Microsoft Gets Serious About Skills: Major New Announcements

The corporate learning industry is over $240 billion in size and is critical to our economic future. All workers need to keep their skills current and the Pandemic has created more need to learn than ever.

Our latest research on The Big Reset shows a dramatic increase in L&D spending. Sanofi, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies just told us their employees consumed almost a million hours of training in the last four months.

Microsoft plays a major role in this market, and today the company made a number of significant announcements

The Ongoing Skills Demand

Workers need many skills to find a good job. Generally speaking, they fall into two categories:  technical skills (technology or discipline-specific skills) and soft skills (which I call PowerSkills) like communications, teamwork, and leadership.

Both are equally important. If you’re a marketing manager your technical skills may be graphic design, SEO, and Salesforce. Your soft skills may include writing, communications, and empathy. 

Driven by the digital transformation of business, we’ve over-rotated toward digital skills in the last decade. Companies have been desperate to hire software engineers, driving a massive investment in bootcamps and other programs to develop such skills. But this doesn’t describe the market well.

Do we all become software engineers? Not at all. Research shows that about 4% of jobs in the world are “software engineering” and if you add up all the jobs in the IT sector, Comptia believes it’s about 10% of the workforce (14 million people in the US). So while this is a big area of employment, remember that 90% of us “use” digital tools, we don’t build them.

Microsoft plays a big role in this market, creating many of the tools, systems, and infrastructure used by IT. The company’s research indicates there will be 190 million people in this segment by 2025, an increase of 149 million from today.

And Microsoft has a vested interest in making sure these jobs are filled. Without strong IT professionals to use and build around Microsoft products, the company cannot grow. So the company invests in digital skills solutions.

Digital Jobs Microsoft

There are many vendors that deliver IT training. Providers like Coursera, Pluralsight, LinkedIn, Udemy, O’Reilly, and Skillsoft sell courses in digital literacy, and there are hundreds of bootcamps and others as well. Vendors like Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon are also important players: they create valued certifications in their technologies, enabling workers to find jobs more quickly.

But as Microsoft goes after this market, the world of skills development is far larger. Young people grow up with digital skills (most high school kids learn to program) and research shows they want more. The data below, captured in Australia, shows that the younger you are the more likely you want more soft skills to succeed. These PowerSkills (influence, leadership, project management, communication) are what drives promotion, growth, and higher income.

demand for behavioral skills

If you want to be a salesperson, or a marketing manager, or a nurse, or a customer service representative, you don’t need to know Visual Basic. You need to know how these business functions work, you need to know the tools and platforms these jobs rely on, and you need to understand the technical skills of these roles. Nurses need to understand many medical procedures; salespeople need to know how to prospect, qualify, and close; marketing managers need to understand the “four Ps” of marketing, and so on.

Let me give you a specific example. If you look at LinkedIn’s most “in-demand” skills in the San Francisco Bay Area this May, the results are surprising. While the most in-demand skill is JavaScript, the remaining top skills are Account Management, Writing, Recruiting, Program Management, Creative Writing, Data Analysis, Social Media Marketing, and Sales Management. If you add up the numerical weighting of these soft skills vs. technical skills, they are more than 10 times more important.

It turns out Microsoft plays a major role in all of this.

Enter Microsoft and LinkedIn

I am a huge fan of Microsoft and LinkedIn. These are important companies filled with some of the most passionate, dedicated, ethical people in the marketplace. Their new learning announcements fall into several different areas.

First, Microsoft understands that digital skills are in demand and they want to address this market. The combination of LinkedIn Learning, GitHub, Microsoft Learn, and Microsoft certifications are a massive investment in this market. In this announcement, the company offers to reduce prices, provide LinkedIn learning paths for free, donate $20 Million to upskilling programs, and new GitHub offerings. The goal is to “upskill” 25 million people by the end of the year.

Second, Microsoft is focusing on the PowerSkills market as well. The “jobs of the future” are not just digital engineering jobs. They are hybrid jobs which include digital and managerial skills. Engineers make a fantastic living and have wonderful careers, but most of us need to find jobs that are non-routine and leverage our human, intellectual, and social capabilities. Lawyers, business executives, and most of the highest-paid people in the world may have engineering backgrounds, but they are not “engineers.” This is why LinkedIn data shows that customer service, sales development, IT support, marketing, and project management are the highest demand roles in LinkedIn.

To support this demand, Microsoft identified ten high-demand jobs and is offering no-charge LinkedIn Learning Career Paths for these roles. These are amazing resources and will be free through March of 2021. 

1. Become a Software Developer
2. Become a Sales Representative
3. Become a Project Manager
4. Become an IT administrator (Prepare for CompTIA Network+ Certification)
5. Become a Customer Service Specialist
6. Become a Digital Marketing Specialist
7. Become IT Support / Help Desk (Prepare for the CompTIA A+ Certification)
8. Become a Data Analyst
9. Become a Financial Analyst
10. Become a Graphic Designer

I highly recommend you look at these resources – they are true “career guides” with resources and training included. Here is an example:

Sales Career

Third, Microsoft is helping others expand the skills development marketplace. As Burning Glass and EMSI data clearly show, every time a new technology goes mainstream, there is a demand for people who understand it. Right now Cybersecurity, Cloud Infrastructure, Data Science, and Mobile engineering jobs are hot, so people want these skills. And these professionals must stay current on the “technologies in demand.” Understanding SunOs, for example, is no longer be a good career (it was a very hot career in the 1980s).

To help with the market development, Microsoft is dropping the price of its certifications to $15 through early next year. And the company is giving away LinkedIn Economic Graph data to institutions who want to better understand where skills are, how job paths work, and what they should do to better target their development funds. 

