If you had told 14-year-old Ashley Masters that one day she would be giving a speech in front of an audience of more than 500 people, she would not have believed it, “I had absolutely no confidence when I walked into high school,” she admits. However, things would change after she earned her first Microsoft Certification as part of a required class. 

Ashley would go on to compete in two Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) U.S. National Championships. She also won first place nationwide for Word and Excel at a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) competition. During her senior year, she received an invitation to become a Student Ambassador for the 2018 MOS World Championship, and it was there that she addressed a room full of participants from 52 different countries. 

Earning verified expertise for in-demand jobs

After she won her first competition with the FBLA, she was offered a full-time job at just 15 years old, “Thankfully, my dad and my grandpa drove me to work every day for the month and a half that I didn’t have my driver’s license and I was able to work at that job for almost two and a half years. And so, before I left for college, I got two and a half years of real-world experience and started building my confidence and my network.” 

Then, at age 19, Ashley landed her dream job at Microsoft, working full-time while she continued her education at Washington State University. She would later graduate with a master’s degree in business administration. 

“In college, a lot of my friends would say ‘How do you set yourself apart during an interview?’ or even on a résumé because some people don’t even get to do the interview. You have to find what sets you apart, and Microsoft Certification is exactly that.” – Ashley Masters, MBA, Student Ambassador, 2018 MOS World Championship 

Ashley is now part of a growing number of students, educators, workers, and employers who have recognized the significant impact of certifications, not just during interviews but throughout a person’s entire career, leading to more recognition, improved job satisfaction, and better performance. 

You, too, can become job-ready and future-proof by unlocking essential skills in data, AI, and other in-demand skill sets. Go to Microsoft Learn to start expanding your skill set today and visit Microsoft Credentials to get your skills validated. 

Employers are putting skills first

Recent LinkedIn data shows that around 1 in 5 jobs in the U.S. no longer require a 4-year degree. Employers are realizing that they can tap into much larger talent pools by screening for the skills they need rather than the degrees an applicant has earned. This skills-first approach values what a candidate can do and their willingness to learn above all else, and it has allowed forward-thinking companies to access millions of alternatively skilled workers to fill job roles.  

A college student working on a laptop in a conference room.

A college student working on a laptop in a conference room. Microsoft certifications are a great way for new graduates to stand out when pursuing jobs. 

Certifications are an especially great way for new graduates to stand out from other candidates with similar educational backgrounds when pursuing their dream jobs. The certification badge provides benefits for an applicant, including: 

  • Tangible proof of meeting industry standards.  
  • Demonstration of commitment to continuous learning. 
  • Higher earning potential due to validated experience.  

A certificate tells the world that the person is a problem solver, which is precisely what companies are looking for. Bruce Beuzard IV became the MOS U.S. National Excel Champion in 2019 and he applied for his first job as a Data Center Technician at Amazon Web Services that same year. He got the job, and soon word of his expertise got around. When his manager asked Bruce if he could help solve a problem they had been working on for months, he happily accepted.  

Within a few hours, he built a complex Excel worksheet that helped the company save $3M in labor costs that year, solidifying Bruce’s position as an Excel superstar. Like Ashley, Bruce attributes the opportunities he’s had to his certifications.   

“If you’re in a position where these certifications are being offered to you for free, and teachers are willing to teach it to you for free, take it. I promise you, that one certification sets you worlds apart.” – Bruce Beuzard IV, 2019 MOS U.S. National Excel Champion

How can students build AI skills? 

LinkedIn released their Future of Work Report and found that new AI tools have the potential to lighten workloads and help professionals focus on the most critical parts of their job. For students, this report demonstrated the potential impact on the future of work where the skills required for many jobs have changed by 25% since 2015, with that number expected to reach at least 65% by 2030.  

A college student sitting on a bed in a dorm room and working on a laptop.

A college student sitting on a bed and working on a laptop. As the demand for AI-related skills in the workforce grows, Microsoft continues to support building AI literacy and preparing students for the future. 

Students can acquire new AI skills on their own time using Microsoft Learn, the free online platform. Microsoft Learn offers a comprehensive array of learning paths and Microsoft official learning modules covering a wide range of topics, from fundamental concepts to advanced applications. This includes courses on machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and reinforcement learning. For academic institutions AI learning is integrated through Microsoft Learn for Educators (MSLE).   

“There is an abundance of varied and adaptable AI learning paths that students can take to harness the potential of AI and use it to create these incredible applications that have a real impact on the world. AI is quickly becoming one of the most valuable resources for self-determination and long-term success.” – Christina Thoresen, Director of Worldwide Education Industry Sales Strategy at Microsoft  

Students and education leaders can explore a collection of AI learning pathways based on their career choice and personal goals. As the demand for AI and data related skills in the workforce grows, Microsoft continues to support building AI literacy and provide AI-related training courses to help prepare students for the future.  

Students can explore a collection of Data & AI learning pathways on Microsoft Learn based on their career choice and personal goals. 

Setting students up for success in the real world

Tyler Millis, a software developer and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had amassed an impressive 47 technology certifications by the time he finished high school and the title of Microsoft Office Specialist World Champion. According to Tyler, this was way more than any of his colleagues at MIT, “I think the more students know about these programs, these certifications, these competitions, the better.”  

Many universities have recognized the real-world value of certifications and are now including them in their curriculum. Moreover, many certifications have international recognition, allowing students to compete in the global job market and explore opportunities worldwide.  

“Having such an asset provided for the students is an advantage to us that other courses don’t have. I’ve personally been offered job positions on the condition that I attain certain Microsoft certificates, demonstrating how advantageous it is to have them.” – Kayden Anderson, Student, Australian Catholic University  

Ready to take your learning to the next level? You, too, can become job-ready by unlocking essential skills in data, AI, and other high-value areas. Check out Microsoft Learn to start expanding your skill set today and visit Microsoft Credentials to get your skills validated.

Learn more by exploring these additional resources and staying up to date with the latest trends:  

AI in education brings opportunity to life

At Microsoft, we are committed to making sure AI systems are developed responsibly and that equitable opportunities are created for all students. Join us for Reimagine Education on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, to explore insights from global education innovators who will share next practices on education equity, security, and workforce readiness in the era of AI. Select the time that works best for you and save it to your calendar—either 9:00 AM PT (UTC-8) or 6:00 PM PT (UTC-8). Together we can reimagine education.