Microsoft Corp and The Technological Centre for the Textile and Clothing Industries of Portugal today launched the Technology, Innovation and Initiative programme, a pioneering new project to provide workers in Portugal’s textile industry with new skills and qualifications to enhance their long-term employability prospects. The partners were joined at the launch event by the Portuguese Minister for Work and Social Solidarity, Dr Jose Antonio Fonseca Vieira da Silva, the Mayor of Vila Nova de Famalicao, Armindo Costa and the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Dr Vladimir Spidla, who welcomed the TII programme as an important contribution to the European Jobs and Growth Partnership Initiative launched by the European Commission in 2005.

The TII project is a three-year initiative to train at least 3,000 workers from Portugal’s textile sector, which is being significantly affected by increasing global competition, with an estimated 20,000 already unemployed in the sector. The TII training courses will equip the participants with new skills needed in the local economy; and CITEVE, together with the Instituto do Emprego e Formacao Profissional (The Institute for Employment and Professional Training of the Ministry of Work and Social Solidarity), will also work with local companies and unions to help the trainees find new jobs or start new businesses.

“Boosting employment and access to training and skills for older workers and the young unemployed is one of the European Union’s key objectives,” said Commissioner Spidla. “The Commission’s Growth and Jobs Strategy aims to equip 20 million Europeans with new skills for new and better jobs by 2010. It is vital that the Members States and private companies work together to help make this happen. I’d like to commend CITEVE, Microsoft and the local and national government here in Portugal for this innovative partnership that creates a best-practice example for others.”

CITEVE is the lead organisation for the development of the textiles industry, providing support for companies and employees through consulting and technical assistance, technological studies and promoting innovation, human resource development, and public policy support. Helder Rosendo, CITEVE’s general manager, said, “The European textiles industries are experiencing a paradigm shift due to the undisputable competitiveness of Asian countries in the sector, forcing Portuguese companies to make stronger bets on research and development, design, logistics and distribution. In this scenario, IT and human resources skills and training are of great importance. The paradigm shift creates an unchangeable reality of decreasing employment, and the impact is especially acute for the least qualified workers.

“A programme such as TII that aims to improve the skills and knowledge of the unemployed workers by training them in IT clearly improves their re-employment prospects either in the same industry or other industries where these skills are required. These were the basic principles that led CITEVE to embrace the challenge led by Microsoft Portugal and partner with them in what we expect is the first of a series of other relevant partnerships to the performance of the national textile industries.”

Speaking at the event, Joao Paulo Girbal, general manager, Microsoft Portugal said, “The textile industry is one of the most important in Portugal, providing 15 per cent of our country’s exports and employing 200,000 people.” He added, “This TII initiative, with the support of CITEVE, builds on our experience with Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential programme. We believe that training older workers and other groups traditionally underserved by technology will help them develop new skills and provide new employment opportunities for them.”

Training under the TII programme will be provided at four community technology centres. These centres will provide access to technology and skills training, in a welcoming, open-access environment. The expert staff will lead three daily sessions, teaching a curriculum based on material developed for the Unlimited Potential programme, tailored to suit the needs of local employers.

Microsoft is supporting the project through its Unlimited Potential programme, which supports community-based IT skills training for the underserved, including the unemployed, elderly, people with disabilities and refugees across the globe. To date, Unlimited Potential has supported more than 18,000 CTCs worldwide. “Supporting employability is a key goal of the Unlimited Potential programme,” said Elena Bonfiglioli, director for Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Our goal in Europe is to help train 20 million people by 2010 and we will shortly be launching an alliance with other companies to advance these efforts.”