If you look carefully at the data you see that digital jobs are not evenly distributed. (Click on this graph to play with the data.) China, for example, is projected to have four times the demand of the US.

Tech Jobs

Fourth, and perhaps the most interesting announcement of all, Microsoft announced plans to develop a Learning App in Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Learning for Teams

This, to me, is a big deal.

Microsoft Teams, as you all know well, has been growing at an explosive rate this year. More than 75 million people use Teams every day and I do believe it will ultimately be the biggest product Microsoft ever introduced. Not only is it an amazing collaboration and video conferencing system, it is a true enterprise platform that is fully integrated into Microsoft 365.

Under the covers of Teams the system indexes and translates content, identifies skills and topics by person and team, and provides a myriad of “signals” that make your collaborative work life easier. If you think about the real digital life we now lead, Teams has the potential to suggest learning, teach us how to be better managers, and to predict and improve all the productivity issues we face on a minute by minute basis. How many times have you been frustrated trying to find the document you just worked on?  (I do this dozens of times a day.) Teams can “find it for you” instantly as you type.

All this functionality is built using Azure services, so as Microsoft develops more AI, it will manifest itself as features of Teams.

Learning, it turns out, is a massive part of our daily life at work. We always need to learn something, and I call it Learning in the Flow of Work. This means getting just enough content, support, and education to do your job better. And what better platform to use for this than Teams.

The L&D industry (LMS, LXP, and Learning Platform Providers) have started working on this, and these vendors are doing what they can. But ultimately the problem is “discovering, consuming, tracking, and reporting” on learning in your system of productivity (your email, Teams or whatever you use). This is what Microsoft is now working on.

I have been working with the Microsoft product group for more than two years, and while I cannot disclose any details, I can assure you they now understand this opportunity. The hinted “Microsoft Learning App for Teams” is not ready to launch, but I believe we will see it this Fall.

Three Learning Scenarios For Microsoft Teams

How will this work?  Well, there are many options, somewhat dependent on what Microsoft decides to do. Teams can already access thousands of third party courses through the GO1 integration and we built an integration between Teams and the Josh Bersin Academy that lets you “talk to the JBA” through Teams. And most of the other vendors are working on different integration scenarios. 

Roughly speaking, there are three scenarios to expect, and each of these can radically change the learning technology market.

Microsoft Teams for Learning

Scenario 1:  Microsoft Teams Becomes the LXP

This is the most natural direction the market will go. Since Teams can access GO1 and other forms of content directly, some customers will start to use Teams to access their own internal training content, videos, and courses on the internet. The upcoming Teams App will let you discover, assign, track, and report on content. While this is not as functional as an LXP or LMS (learning paths, curricula, pre-requisites, etc. are not likely in the first phase), it’s going to be easy to do.

In the long term, this means Teams could possibly slow the LXP market. Initially it’s unlikely, but Microsoft is fully aware of this potential. And remember that LinkedIn Learning will probably be “recommended” inside of Teams, just like it is embedded into Glint and Office 365. So I am sure that by year-end you’ll see learning “in the flow of work” directly enabled by Teams.

Note also that Teams can access internal content, videos, documents, and a myriad of other digital information in your company. Project Cortext indexes all this topic into Topic Pages, so Teams will become a platform for knowledge management as well. One could say that “topics” are “skills” if you want, but we can dig into that later.

Scenario 2: Microsoft Teams Support the LXP or LMS

The second scenario, which is also very likely, is that your existing LMS or LXP directs users to Teams for collaboration, live learning activities, or content. In our Academy we include embedded collaboration within the context of our learning programs. But many LMS systems don’t work this way, so if an LMS vendor wants to let any customer use Teams for collaboration, it would work fine. There are APIs to access Teams channels, which work as a wonderful learning experience. In our Academy you can create a “Discussion Guide” in the JBA and then access it in any Teams discussion.

I know many companies who have retail locations, hotels, or other distributed operations and they want to promote local learning groups to collaborate, discuss, or follow experts online. Teams is perfect for this – and this would complement the LMS or LXP. And then all this rich communication data could be indexed and analyzed by Microsoft tools.

Scenario 3: Microsoft Teams Leverages the LXP

If you’ve already implemented an LXP and spent a lot of time tagging, collecting, and curating content – Teams can sit in front of it. This is the type of work EdCast has done and I expect this will likely happen in many larger companies. The LXP becomes an aggregated source of content, so Teams would naturally serve as an easy-to-use “discovery system” for the LXP.

Impact on the LMS and LXP Market

For vendors, this announcement has massive implications. While Microsoft is still very early with its product plans, the company clearly sees Teams as “the window” into corporate content and communication. And for good reason: people want a single place to access all their company information: even an LXP is a bit of a “distraction.” Every major learning technology provider will start looking at this, and find ways to build Teams into its product plans.

I really want to applaud Microsoft for all this work. The company understands the massive role learning plays in the economy, and through its extensive technology and tools, the company can really move the learning industry forward. I will stay close to Microsoft as this evolves, and look forward to helping you understand how all this works.

PS:  Here is Brad Smith’s Product Preview:

“To support this, we are developing and will preview a new learning app in Microsoft Teams later this year, to bring learning into the natural flow of work. People are already using Microsoft Teams for meetings, chat, calling, collaboration, and business processes, and we are planning to extend that to include learning. The Teams learning app will allow employers to integrate world-class content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, a customer’s own content, and other content providers all in one place, ranging from instructor-led training to shorter, micro-learning content. The app will empower managers to assign and track learning progress and enable employees to have conversations around the content while also earning certifications and recognition for their new skills. Whether a new employee is onboarding, a manager is looking to sharpen a team’s skills, or a first-line worker is in the field needing immediate training, this new app will create a seamless experience for employees to learn in the flow of work.”