Interview with Ayesha Khanna
The Business Times | Oct 30 2015 By Helmi Yusof
AYESHA Khanna is the CEO and co-founder of The Keys Academy, an enrichment firm which provides secondary school students the opportunity to apply their problem-solving skills to real-life business challenges faced by leading companies. She has been published and quoted in The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes and, of course, The Business Times.
At the Singapore Writers Festival this Saturday, Mrs Khanna will be speaking on a panel on "The Future Of Work", together with social entrepreneur and Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin as well as Future-Moves Group CEO Devadas Krishnadas. Mrs Khanna, who has an economics degree from Harvard University and a masters of science in operations research from Columbia University, says: "Within a decade, the idea of a dedicated desk with a computer on it will be considered quirky and quaint. People increasingly want flexibility in working hours and place of work, and young entrants to the labour market are willing to exchange full-time employment for less-rigid freelancer arrangements. Complementing the trend is the rise of coworking places. In Singapore, spaces like Working Capital and The Hub are providing not only the space but also the culture of freelancer communities."
Mrs Khanna thinks there are several factors changing work as we know it: "Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously wrote that 'software is eating the world', referring to how almost every industry from medicine to law increasingly depends on software. Governments are rushing to upskill workers in computer programming. Computer science classes became mandatory in the UK last year for children between five and 16 years old. Singapore is introducing coding and robotics in schools.
"Second, the automation of work and the displacement of jobs as a result. According to a 2013 report by Oxford University, computers and robots will take over 47 per cent of today's jobs, including white-collar work like accountancy and legal work. Employability will shift from those who know technology to those who are entrepreneurial and can work creatively with technology.
"Third, the digitisation of education and the competition from the developing world. Students from countries like Brazil, India, China and Bangladesh now have unprecedented access to high-quality education through free online platforms like EdX, which offers free courses by Ivy League universities like Harvard. The democratisation of education means that the 'elite advantage' of students from countries like Singapore and England is forever gone."
Mrs Khanna says to prepare for the future, Singapore must bring the workplace to academia and forge more partnerships between companies and schools, universities and vocational institutions - all of which are steps being taken as part of the government's SkillsFuture programme. She describes the future worker as a "tech-literate, creative thinker adept at cross-cultural collaboration".
The future worker, according to Mrs Khanna, is a "tech-literate, creative thinker adept at cross-cultural collaboration".
Work hours will also change as "tracking work hours will not be as important as achieving measurable results. Take strategy consulting - if a business needed management consulting advice, it would have to employ very expensive firms like McKinsey which hired business school graduates from schools like Harvard and Stanford. Today, companies that want strategic advice can have Harvard MBA grads directly on a project basis from online marketplaces like HourlyNerd and MBA&Co. The same is true of other skilled professionals - designers who can be hired on the marketplace Dribbble, software engineers on TopTal, or lawyers on UpCounsel."
Mrs Khanna predicts that the hot industries of the future will be advanced manufacturing or 3D printing, infrastructure for smart cities, robotics and machine intelligence, the sharing economy and marketplaces, logistics (aviation, rail, transportation), bioengineering, nanotechnology and materials science.
"The Future Of Work" panel discussion Oct 31, 11.30am to 12.30pm, National Gallery, Auditorium.
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