another stride in the initiative includes a partnership with LinkedIn Learning to launch the first Professional Certificate on Generative AI in the online learning market. This course will familiarize learners with the fundamental concepts of AI, with emphasis on responsible AI frameworks. Upon passing the assessment, learners will receive a Career Essentials certificate. Available in multiple languages, the course will be free through 2025.

The initiative will also introduce a trainer toolkit for teachers, trainers, and facilitators who are pivotal in providing local communities with skilling resources and training. In addition, Microsoft is rolling out the Microsoft Learn AI Skills Challenge, a free technical training challenge starting on July 17th.

Microsoft’s Skills for Jobs program has already made significant strides in bringing digital skills to people globally, focusing on new, in-demand jobs in the digital economy. This new AI skills training initiative is the next evolution in this effort, leveraging the transformative power of AI. As Microsoft’s President and Vice Chair Brad Smith noted, AI holds immense potential for the betterment of humanity, but realizing this potential hinges on equipping people with the skills to use AI ethically and effectively. Microsoft’s latest initiative is an encouraging first step on this exciting journey.