A solution to the skill shortage?

By Jeff John Roberts
October 12, 2017

Google on Thursday announced its largest philanthropic gift to date, pledging $1 billion over the next five years to nonprofits that provide skills and education for the modern workforce.

CEO Sundar Pichai announced the donation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a state that has been particularly buffeted by the U.S. workforce’s shedding of industrial jobs.

In a speech addressing the role of the Internet in the modern economy, Pichai said Google will donate the $1 billion to “front line organizations,” including $10 million to Goodwill for career development. He explained the money will focus on three areas:

Google.org will use its philanthropic expertise to fund organizations working in three areas: closing the world’s education gap, helping people prepare for the changing nature of work, and ensuring that no one is excluded from opportunity.

Pichai also announced a second program under which Google employees will be able to donate one million volunteer hours to nonprofits, and a third one called “Grow with Google” that will help Americans acquire job skills.

The Google CEO also used the speech to tout Google’s recent efforts to use machine learning to improve job postings, and the economic impact of the company’s search and advertising business. According to Pichai, this amounts to $222 billion a year, while Google’s app and entertainment businesses create more than one million developer jobs in the country.

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The company, however, also appears to be realistic about an economy that some argue excludes many Americans, especially young ones, from meaningful work.

“[W]e recognize that there are large gaps in opportunity across the U.S. These are tough gaps. For instance, the nature of work is fundamentally changing. And that is shifting the link between education, training and opportunity. Young people already feel this. An Economist survey found that less than half of 18- to 25-year-olds believe their education gives them the skills they need to enter today’s workforce.

The philanthropic announcements also come at a time when Google, and the tech industry as a whole, is facing unprecedented political headwinds from regulators and the White House. As such, the new Google initiatives may amount something of a peace offering intended to forestall higher taxes or antitrust action.

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