Study looks at future of grocery store workers

A new long-term study promises to provide insights into the future of food retail jobs for mid-career workers in Canada. 

Researchers at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University in Toronto are in the midst of recruiting grocery workers for the study, entitled "Job Transition Pathways for Food Retail Workers."

Kimberly Bowman, senior projects manager at the institute leading the study, says the team expects to have initial results in early February 2021 and says the full report will be made public in April or May.

"In Canada, we spend billions of dollars to support mid-career workers to transition when their jobs are disrupted. There is strong evidence that we could improve policy and practice in this area - doing a better job to make the connection between employers who need workers and workers who need jobs. It's incredibly important for our economy. The Job Pathways approach incorporates data-driven insights and a human centered design, which we think provide a useful playbook for people wanting to identify strong job pathways for mid-career workers."

Bowman says the study was undertaken after conversations with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, who are interested in the future for jobs and skills in food retail. According to Brookfield, Ontario is home to close to 124,000 cashiers and 81,000 other instore grocery store workers such as clerks and stockers.

"We believe these jobs may be increasingly vulnerable to disruption as a result of growing automation technologies, expansion of online retail giants and changing consumer preferences. We see disruptions but also many potential opportunities."

While the study is being undertaken in Ontario, Bowman says the research team will explore findings that are transferable across the country.

"I was in touch with partners in Newfoundland and Alberta who work in these areas and are curious about what the Job Pathways approach mean for food retail workers in their provinces."

Brookfield has selected four Ontario communities that it feels will reflect different realities in different regions: Ingersoll, Vaughan, Thunder Bay and Toronto.

When the study is published, Bowman says the research team hopes to have insights into areas of change and innovation in food retail that may impact future skills, be able to identify opportunities for grocery workers transitioning into new roles in food retail, insights into what workers value and how they think about job transitions and provide tools for policy makers involved in job transition development.

"We're doing primary research in the real world. I think this is a rare opportunity to access new and rich data," that can help grocery retailers apply them to corporate strategies.

Retailers can learn more about the study by visiting the Brookfield web site. 

For food retailer workers interested in participating in the study, visit the Institute's registration site.

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