If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know I focus a lot on employment -- or lack thereof -- in the tech sector. I'm always on the lookout for ways IT professionals can get additional skills or enhance the ones they have, so I feel compelled to tell you about Microsoft's new initiative, Elevate America, that's designed to strengthen the tech sector even though I'm not so sure about the motive behind it.

I'm torn between thinking Microsoft's new program is a generous way to help people expand or acquire new skills, and that it's nothing more than a cheap marketing ploy that takes advantage of a disadvantaged demographic.

On the surface, Microsoft's offer seems straightforward enough. The company is "partnering with private, public, and community organizations [for access] to free and low cost resources that help you get the skills training and certifications you need to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow."

The Elevate America program promises to give workers a fundamental education in:

  • Beginning information, technology, and computer literacy
  • Information and communications technologies
  • Workforce development and preliminary technical certification preparation

Classes are offered both online and in a classroom-style setting via job training centers across America and Canada, where people can learn everything from the basics of accessing and surfing the Internet to acquiring full-blown Microsoft certifications in business technology.

Even though a tiny part of me feels like this is an opportunistic play by Microsoft to capitalize on recent reports of massive job loss throughout the country combined with President Obama's plan to strengthen the nations technology infrastructure, I was willing to suspend my cynicism, After all, I am not a Microsoft hater, but am actually platform agnostic. Then I tried downloading some of the educational material and was dismayed -- thought not particularly surprised -- to discover it's only available for Windows.

Before anyone jumps on me and says, "Well, yes, but consider who's making the offer," let me point out that I'm not talking about downloadable materials associated with Microsoft certifications. It's not even possible to download the most basic curriculum files on learning computer fundamentals using anything but a Windows machine.

If Microsoft was genuinely serious about its commitment to beef up the technology skills of today's workers so they can "compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow," it wouldn't tie the hands of the very people they say they're trying to help. Plenty of people in the workforce can only access the Internet and these files via the Linux or Mac OS X-based workstations at their local job skills training centers or libraries.

I wouldn't dream of quibbling with Microsoft over certification course curriculum that's only available for Windows users, but if they're going to claim they want to help educate workers at all skill levels, then the teaching materials ought to be available without limitations. Otherwise, the offer simply smacks of a thinly-veiled marketing ploy.

To be sure, if Apple came up with a similar program with the same limitations, I'd take them to task too. What are your thoughts? Should Microsoft make it's files available to everyone, or only those people in the workforce who have access to Windows?

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It's their software and their training offer, so in my view they can offer it on any platform they want. I would support the same of any private enterprise.

However, that's not to say I agree with them, but I understand. This is just one more item on a long list of because we cans. I suppose there really is no downside for Microsoft if they restrict the learning platform to Windows and no upside to not-restricting it, so in their view, why spend the extra effort to support other people's OS?

This isn't something that a 120-day trial of Windows, a spare x86 machine (or HDD for your existing machine), a bit of time and a roll of duct tape can't fix.

My only concern is that this "initiative" will do nothing but increase the ranks of the faceless minions of paper certification to further glut the market. :(

Hi Lisa:

Great post. I'm the first person to get on Microsoft when they screw up, but when you look at the overall program, yes there is probably an ulterior motive there, but ultimately they seem to be trying to be good corporate citizens. Sure, they could have made the materials platform agnostic, but my guess is the people that made them didn't think about this from a marketing standpoint, but just what was practical for them. In this case, I'm willing to cut Microsoft a little slack because they seem to be trying to do a good thing for a change.

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