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City, Microsoft team up to bring digital skills training to over 300,000 Chicagoans

Mayor Lori Lightfoot met with Microsoft President Brad Smith to launch Accelerate Chicago, a program that provides free courses to Chicagoans looking to boost their job skills. Community leaders say bridging the digital divide is instrumental to improving underserved communities.

Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a launch of Accelerate Chicago at the North Lawndale Employment Network. The program hopes to bridge a digital divide and address systemic inequities.Public and private organizations launched “Accelerate Chicago,” a partnership between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Microsoft Corp. that will provide digital skills to job seekers in Chicago, Friday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2021.
Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks with Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday during the launch of Accelerate Chicago, a program which hopes to bridge a digital divide and address systemic inequities.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot met with community leaders and Microsoft President Brad Smith on Friday to launch Accelerate Chicago, a program that will help over 300,000 Chicagoans gain the digital skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly online world.

Community leaders from the city’s South and West sides said the program is an important step toward addressing systemic inequities and setting up underemployed city residents for success.

“In order for us to thrive, we must eliminate the digital divide,” Lightfoot said at the North Lawndale launch event. “We have an important opportunity to use this moment to better the lives of those who are struggling long before this pandemic ever struck.”

The program, created by Microsoft, will provide free online courses, skill certifications and career opportunities to Chicagoans, with a hope of bridging a gap in digital skills that community leaders say prevents economic mobility.

Lightfoot said the program is crucial in addressing the skills gap preventing those in underserved communities from succeeding in the job market.

“We need to make sure this initiative brings into the fold Black and brown and underserved communities all across our city,” Lightfoot said. “We cannot move forward, [and] our recovery will not be as robust as it should be, if we leave anyone behind in any neighborhood.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith sign a document during a press conference and panel discussion at the North Lawndale Employment Network in the North Lawndale neighborhood, where public and private organizations launched “Accelerate Chicago,” a partnership between Lightfoot and Microsoft Corp. that will provide digital skills to job seekers in Chicago, Friday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2021. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
The mayor and Microsoft President Brad Smith sign documents certifying the program during a launch event at the North Lawndale Employment Network. The mayor said the program will help the city’s underserved communities.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The mayor, along with Ald. Michael Scott (24th), various community leaders and Microsoft executives, gathered to celebrate the launch of the initiative.

The program provides job seekers and motivated workers with opportunities to learn basic computer skills now essential for jobs in construction trades, the service industry and office work. It will equip workers training on everything from data analytics to digital marketing.

“Talent is distributed more evenly than opportunity,” Microsoft President Smith said. “We have a special chance to bring these skills to people who will benefit from them the most, especially across the South and West sides of Chicago.“

Microsoft is using its professional networking platform LinkedIn to deliver the courses, and the program will feature virtual career fairs to help participants land jobs.

“We see the high rate of violence and crime in communities, and we think that if we just stop the shooting, that that’s the answer,” said Brenda Palms Barber, president of the North Lawndale Employment Network. “In fact, it’s what we’re talking about today: equipping people with the basic skills they need in order to have competitive jobs.”

Founder of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council Brenda Palms Barber speaks during a press conference at the North Lawndale Employment Network in the North Lawndale neighborhood, where public and private organizations launched “Accelerate Chicago,” a partnership between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Microsoft Corp. that will provide digital skills to job seekers in Chicago, Friday afternoon, Oct. 1, 2021. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Brenda Palms Barber, founder and president of the North Lawndale Employment Network, said programs like Accelerate Chicago are important in curbing violence in underserved communities
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Jacky Wright, Microsoft’s chief digital officer, said businesses have an “accountability” to remove the “systemic and cultural barriers” preventing equitable entry into the business world.

“The question is: How do we assure that the community itself will thrive, and [how do] we remove those barriers?” Wright said. “Businesses, in partnership with not-for-profits, academia [and] startups, need to look at what are those systemic barriers that we need to remove?”