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“The Superhero Generation”: Microsoft and York Exponential Collaborate on Upskilling

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Residents of York, Pennsylvania, will proudly tell you about the role it played in the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II. Today, the town is drawing on that manufacturing heritage as it adapts to the digital age. And among the leaders of the transformation is the collaborative robotics startup York Exponential, which has partnered with Microsoft’s new skills initiative to help York residents get the education they need for high-tech manufacturing jobs.

The initiative: Microsoft’s global skills initiative is designed to help 25 million people worldwide gain digital skills by the end of the year. It is intended to offer rising and mid-career professionals the skills they need to succeed in a changing economy—both during and after COVID-19. The program also includes partnerships with local companies like York Exponential that seek to upskill workers.

“If there’s maximum digital transformation in the U.S. post-COVID, we believe there is capacity in the United States for the manufacturing sector to absorb more than a million new roles in technology,” said Microsoft Philanthropies General Manager of Digital Inclusion Naria Santa Lucia.

How it works: Microsoft uses LinkedIn data to identify jobs that are in demand, projected to grow in the future and accessible to applicants without a related degree. It offers free learning content to help people develop the skills those jobs require, including soft skills like virtual collaboration. The initiative also offers certifications and job-seeking tools to connect people with applicable jobs.

In practice: York Exponential is looking to add well-rounded employees—new workers proficient in digital skills as well as experienced workers who can gain new qualifications, said CEO John McElligott. The company is combining its own community outreach with Microsoft’s curriculum and skill tools to help new and existing employees alike gain the qualifications they need to be successful.

Why partnerships matter: Partnerships like this one offer exponential benefits by joining large-scale training efforts and resources with local talent.

  • From Microsoft: “The most important consideration is locally-based entities that are trusted by the community,” said Santa Lucia. “If we’re going to change this economy and who has access to it, it’s about the networks you’re introduced to and who is going to connect you where you need to go. The content is important, but it’s really about that personal connectivity. That’s how we get to jobs.”
  • From York Exponential: “Communities like us are often overlooked,” said McElligott. “People go to major metropolitan areas and big cities. So the fact that we’re having these discussions with Microsoft means a lot—an initiative of this size could have an outsized impact on a community as small as us.”

The last word: “This generation growing up today is the superhero generation,” said McElligott. “They grew up watching the Avengers, in a world where everything is robotics and superpowers. They are primed to do amazing things with technology—and to build things for their families, their communities and their country.”

October is Manufacturing Month and a perfect time to check out the exciting careers and training opportunities available from companies like Microsoft and York Exponential. There are still many events left, including an October 28 capstone event presented by Microsoft and called “Creators Wanted: Empowering a Diverse and Sustainable Manufacturing Workforce.” You can find the list of events at  

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