Microsoft helps Houston prepare workforce for the digital economy

26th August 2020 Sarah Wray

The City of Houston is collaborating with Microsoft to equip citizens with skills in big data and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of a drive to close the digital divide and aid economic recovery from COVID-19.

Building on an Internet of Things (IoT) partnership with the technology company announced in 2018, Houston is the latest city to participate in Microsoft’s Accelerate programme, which launched in Atlanta last month.

Working with the city, education providers, corporate partners and non-profit organisations, Microsoft will deliver professional development programmes for young people and adults, with a particular focus on those in underserved communities.

For veterans and those transitioning jobs, the company will offer digital workshops and development training. Microsoft will provide Imagine Academy courses and certification for Houston’s school students and programme DigiCamp career events. Higher education providers will receive digital literacy and skills training.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is also working with the Brookings Institution to develop a “comprehensive strategy for artificial intelligence and digital transformation” to prepare communities for a “changing economic landscape”.

Innovation district

As part of the programme, Microsoft will invest US$1 million into “programmes that support social entrepreneurship and other initiatives” in the Rice University-led Ion Innovation District.

“Our initial alliance with Microsoft, established in 2018, created the foundation for Houston to grow as a smart city. It brought start-up innovation to city challenges through The Ion Smart City Accelerator, proved out cases for the use of IoT and AI to make our city safer and more resilient, and provided equitable access to technology through digital literacy, upskilling programs and Wi-Fi on public transit,” said Jesse Bounds, Innovation Director, City of Houston. “This expansion will continue to build upon this foundation, the skills, processes and technologies needed to drive future growth and equitable prosperity in the city and position Houston to be a shining example to others across the globe.”

Accelerate: Houston is the latest US implementation of Microsoft’s recently announced global initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire new digital skills by the end of the year.

Jacky Wright, Chief Digital Officer, Microsoft US, said: “As we continue to address the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, with millions of people out of work, expanded access to digital skills will be a critical part of an accelerated economic recovery, especially for those people and communities who have been hardest hit by this crisis. This pandemic has really taught us that no community, business or industry is 100 percent resilient, but those that are fortified by technology are more resilient and best-positioned for success in this new virtual-first world.”

She added: “As advances in AI and machine learning propel us deeper into the digital economy, digital skills across the Houston community must keep pace. Accelerate: Houston will increase economic development by helping to close the digital divide and create skills for high-demand jobs.”

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