Illinois fights technical skills gap with courses in data science, analytics, coding

A new partnership announced by the state with Microsoft and the IoT Talent Consortium is designed to bolster the skills of low-income residents.

With the intent to accelerate job growth and attract tech companies, the state of Illinois announced a partnership on Thursday between Microsoft and the IoT Talent Consortium to provide nine courses in analytics, predictive analytics, various coding languages and other digital disciplines for state residents.

Speaking for the state, Deputy Gov. Leslie Munger said the courses are designed to increase the number of living wage jobs and use the new digital talent to attract tech companies seeking workers with advanced skill sets. While education has typically been the role of academic institutions, Munger said that these efforts have not been sufficient to meet the demand from in the job market.

“Now we all know that we live in an increasingly mobile-first, cloud-first kind of world and technology is changing at such a rapid rate,” increasing opportunities in ways that never existed before, Munger said. “So today what we are announcing is a program that will help us build a workforce with the skills to take the jobs that will support our economic growth here in Illinois.”

A link will eventually be placed on the state’s website directing residents to the free online courses. The state is hoping that the affordable education will be used by its low-income residents. Though the coursework is free, in order to get a certificate of completion the program is charging enrolled students $100. To alleviate some of this cost of this, for the first 500 participants the program will reduce the certification cost by half. The state will also give 100 certificated courses free to inmates at the Illinois Department of Corrections.


“One great thing about this program is that it does not discriminate. It is open to all Illinois residents regardless of a gender, race and income levels,” Munger said. “It will really help us reach out and help bring skills to areas most in need, supplying the training to prepare people for jobs.”

What is unknown are what jobs enrollees will qualify for after they finish the coursework as none were specified in the press announcement. It is also yet to be determined if the courses will be compelling enough to entice future employers. Companies may seek candidates with full computer science degrees or certifications from intensive coding boot camps instead. The certificates may be more supplemental than standalone, job-ready curriculums.

Either way, the state forecasts that demand for technical skill sets will be high in future years. Estimates from the Illinois Department of Employment Security show that by 2024 there will be more than 25,000 computer jobs added to the state with average annual growth at about 2,700 jobs per year. 

Chris Roy, Microsoft’s senior director of worldwide go-to-market and product strategy, said that the company sees the coursework as a catalyst for real economic change. Roy said the partnership will put the company’s coursework, designed about seven months ago, into the hands of those who need it most.

“We’re really excited to welcome this new curriculum program that’s really designed to provide job-ready skills and not just for specific products skills.” Roy said. “So it’s really different than what’s currently in the marketplace today.”


The initiative was praised by state CIO Hardik Bhatt who said that the partnership was an example of how the state was using all of the assets and resources available to improve life for its residents.

“We believe strongly in ecosystem partnerships and that’s what you’re seeing here today,” Bhatt said. “We work with universities and partner with the private sector so that we can bring more resources to the state of Illinois because we are living in a dynamically changing economy.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on April 27, 2017 to show that the name of the group is called the IoT Talent Consortium.

Latest Podcasts