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Rise of the humans

Rise of the humans

The impact on mobile workers in the age of the smart machine


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Rise of the Humans

The impact on mobile workers in the age of the smart machine

As we showed in our first two reports on Rise of the Humans,1 the world of work is changing faster and more drastically than at perhaps any other time in recent history. The World Economic Forum predicts that 35 percent of the skills necessary to thrive in a job today will be different five years from now.2 What’s new in our third report is the rising importance of geopolitics and the impact of global mobility on the shape of workforces in the age of artificial intelligence (AI).

While the appetite for businesses to expand internationally continues to grow, the potential withdrawal from trade agreements by some developed countries and the UK’s decision to exit the EU show that nationalism is now on the rise. For CEOs, a more nationalistic approach to trade is worrying: a “return to territorialism” is their number one threat to growth.3

Now more than ever, just as CEOs need to develop their geopolitical skills, so do HR professionals as they seek to acquire and mobilize resources across their global business. Rising political uncertainty around the world must be factored into talent decisions. Increasingly, work arrangements have become more flexible and business travel the norm, no longer just for senior executives and salespeople. Employees in their professional and personal lives are behaving in a way that is less constrained by national borders. In this new world order, compliance, risk, and duty of care must be considered just as much as population demographics and the rise of automation.

Automation, in fact, casts less of a shadow across the business psyche as more organizations adopt some form of it. Despite the hair-raising headlines (“Robots will destroy our jobs — and we’re not ready for it”4 ), 62 percent of CEOs expect AI to create more jobs than it destroys.5 They are optimistic about the sweeping changes that digital transformation brings. The vast majority — 95 percent — see technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat.

To win the digital race, CEOs are embracing AI to reshape their businesses. In the process, they are turning traditional talent management on its head. A faster-moving model is coming into focus — what we have called workforce shaping in our past two reports — that is far more fluid than talent management.

Disruptive technologies like AI are not replacing whole jobs as much as pieces of jobs — specific tasks and
activities within jobs — which will be automated and replaced. Because of this task-level impact, the prospect of productivity gains can only be achieved if work, processes, and organizations are reinvented to realize the potential of task-level impacts. Ironically, such a granular view of work allows HR professionals to take a holistic view, focusing more on restructuring work around groupings of tasks that require similar skills and capabilities and less on mapping individuals to roles.

That means multinational companies need to identify, acquire, engage, manage, and disengage talent in very
different ways than in the past. New roles will emerge within the HR function, including the workforce shaper, who helps bring together business strategy, workforce analytics, innovation, and the people agenda to understand the longterm requirements for people and skills in the business.

At the same time, with the rise of hyperglobalization and short-term, even transient engagement of talent rather than long-term, role-based engagements, the increase in regulations on national employment, payroll, and tax, along with immigration restrictions, are adding extreme amounts of complexity and risk. Together these factors put the brakes on changes desired by the business and talent markets, both in terms of the speed of engagement and the global deployment of talent.


1 KPMG, Rise of the humans 1: The integration of digital and human labor, 2016, and Rise of the humans 2: Practical advice for shaping a
workforce of bots and their bosses, 2017.
2 World Economic Forum, “The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Jan. 19, 2016.
3 KPMG, Growing pains: 2018 Global CEO Outlook.
4 The Guardian,, Jan. 11, 2017.
5 KPMG, Growing pains: 2018 Global CEO Outlook.

© 2020 KPMG Services (Pty) Limited, a South Africa private company and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International, a Swiss cooperative. All rights reserved.

KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”) is a Swiss entity.  Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

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