Many digital innovations, including AI and robotization, have an inherently high potential to transform organizations and work tasks, and are impacting a wide range of industries and levels of jobs. The resurgence of teleworking has furthermore multiplied the use of these technologies.
Observing the digital transformation taking place in today’s workplace, innovating to foster skills and career development, and evaluating the efficacy of these innovative measures—these are the catalysts of our ambitious action research program. The program is a joint venture between researchers from an array of disciplines (eager to pool their scientific expertise in testing tangible solutions) and companies in the insurance industry (committed to responsibly and proactively managing their human resources and organizational transformations). Also participating are not-for-profit organizations either dedicated to promoting careers in the insurance industry and workers’ rights and interests or involved in the rollout of information technology throughout the business network.
Although it may be difficult to accurately predict the full extent of change ushered in by digital innovation and how it will impact jobs—as well as the types of tasks and the roles and responsibilities that come with them—it is possible to predict with a degree of certainty that some digital innovations will deepen pre-existing inequities in the labour market, notably along gender lines. Female workers with lower levels of education in administrative services or customer service positions where routine tasks can be automated are therefore most likely to be impacted by technological changes introduced in their jobs. Concurrently, very few women in the workforce today hold positions of authority where they can make decisions on technological developments or organizational change. What might explain this? In Canada, despite the fact that women have good math and science grades in secondary school, they are persistently under-represented in postsecondary STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs that would train them in technology design.
Given this “new normal,” employers now need to ensure they offer adequate skills training and career support (including psychosocial support) to all their employees. This reskilling demands a thorough examination of every facet of this new reality, and poses a unique and unprecedented challenge for both the individual and the organization.
In our project, a number of insurance companies are “working” with researchers from Université Laval. From the insurance company’s standpoint, this partnership with Université Laval represents an open door to training paths and support for talent development in shifting to a digital future. From a research standpoint, this partnership offers a test bed for an in-depth study of the potentially negative impacts of digital transformation (DT) on a number of social and occupational categories, and for developing measures to mitigate these impacts. The research conducted under this partnership can have direct added-value for each participating company, by providing first a detailed snapshot of the current situation and second, based on the research findings, a comprehensive perspective on DT in the insurance industry.
Action research built on multidisciplinary partnership thus draws on the vital energy of all parties involved in tackling the challenge of meaningful and sustainable job retention for workers in a DT environment. While management in these companies has an eye on the development of all employees, the lenses of our researchers are primarily trained on women in administrative services or customer service roles. Collaboration between the different insurance industry partners and researchers from a variety of disciplines can help shed light on the different facets of DT. The entire spectrum of these concerns is thus combined under one single action research program.
The objectives of our action research program are to:
- Determine the nature and extent of digital transformation in administrative services and customer service jobs primarily held by women, and at the same time, consider the needs of all workers and their companies;
- Develop innovative approaches to skills management, training and support, including career development models;
- Evaluate training and career development support models from a worker standpoint to ensure continuous improvement.