New graduates often face the classic “chicken-and-egg” puzzle—you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. In the past, the right degree from a good university could get your foot in the door. But today’s employers are increasingly using skills-based recruitment, not résumés, to hire workers, as Fortune magazine reports.

Microsoft Learn can help you develop the technical skills that employers want most—and you can do so on your own schedule. These skills can help open doors to great jobs for all students, and not just for IT and computer science majors, as one group recently learned.

As part of the Data 4 Good competition that kicked off in September 2023, more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students from around the United States worked in teams to harness the power of Microsoft Azure and AI to solve an expensive healthcare documentation problem. On December 1 and 2, 2023, regional winners presented their solutions, using machine learning capabilities in Azure AI services to train voice data using large language models (LLMs) and to automate the process of gathering medical documentation.

“Our key objectives are to ensure that we help students gain a fundamental grounding in AI and in-demand industry Azure skills and then verify that knowledge with Microsoft Certification,” reports Navi Singh, Microsoft Senior Product Marketing Manager. “The Data 4 Good competition inspired students from many disciplines to not only get the skills but also to earn the certifications. You don’t need a technical background to learn technical skills.”

As a sponsor of Data 4 Good, Microsoft worked with Matthew Lanham, Purdue University Clinical Assistant Professor of Management, Quantitative Methods, to provide free Azure learning resources to students.

According to Lanham, “Students made the most of the provided fundamentals training and then took the related exam. One of the most exciting outcomes from the competition has been that 608 students passed [Exam] AZ-900 [to earn the] Azure Fundamentals certification! That is a huge win for the students and the companies that will hire them.”

As an expert in business analytics and information management, Lanham teaches students how to take advantage of machine learning and data analytics to do good. Through industry partnerships, competitions like Data 4 Good, and other programs, students gain valuable experience applying analytics to real-world issues, along with practical skills they can take with them when they pursue a career—regardless of their chosen field.

Microsoft collaborated with Purdue University to provide participating students, who represented 72 colleges from across the United States, with the tech training resources they needed to compete successfully in the Data 4 Good challenge. And Microsoft Learn makes these resources available to anyone who wants to build and validate their technical skills.

“We want to make it easy for students to gain an understanding of AI and the power of Azure to fuel innovation,” explains Rachel Wortman Morris, Microsoft Director of Future Skills. “You don’t need to be a computer science major. Anyone can earn Microsoft credentials.”


Azure and AI skills give you a platform for positive change

As part of the Data 4 Good competition, participants could receive free training for Exam AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals and Exam AI-900: Microsoft Azure AI Fundamentals. These exams are designed for both technical and nontechnical learners. Those who passed the first exam earned the Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals certification, and those who passed the second earned the Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Fundamentals certification. These are foundational achievements for these students, especially since Microsoft Certification is a globally recognized validation of in-demand skills. In addition, participants who earned a certification will be invited to the February 2024 Microsoft Learn Career Connected Career Fair, a U.S.-specific virtual event to connect these skilled and credentialed students with Microsoft partners and customers that have technical job openings or internships which require skills in Microsoft technologies and platforms.

Students who participated in the challenge found that an understanding of Azure capabilities helped them to create data-driven solutions and to put their ideas into practice. The skills couldn’t be more relevant at a time when, as reported in a recent Cengage study, 52 percent of graduates say that the growth of AI makes them question how prepared they are for the workforce, and 53 percent of employers report that they can’t find qualified candidates for many positions. Meanwhile, the value of non-degree credentials, such as Microsoft Certifications and Applied Skills, continues to climb, according to HolonIQ, in The Future of Post-Secondary Education in the US, a May 2023 study in partnership with the American Council on Education.

As an example of how the Data 4 Good participants applied their new skills, teams successfully worked with LLMs to streamline medical documentation. Lanham is justifiably proud of their accomplishments. He elaborates, “How to take advantage of the cloud and use LLMs effectively are the questions of the day, and we had 290 teams show up and gain experience in those areas.”


Microsoft Learn supports students with services, resources, opportunities, and more

Like these students, you can access Microsoft Learn, which provides technical training, resources, and information about Microsoft credentials for all learners. Make the most of these opportunities that can help you get the skills you need to open career doors, land a meaningful job, and use data for good.