Several states and local governments now are offering residents free or low-cost technology training to prepare the communities' current and future workforces for employment in the digital age. The need for programs is underscored by Department of Labor statistics that show all of the fastest growing jobs between 2000 and 2010 were in the computer industry, from software engineers to computer research scientists.

The programs are funded by grants from Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's Elevate America program. Elevate America offers basic and intermediate technology skills training courses and certification, along with an online training facility that is available now and, in the near future, also will be offered by states with a broader range of training programs and certification exams. Florida, New York and Washington have received grants from Microsoft to fund digital literacy initiatives, such as Florida's Elevate Miami program.

In April, the Houston Public Library received $4.5 million from Microsoft for its Wireless Empowered Community Access Network (WeCAN) pilot program, launched in January as part of the city's Digital Inclusion initiative. WeCAN features three tracks: Track 1 targets at-risk youth in the Houston Independent School District's Career and Technology Education (CTE) program to offer computer training and job placement assistance; Track 2 will provide an opportunity for youths and adults in the Houston area to achieve their GED as well as receive digital literacy training; and Track 3 will offer digital literacy and workforce skills training to underserved and unskilled Houstanians. “This is definitely a necessary program,” says Digital Inclusion Director Nicole Robinson. “We, like many other major metropolitan areas, are dealing with statistics of high unemployment, individuals who don't have their GED, and students who are dropping out.”

Houston's WeCAN digital literacy and workforce readiness program is part of Mayor Bill White's Digital Inclusion Initiative, a citywide wireless project that includes the deployment of broadband Internet networks, education programs, training, equipment, and content development for 10 high-need neighborhoods.