Washington state is one of the first three states where Microsoft, in an effort to help ease the economic crisis, will offer some of its technology courses and certification exams for free.

Washington state is one of the first three states where Microsoft, in an effort to help ease the economic crisis, will offer some of its technology courses and certification exams for free.

Microsoft announced those plans Sunday, one part of a three-year job-training effort it calls Elevate America. The company says it will offer 1 million vouchers for Microsoft eLearning courses and select certification exams, such as those leading to Microsoft business certification.

“Millions of Americans don’t have the technology skills needed in today’s economy,” Pamela Passman, a Microsoft vice president, said in a prepared statement. “Through Elevate America, we want to help workers get the skills they need to succeed.”

Florida and New York will be the other two states where Microsoft will first offer Elevate America programs.

Microsoft isn’t saying how much it will invest in the initiative, a company spokeswoman said, other than to call it “significant.”

The company will work with each state, she said, to determine how many and what kind of classes and certification exams will be offered for free and at reduced prices. The decisions will hinge on the needs of each state.

The company also unveiled a new Web site Sunday that’s designed to help anyone figure out what kind of technical skills they need to expand their job prospects and how to get them. That Web site, www.microsoft.com/ElevateAmerica, also provides instruction in basic computer skills such as how to use the Internet and send e-mail, as well as more advanced programs.

Microsoft said Elevate America is an extension of its existing skills-training and certification programs offered through schools, government programs and community organizations.

The initiative comes as many companies, including Microsoft, have laid off workers because of the economic downturn.

Microsoft also plans to give grants of cash and software to community partners as well as discounted membership rates for institutions participating in the Microsoft IT Academy programs.

Overall, the company says the initiative will reach up to 2 million people.

In a prepared statement, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said Microsoft’s initiative will support Washington families and help the economy recover.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com