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The Louisville Future of Work Initiative

COVID-19 30-day Upskilling Challenge


In February of 2020, the Future of Work Initiative, powered by Microsoft, held an AI summit in downtown Louisville, Kentucky - more than 1000 people from the Louisville community were in attendance. The keynote event was a conversation between Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Jacky Wright, Microsoft's Chief Digital Officer.

One key takeaway Jacky spoke on was thinking about the impact of technologies on communities and society at large. She encouraged us to not only think about how businesses can prepare for the data economy, we must also “think about the impact they are having on our society and our communities."

And so, when the city officially imposed COVID-19 restrictions a couple of months later, the Future of Work Initiative realized a need to focus its gaze on the community during this time of uncertainty. With Jacky’s words in mind, we recognized the tremendous opportunity to create an opportunity for people in our community to learn a new skill that would benefit them in their careers, all while staying safe in their homes. The following is a report on that response, named the COVID-19 Upskilling Initiative.

COVID-19 Upskilling Initiative

In collaboration with community partners at Humana, General Assembly, LouForward, LHCC, the University of Louisville, and Microsoft, we launched the COVID-19 Upskilling Initiative, providing access to free certifications and badges provided by Microsoft, General Assembly, IBM, and others for learning new technology skills.

To incentivize the community to take self-paced courses, we raffled off a laptop every weekday for four weeks. In order to be entered in the raffle, participants were required to earn at least one badge or certification in digital marketing, software engineering, UX design, or data science. Each unique badge counted as an individual entry.

Intentionality and Inclusion. We were intentional in the design of the website for the Future of Work Initiative and its 30-day upskilling challenge ( We chose to feature a large picture of one of the most underrepresented groups in computer science - Black women.

We also wanted to insure that the COVID-19 upskilling initiative had a warm feeling to it - color choices that might be inviting to a variety of people, with the hope of attracting a more diverse group of participants. We intentionally made sure to address the need for more inclusion in the field of computer science, as represented by our wording, inviting people to participate who are typically marginalized in these fields

And importantly, Mayor Greg Fischer announced the upskilling initiative contest during his daily COVID-19 update, highlighting the opportunity for Louisvillians to take advantage of an opportunity while the pandemic was keeping so many at home.

Results of the raffle. At the conclusion of the raffle, over 1000 technology courses had been taken by 800+ participants, representing skills in everything from Microsoft Azure and Google Analytics to UI/UX design to programming languages such as C# and Python. participants even signed up for multi-stage courses such as General Assembly’s UI/UX and Data Science courses, demonstrating a continued commitment to upskilling beyond the raffle itself.

In order to participate in the contest, participants were required to fill out a survey, designed to capture interest and demographics of participants. In total, 1,663 total people filled out the survey, indicating interest in upskilling with Future of Work through self-led online programs and in-person classes in the future. The survey captured demographics such as race, gender, zip code, COVID-19 impact, employment status, and current industry, among others.

Diversity of participants. What is perhaps most interesting about the initiative is the diversity of community members interested in upskilling. The initiative saw responses from all over Louisville and its surrounding areas, with representation from every zip code.

Of the survey respondents, 57.7% were women, while an additional 1.1% voluntarily identified as transgender, nonbinary, or gender variant/non-conforming. This gender spread is typically not seen in the data science and technology industries, in which women, non-binary, and gender variant/non-comforming individuals consist of a much smaller portion of the overall workforce.

Additionally, 31.6% of respondents self-identified as non-white, with 20% of them being Black/African-American, 4.1% as Asian, and 3.2% as Hispanic or Latinx.

In total, 593 respondents (over 35%) self-identified as minorities; of those, 116 stated interest in learning together in a gender-based cohort, and 54 showed interest in a minority-based cohort.

COVID-19 Employment Impact. We also collected data on the impact of COVID-19 on employment status. Of the 1,329 respondents, close to half (49%) reported that their employment had been affected by COVID-19. Within the top five industries the respondents were from, confirmed unemployment rates ranged anywhere from 18% to 48%. Reasons for unemployment or “other” status ranged from work closures to permanent and/or temporary layoffs on top of those who were already unemployed before the city quarantine.


