Microsoft launches program in Jackson to expand tech job opportunities and worker skills

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Microsoft has tapped a University of Mississippi graduate to lead its new philanthropic efforts in Jackson through its “TechSpark initiative,” which targets communities likely to be left behind in a tech-driven economy.

Long Beach native JJ Townsend to lead tech giant TechSpark Jackson announced Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of talent and drive in Mississippi, but not a lot of opportunity,” Townsend told Mississippi Today. “TechSpark provides digital skills training, workforce development and entrepreneurship support. It’s really big. We are last many times, in many categories. But in computing, there is a chance for us not to be.

Microsoft has already launched the program in central Washington, Southern Virginia, Wyoming, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Texas and Mexico. TechSpark aims to fill the gaps in economic opportunity through skills training and by supporting local startups and nonprofits, according to Microsoft.

Townsend’s passion lies in teaching computer science. He’s a Teach for America alumnus who once helped expand an existing Microsoft program to get computer training in Jackson high schools.

“I know what it’s like to be a teacher and what it’s like when a student learns to code,” Townsend said. “Technology can transform their trajectory.”

This program will be offered in all public high schools in Jackson over the next school year and will teach about 200 students, according to the technology company.

Microsoft’s goals with TechSpark largely mirror what the state has recognized as shortcomings through its year-old Accelerate Mississippi workforce development office. Accelerate Mississippi and the state’s economic council both pointed to the lack of skilled workers in Mississippi as the top concern for state businesses.

The program’s immediate focus is on Jackson, but Townsend expects that to change over time.

“We recognize that part of Mississippi’s success rests on a prosperous Jackson,” he said. “Pilots has kind of been the name of the game, but we follow success.”

And those programs that work well could be expanded statewide, he said.

When launching the program, Microsoft said it was helping to strengthen Jackson State University’s cyber readiness program — a historically black college — to create career opportunities. Microsoft says the program will train at least 100 students and help them gain real-world cybersecurity experience.

The company is partnering with Innovate Mississippi, a 20-year-old nonprofit that supports local entrepreneurs, to run a 12-week program to help grow Mississippi startups. The program is already training 21 founders – more than 300 candidates – on how to get funding and win investors.

A different five-week pilot program with Innovate Mississippi offers free career coaching to unemployed participants. Her goal is to have 80% in new or better roles within six months of graduation.

Another partnership plan will create a “makerspace” in Jackson, a building space that can accommodate programming this summer.

“The beauty of TechSpark and Microsoft is that we can use our name to get other philanthropic partners. We’re on board and happy to be the first to act,” Townsend said. happening on the pitch right now and how we can plug in and support it.”

Editor’s note: Microsoft Corp. is a Mississippi Today funder.

— Article credit to Sara DiNatale of mississippi today

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