Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, onstage at Envision 2023

Getting ready for the AI economy: Microsoft’s commitment to digital skills in the UK

We’re entering an era of unprecedented technological transformation – but over half of British business leaders surveyed (52%) believe the UK is racing against time to become an artificial intelligence (AI) superpower.

With rapid advancements in AI, including the arrival of large language models (LLM), the way people work and broader business models are changing. But new research, conducted by YouGov for Microsoft, reveals that 54% of business leaders surveyed are concerned their workforce lacks the skills to make the most of the AI opportunity.

When it comes to future-proofing business, only a quarter (25%) of business leaders surveyed have plans in place to recruit the right talent to successfully implement AI across their organisations. Meanwhile just 26% have completed training to improve their understanding about how to use AI in their job.

To address these challenges, Microsoft is expanding its UK skilling program, Get On, aiming to equip 1 million people with the skills needed to thrive in the AI-enabled economy.

Expanding Microsoft’s skills commitment

Speaking at Microsoft’s Envision UK event, Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, said: “The UK has a very real opportunity to be a leader in the era of AI, but as our research shows, there are barriers stopping the UK turning its ambition into action.”

“Every job will soon be supported by AI and we need innovative people, with the right skills, to fill those jobs. That’s why Microsoft is expanding its skills commitment. By 2025 we will support one million people to gain the AI skills they need to start, or move into, a career in technology. And in doing so, we will open up the opportunities of AI to diverse talent across the UK.”

Turning ambition into action

The expansion of the Get On programme builds on Microsoft’s five-year initiative. To date it has trained 1.1 million people in digital skills and helped over 30,000 people build careers in tech. Microsoft’s new suite of AI skilling resources are designed to harness the generative AI wave sweeping across industries.

With 45% of job seekers expressing interest in AI[1], the programme will help candidates, non-profits and employers become familiar and fluent in AI so that they can build with the new technology and achieve professional accreditation and certification throughout their journey.

Microsoft is collaborating with learning partners including QA, Firebrand, Fast Lane, Skillsoft Global Knowledge, GetMyFirstJob, PwC, Microsoft’s non-profit partners Catch22, Generation and The Prince’s Trust, to scale AI content and free digital training resources and courses.

Andy Turner, Managing Director, Fast Lane, said: “Like Microsoft, we have always been committed to making technology education and skills accessible and inclusive for all, especially on technologies such as AI and Machine Learning that are now moving into the DNA of every product and process, which in turn enables new digital business models.

AI is fast becoming the cornerstone of innovation across all industries throughout the world, we aim to help both individuals and organisations to become truly data-driven so that they can achieve remarkable results by taking the appropriate approach.”

Fluency, technical skills, and business transformation

Microsoft’s expanded AI resources will focus on three key areas:

  • Building AI fluency: Enabling workers, job seekers and AI-curious self-learners to build AI knowledge and understanding including responsible deployment. New non-profit partnerships with Generation, Catch22 and The Prince’s Trust to support individuals who face greater barriers to employment opportunity.
  • Developing AI technical skills: Enable those with AI knowledge to develop their technical skills and achieve certification through free, online self-learn training on modules including machine learning and data analysis.
  • Supporting AI business transformation: Support business leaders to manage AI transformation and worker upskilling across new AI products and services in order to take advantage of growth opportunities

Naomi Hulston, CEO of Catch22, said: “The application of AI across all sorts of aspects of our lives is hugely exciting and filled with potential. But for some people, this potential is tinged with fear; a fear of the unknown, a fear of being left behind and a fear of not having the right skills to be part of the AI revolution.”

“We’re proud to be a partner in Microsoft’s Get on AI programme delivery through our Digital Edge AI programme. Our aim is to equip 15,000 people of all ages facing barriers to work with the skills and confidence to use AI effectively through workshops and our proven ‘train the trainer’ model. By empowering people to embrace this new wave of technology, we’ll make sure nobody — whatever their age, background or challenges — is left behind.”

Hugh Chatfield, Director of Growth, Data and Operations at Generation, said: “We’re delighted to be part of Microsoft’s next stage of the Get On programme, responding to the opportunity that new AI models present. We’re excited to explore embedding AI tools into our support, enabling us to even better prepare the people facing barriers to employment we support into life-changing, in-demand tech jobs.”

A range of new resources on offer

New resources in the programme include the first Professional Certificate on Generative AI in the online learning market, new Microsoft Learn AI content, tools and resources, virtual training days for technical and AI decision makers, non-profit employability partnerships, AI business transformation modules for business leaders, self-guided AI learning journeys and access to LinkedIn AI learning pathway grants and resources.

Ben Higgin, PwC UK Executive Board Member with responsibility for Technology and Investments said: “PwC recognises the vital need to increase the level of AI skilled professionals across the economy so that businesses and organisations can realise the productivity and innovation potential that technologies such as Generative AI have to offer.”

“The announcement today from Microsoft regarding the Get On AI skills commitment is a very welcome step in addressing this issue. PwC has been an active supporter of previous Microsoft Get On skilling initiatives and we have seen the great impact they have had in regions across the UK. We would encourage other business leaders to get involved and ensure an AI skilling strategy is part of future business plans.”

Becoming a world leader In the age of AI

Luke Mckend, Senior Director, LinkedIn Talent Solutions, UK, says: “AI is accelerating workplace change, reshaping the skills needed for jobs and careers across industries. And while many professionals are keen to use AI within their jobs, they understandably feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount there is to learn and are looking for support.

For the UK to achieve its ambition of becoming a world leader in the age of AI, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to gain AI skills. Businesses will play a huge role in empowering their workforce with both the skills and confidence they’ll need to realise AI’s full potential – using the technology to take on some of the heavy lifting and remove the drudgery from day-to-day tasks, so people can focus on the high-value parts of their work.”

Businesses or individuals interested in exploring the programmes on offer and starting their journey with AI should visit

*GetMyFirstJob online job seeker survey in October 2023