Through a key partnership between industry, government, education, and nonprofits, the Future of Work Initiative was able to reach and involve a diversity of people in the Louisville community. By combining a real incentive to learn new technological skills with heightened accessibility and a core focus on diversity, the Future of Work Initiative was able to help the Louisville community begin learning new skills immediately despite quarantine restrictions preventing access to physical classes. Below, find profiles on some of the raffle winners (first names only):

Winner’s Name: Dominique

Tell us about yourself.

I am a diversity and inclusion professional with a strong interest in learning new skills and pivoting to the technology industry. As a millennial who grew up with technology I love and appreciate everything about technology and how it advances our capabilities and continues to change the world for the better.

How did you hear about the upskilling challenge?

Since COVID-19, I love to read my email updates from GLI, Inc. to keep up with what is happening locally and that is how I learned about the upskilling challenge and decided to participate.

Why did you do these particular trainings?

Well of course the opportunity to potentially win a free laptop was a huge factor for me since I am definitely in need of a new laptop. Plus, as a Male high school graduate I am a lifelong learner. I love new challenges and learning new skills and with the onset of COVID-19 and how it is impacting the world economy I felt like having new skills and capabilities would only help me during these uncertain times.

Are there particular kinds of problems you want to solve using data?

Yes! I have a new found interest in learning more about software and app development because I have several ideas for new innovations that could be brought to market to solve everyday problems in my role at church and from my background in D&I. There so many ways we can leverage technology to help the greater good and I want to be a part of the movement.

Any message for other people thinking about doing these trainings?

These trainings were right on time for me and I think they can benefit anyone. Literally I was in a meeting this week and my manager announced we would be transitioning to Microsoft Teams and because I had participated in this training I knew all about this new tool. Therefore, I'm betting that everyone can benefit from participating in this initiative in some way and highly recommend others participating.

Winner’s Name: Donna

Tell us about yourself

Hello! My name is Donna Dunn, and I'm a wife and mother to three children. I currently work for the public school system as a reading interventionist. I'm at a time of re-invention in my life, and I LOVE learning new skills, especially skills related to technology.

How did you hear about the upskilling challenge?

I happened to see a story on the website offering FREE self-paced classes related to technology being offered through the Louisville Future of Work Initiative. When I see the words FREE and technology, I'm always interested! I followed the link and signed up immediately. Within a week, I was learning about Digital Marketing! Around the same time, I received an email about the 30-Day Upskilling Challenge and the chance to win a laptop. To me it was a win-win situation: learn new technology skills and a chance to win! It was a great incentive!

Why did you do these trainings?

I'm completing this training because I know my marketability increases when I have in-demand tech skills. Skills such as cloud computing, data science, digital marketing, and UX/UI design are in high demand.

Any messages for other people thinking about doing this training?

Don't think about, just do it! Technology touches everything we encounter and it's not going away. Businesses are seeking individuals who have in-demand technology skills. This program offers mini-modules in order to learn in small increments as well as full-length courses. It's a wonderful opportunity to try it out and discover new skills. Be open-minded and have fun!

Winner’s Name: Heather

Tell us about yourself

My husband and I have 3 boys, (2) 25 year old & an 11 year old. I have three grandkids, (2) 2 year old, and a 5 year old. I work for BJB, Inc here in Louisville, and we do restoration, preservation, and renovation.

How did you hear about the upskilling challenge?

I listen to our Mayor, Greg Fischer everyday to his Covid-19 update. During one of his updates he mentioned the program, so while he was talking I searched and found the website. I immediately signed up for the opportunity. I’m very grateful this was offered!

Why did you do these trainings?

The trainings I selected were to help with my current job. During Covid-19 we began using Teams to help everyone stay in “the loop”, and to have our Friday scheduling meeting. I was not aware of all the different benefits this program had to offer. This was a “diamond in the rough” for us. We have many different projects going on with many moving parts within these projects. To have one place to be able to coordinate everything we need will allow less errors and for a smoother transition through our projects.

Are there particular kinds of problems you want to solve using data?

Flow, communication, and time saving. We having many moving parts, so allowing us to make the flow better by better communication will save us time and money.

Any message for other people thinking about doing this training?

Don’t think twice, just do it! It is not so intimidating as it sounds. Usually you think learning computer software, products, is for someone with a tremendous amount of skills, but this program is for any learning level. I feel more confident now and not so timid taking on this new adventure.

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