This year: Phase two
In 2020–2021, we’re exploring job pathways in the food retail sector, focusing on grocery cashiers, clerks, and shelf stockers. While data show us that employment in these occupations remained fairly robust between 2006-2016, dynamics can be different in urban and rural locations and there are some shifts between full and part-time jobs. We’re also seeing potential disruptions from technologies or shifting consumer behaviours—from self-check outs to smart grocery carts, autonomous check-outs, robot-enabled order picking and, of course, a COVID-19 accelerated growth in online grocery shopping. What could these changes mean for workers and employers in the future? We’ll be looking at trends and forces in and around Ontario’s food retail sector, and where possible, identifying promising opportunities.
We’re grateful to be learning alongside partners in industry, labour, government and policy and philanthropy to make sense of change in an important sector of our economy. Ontario is home to nearly 124,000 cashiers and 81,000 grocery store clerks and shelf stockers. These are important and essential workers; they’re also workers in jobs that are increasingly vulnerable to disruption from the growing use of automation technologies and the growth of online retail giants.
Labour markets are filled with people…
Human-centered design provides us with an important lens since we want to identify job pathways that work well for both workers and their would-be employers. We have designed an approach that involves a number of qualitative methods, building on the one-on-one interviews we used in 2019. In addition to consulting with employers to validate pathways and understand sector-specific hiring practices, in this phase of work we’ll be using cultural probes to help us better understand the lives and perspectives of workers, online focus groups to explore specific themes in depth, and a simple online survey to test our hypotheses and understand relative priorities for groups of workers. Used together, we hope that these methods can help us better understand the realities and concerns of workers and employers across demographic backgrounds and life circumstances. We’re aiming to share insight on the important factors to consider when designing policies and programs to support job transitions, as well as guidance—to the extent possible—on how to understand and integrate them in different contexts.
Our job pathways model leverages both data-driven inquiry and local qualitative insights. We’re hoping that it can help provide policymakers and program designers with accurate and detailed information about local conditions, worker decision-making, and evolving supply of and demand for talent for the development of successful strategies for training and redeployment. Algorithms and skills adjacency models have an important place—we argue that it’s alongside systematic, human-centered inquiry. In order to deliver targeted interventions that local labour markets (employers and workers) actually want and need, we must combine data with a critical human eye.
Listen to the experts
While many of our initiatives draw on the skills and insights of external collaborators and advisors, we’re also trying something a little different with this project. We’re enlisting the advice of four current Ontario food retail workers, who serve as specialist advisors on this project. They’ll be helping our team of GTA-based policy researchers operate sensibly and respectfully in a sector that’s different from our own. We’re also grateful to advisors and partners in philanthropy, government, labour and beyond. This research is made possible thanks to support from JPMorgan Chase & Co. It is an Employment Ontario project, funded in part by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. It is also undertaken in partnership with the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW Canada), with contributions from partners including MaRS Data Catalyst and the Labour Market Information Council.