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Workforce shaping

Workforce shaping is the shape of things to come

The traditional workforce is being transformed with alarming speed amid unprecedented advances in technology. The convergence of artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation, machine learning and cognitive platforms is at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and will force organizations in every industry to explore and understand the advancing integration of humans and machines in the workplace.

AI and other smart technologies are poised to forge an unprecedented division of labor between bots and bosses. And success in creating and sustaining productive new workplaces will demand nothing less than a transformation of traditional workforce management and skills acquisition. 

This paradigm shift is already unfolding and, as the pace and scope of change escalate, today’s forward-looking business leaders will be addressing a critical question: What will my workforce – and business – look like as skilled employees and smart machines begin working together?

The need for accurate workforce forecasting and planning has never been more critical amid the onset of AI and robotics. Tried-and-true ‘strategic workforce planning’ can no longer provide answers in a world where AI and related advancements are disrupting workforces and rewriting the rules for success. 

HR leaders will still need to recruit appropriate talent and skills – but they will also need to understand how the size and shape of their workforce will evolve to incorporate intelligent automation. Thus, the previous certainties of supply-and-demand forecasting under strategic workforce planning are giving way to a new approach known as workforce shaping, a new way in which we can forecast and plan for the workforce of the future.

We leverage workforce shaping with organizations seeking intelligent and strategic responses to pressing questions such as “What should our workforce look like in the near future – and which key skills and capabilities will be critical to our survival and success?” 

Workforce shaping emphasizes working from a future-oriented scenario and working back from there, effectively comparing future needs to today’s workforce shape, size, composition and organization. 

Forward-looking organizations in any sector you care to name – retailing, professional services, insurance, banking, healthcare, life sciences and beyond – are realizing that predictable planning horizons are collapsing with alarming speed. They are acting now to prepare for changes that are likely to be both needed from within and unleashed from beyond as AI emerges to redefine their workforce.

The ‘atomization’ of jobs – the unprecedented division of labor between bots and employees as AI takes on repetitive, low-value job functions along with increasingly cognitive tasks such as medical diagnosis or financial loan approval – holds significant implications for organizations and their workforces. 

Simply put, the unfolding reinvention of work is an opportunity that’s nothing less than historic. Yes, AI will have both a disruptive and a disturbing effect on workers, especially in the short term. But it will also deliver remarkable new opportunities for skilled employees to play to their strengths while unleashing new levels of productivity and value to employers. This is particularly significant when you consider that business productivity has not boomed in proportion to the untold billions of dollars invested in technology in the last 10 years, notably in non-manufacturing sectors. This productivity puzzle will continue even amid AI’s introduction unless we inherently rethink work. Why? Because AI will, at least initially, affect tasks within jobs, not whole jobs. Therefore, potentially significant productivity gains will be realized only if work, processes and organizations are reinvented to assign, integrate and optimize the roles performed by machines, humans with machines, and humans alone.

The future is about humans and machines working together in modern, efficient, productive workplaces that are positioned for success in the 21st century. Success in the new workplace will hinge on striking a strategic and productive balance between digital and analog worlds. Workforce shaping is the shape of things to come for smart employers possessing the vision to reinvent their workplaces and optimize the contribution of humans and AI technologies. 

For more insights on workforce shaping and how KPMG teams are helping today’s major organizations drive change, please see our report Rise of the Humans: Shaping the Workforce of the Future.