Steve Lohr, writing for the New York Times: A few years ago, Sean Bridges lived with his mother, Linda, in Wiley Ford, W.Va. Their only income was her monthly Social Security disability check. He applied for work at Walmart and Burger King, but they were not hiring. Yet while Mr. Bridges had no work history, he had certain skills. He had built and sold some stripped-down personal computers, and he had studied information technology at a community college. When Mr. Bridges heard IBM was hiring at a nearby operations center in 2013, he applied and demonstrated those skills. Now Mr. Bridges, 25, is a computer security analyst, making $45,000 a year. In a struggling Appalachian economy, that is enough to provide him with his own apartment, a car, spending money -- and career ambitions. "I got one big break," he said. "That's what I needed." Mr. Bridges represents a new but promising category in the American labor market: people working in so-called new-collar or middle-skill jobs. As the United States struggles with how to match good jobs to the two-thirds of adults who do not have a four-year college degree, his experience shows how a worker's skills can be emphasized over traditional hiring filters like college degrees, work history and personal references. [...] On Wednesday, the approach received a strong corporate endorsement from Microsoft, which announced a grant of more than $25 million to help Skillful, a program to foster skills-oriented hiring, training and education. The initiative, led by the Markle Foundation, began last year in Colorado, and Microsoft's grant will be used to expand it there and move it into other states. "We need new approaches, or we're going to leave more and more people behind in our economy," said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.
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