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Charlotte Arghavan Shahlaei, doktor i Informatik.jpeg

The media world and the automotive industry are two sectors where the transition to digital technologies has entailed major changes in working methods and skills. When the Swedish public debate turned towards the effects of digitalisation, around 2015, Charlotte had the idea to investigate how professionals are affected by constant changes and new demands on the job.

“I discovered that these were unexplored and important questions. Other researchers have focused more on the potential of digitalisation to create new business models and streamlining effects. In professions where digitalisation has really taken off, I also saw clear signs of growing frustration as people were trying to keep up with rapidly changing working conditions,” says Charlotte.

New form of learning

One industry at the forefront of digital transformation is the automotive sector. The engineers who are developing the cars of the future are working more on software development than ever before, and often in close collaboration with external developers who also have a vested interest in developing their own products.

At the same time, as cars become increasingly digital, it will be possible to continuously improve the software for use in mobility services. This means that the cars are never fully developed and can be updated at short intervals. The engineers alternate between different projects, with different work processes and conditions. They have to quickly come to grips with new tasks and adopt new methods.

“There is a great contrast between managing these ever-changing work processes and how we humans are used to learning. As the scale and level of innovation and development increases, there are no longer any ‘best practices’ or established solutions to rely on.”

Time for reflection

Charlotte points out that the learning process is made more complex by the constant formation of new team constellations and insufficient time for reflection on newly acquired knowledge and experience.

“It also presents challenges in communication between employees, and between management and employees.”

Her research is based on several years of field studies and interviews with employees and managers, for example at NEVS in Trollhättan, which develops technology for self-driving cars. Her work has given her insights into how people cope with the rapid pace of change and how their skills are affected by the digital transformation. 

Change is the new normal

“My thesis does not provide any ready-made solutions. But the findings can provide inspiration and tips for employees and management on how to tackle these challenges.”

“It is often said that you need to be flexible to respond to change. But in practice, this in itself presents major challenges. Building good strategies that support work performance and provide learning opportunities for employees means setting aside sufficient time for reflection, discussion and exchange of ideas. But there is no time left when both engineers and their managers spend most of their time trying to meet increasing demands in their development projects.”

What characteristics are important?

Digital technologies and constant changes in products and services will become increasingly common in many professions and industries. So what is required of people who want to work in a digital work environment? What skills and characteristics should employers look for when recruiting?

“In addition to relevant training, it is important that employees have a strong drive to learn new things and a positive attitude to change. Employers who want to be attractive on the labour market need to establish plans for how to develop their employees' skills. And these plans must still be applicable when working conditions change rapidly and continuously.” 

Charlotte's research, for which she used the Primus research environment, links the research areas of work-integrated learning and informatics.  

“As University West is a leader in research in work-integrated learning, it was only natural for me to conduct my doctoral studies here. My plan is to continue research in informatics in close collaboration with the industry.”

Read Charlotte Arghavan Shahlaei's thesis: "Rethinking Competence: on Performing Digital Transformation"

Read more and watch the clip about her research

Contact: Charlotte Arghavan Shahlaei, PhD in Informatics. E-mail: Tel: 0520-22 35 23.