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

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

Changing a company’s culture is always more effective when it is led from the top. Research has suggested 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.

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

Boosting their digital fluency should be high on executives’ list of priorities as they cannot afford to neglect the impact the fourth industrial revolution could have on their business.

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

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. Those are the words from my own boss, Jonatan Age Persson, Group CEO at Executives’ Global Network (EGN).

He also believes that today’s managers should be able to convey to colleagues where they want to go and how they want to get there by learning this new language.

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.

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

There are numerous business benefits to knowing the local language—from gaining a deeper insight into a particular market or culture to enabling easier communication with colleagues, and to building trust. 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. If they do not have the language skills, roles such as country director may not be available to talents in future, 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 was 20 years old, she’d learn Mandarin as that would certainly give her a competitive advantage in many parts of Asia. Not surprising, as 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 Southeast Asia also makes it an obvious jumping-off point for businesses looking to expand in the region. As a result, there is a growing demand for Thai, Bahasa and Vietnamese speakers.

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

For my own part, knowing a few sentences of Vietnamese helps to make an initial connection with my audience through my opening my speech.

So, my advice to executives who want to boost their language or digital skills is to 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.

The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect this publication’s view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.