Executives in Singapore need to boost their digital skills and learn a local language to stay ahead

By Nick Jonsson

As the competition for top jobs intensifies, executives in Singapore need to focus on improving their digital and language skills.

Research suggests 70% of digital initiatives do not achieve their goals, and whilst there are many reasons for this, a common issue is the failure to take a holistic approach and create a truly digital culture at firms. Changing a company’s culture is always more effective when it is led from the top.

As for language, in a study of Singapore returners carried out by recruitment agency Hays, 45% of people cited their cross-cultural communication skills as being their top advantage in the jobs market.

Executives cannot afford to neglect the impact the fourth industrial revolution could have on their business, and boosting their digital fluency should be high on their list of priorities.

Being fluent, or at least proficient, in digital or understanding the basics of coding can give executives an insight into how the current market is evolving, and help them to oversee the necessary changes at their organisation.

As my own boss, Jonatan Age Persson, Group CEO at Executives’ Global Network, likes to say that to be effective in the face of technological change, all managers, at all levels, must embrace this brave new digital world so they can both conceptualise the development of the organisation and be able to clearly communicate it to others.

He also believes that today’s managers must dive into learning this new language in such a way that he or she is able to convey to colleagues, where they want to go and how they want get there.

Digital is not the only language executives in Singapore need, with those who speak a local language increasingly having an edge over their monoglot peers.

It is not hard to understand why. I have heard many anecdotes from clients about how speaking a second language has helped them in business situations.

From gaining a deeper insight into a particular market or culture, to enabling easier communication with colleagues to building trust, there are numerous business benefits to knowing the local language. In fact, research carried out amongst multinational teams by the University of Melbourne, found that trust levels between employees were directly related to language proficiency.

Contacts in human resources tell me that between 50% to 60% of mid to senior-level posts in Singapore now require candidates to speak a second language to business level. Roles such as country director may not be available to talents in future if they do not have the language skills, particularly as talents face growing competition from Asian returners who combine experience in western markets with fluency in a local language.

Unsurprisingly, the language that is most in demand is Mandarin. With its rapidly expanding middle class, Mainland China is predicted to surpass the US as the world’s largest consumer market later this year.

In my discussions with Rebel Smith, an EGN advisory board member and director – enterprise network at Ruckus Networks, she has remarked that she were 20 years old, she’d learn Mandarin as that would certainly give her a competitive advantage in many parts of Asia. As such, any candidate who is fluent in Mandarin and English will always have an advantage in the hiring process.

Singapore’s location in the heart of South East Asia also makes it an obvious jumping off point for businesses looking to expand in the region. As a result, there is growing demand for Thai, Bahasa and Vietnamese speakers.

Even if you are unable to master a local language to business level, knowing just a small amount can still help you to connect with middle management or staff who may not speak English.

For my own part, I have found being able to open a speech in Vietnam with a few sentences in Vietnamese helps to make an initial connection with my audience.

So, my advice to executives who want to boost their language or digital skills is eat that frog - to quote the title of Brian Tracy’s book on overcoming procrastination.

Do not put it off, start right away. So many people put learning a language on their ‘to do’ list, but unless you take action you are never going to make progress. 

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