Get ready for the rise of the humans | KPMG | GLOBAL
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Get ready for the rise of the humans

Get ready for the rise of the humans

The future of digital labor.


Partner, Global People and Change Centre of Excellence

KPMG in the UK


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Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without apocalyptic warnings that robots in the workplace will create a dystopian destiny. It’s true that many jobs will be reconfigured and redesigned, and employees will be required to learn new skills. Certain jobs will be replaced, possibly many. But it’s also true that new jobs will be created.

Key challenges

For decision makers concerned with the role of people in organizations, the key question seems to be, “should we be pessimistic or optimistic?” The answer depends in part on how leaders tackle the following challenges:

  • The 100-year life. Organizational consultant Lynda Gratton points out that we’re going to be living and working in an age of longevity. A 100-year lifespan won’t be uncommon for today’s school-age children. People will be economically active for 60 to 70 years – far longer than they are today – at the same time that the world of work will not necessarily require them.
  • Disrupted markets. Whether buffeted by technology, geopolitical risks or unexpected economic events, out-of-balance markets can have an outsized impact on workforces. Organizations must have a flexible workforce strategy in place involving a combination of human and digital labor.
  • The need for innovation. There’s a pressing need to become more agile and innovative to take full advantage of the digital world. However, 86 percent of leaders say they don’t have the time to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping their company’s future, according to KPMG’s 2016 CEO Outlook. Rapid changes in technologies, markets and customers demand faster responses. The answer may lie in partnering with suppliers, clients, startups and universities in an innovation ecosystem. It also requires organizations to think again about their innovation practices and culture before new digitally dominant entrants to their marketplace “eat their lunch.”

Navigating the future

When the future appears to rush towards us it’s easy to forget that we can choose what it will look like. At this point we see a continuum of three possible scenarios:

  • A dystopian future, where increasing numbers of economically active people can’t find work, especially hollowed-out middle management and those low- to middle-skilled roles doing strongly rules and procedure-based jobs.
  • Greater state intervention, requiring a radical rethink of fiscal policy. Perhaps now is the time to plan for a reduction in the working week allied with a Universal Basic Income that would be paid to everyone when permanent, full-time employment is more difficult to attain. State funding of this option would require governments to tax differently, perhaps taxing bots as well as people.
  • A reinvigorated gig and “traditional” economy, where retrained workers make a living wage off a portfolio of gigs as organizations innovate, create new startups and employ people in new lines of work.

The rise of the humans

Despite the lingering questions over the rising role of robots in the workplace, we believe a counter-balancing dynamic will take hold. Job creation will be on the agenda after all, along with an imperative for innovation and agility. As new businesses and offerings are developed, people will be needed to build, lead, maintain and market them. Whichever future unfolds it will be better for us all if we steered toward a preferable future as opposed to the one that just happens to us. This will require organizations and, in particular, governments to think differently about their organizations, the roles within them and how people are reskilled throughout their lifetime.

This, then, becomes the call to arms for the leaders of organizations and governments: to lead the conversation, preempt, understand and manage the changes, and – above all – get ready for the rise of the humans.

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