Exciting Changes in Store for the Administrative Profession

The first full-time job I applied to after college was as a receptionist at a real estate company. I wore my mother’s linen suit, silk blouse, and pearls to the interview. I was offered the job during the interview and I gladly accepted it.

I was instructed that, although everyone in the office called my boss Tod, I was to call him Mr. Donnelly. My hours were 8 to 5 (an hour longer than anyone else worked). I was complimented on my outfit (which was my mother’s nicest work outfit, too) and told that it was appropriate for me to dress like that every day, and that pants were frowned upon. Each day Mr. Donnelly wrote out a list of things he wanted me to do that day (on top of all the regular duties I was responsible for). Whenever he wasn’t in the office at 5 p.m., he called to see that (a) I was there and (b) there was nothing urgent that needed to taken care of.

I was paid $13,000 a year (which would pretty much all be spent on clothes, if I was expected to dress like that each day) and, excited to finally have my own money, I  rented an apartment and bought a second-hand car.

It was 1984.

Boy, have times changed! Over the years, I progressed from those annoying Selectric typewriters to a Memorywriter, to an original Macintosh 128K computer and then to a PC. I never used carbon paper (thank goodness), but I certainly loaded my share of fax machines with that heat sensitive paper that was such a pain to work with. I remember using pagers, those pink ‘While You Were Out’ messages and the first cell phones, which were not mobile.

No matter when you started working, you’ve seen progress in our profession. The job I had in 1984 doesn’t exist anymore. The word secretary evolved into administrative assistant and then to administrative professional.

We don’t really assist much anymore, do we? I think the word assistant is going in the direction of the word secretary. Yes, there are some jobs in which we really do assist, in the same way that some jobs really are secretarial—but they’re in the minority.

The majority of us are administrative experts. We know how to get things done. We are no longer waiting for the Mr. Donnellys of the world to give us a task to complete. We have a full-time job to do without anyone dropping off extra work on the corner of our desk.

We make sure the office is running smoothly, that everyone has what they need, that everyone is where they are supposed to be, and that the administrative side of the business is operating seamlessly.

While we may not manage people, per se (although many of us certainly do), we do manage processes and procedures. If something isn’t done properly, we are typically the ones to fix it before anyone notices.

So, what does our future look like?

In my 25+ years as a speaker, trainer, author and consultant, I’ve seen a tremendous progression in the role of admin. I need to be slightly ahead of the curve, in order to teach and speak about what is coming. Perhaps I’m a fortune teller for those of us in the administrative world, and perhaps I’ve just been lucky. I started teaching minute taking before most people realized they needed to take minutes. Taking minutes died in the early 1980s, but it was brought back to life again after scandals at companies like BreX, Arthur Anderson, and Enron.

When I was teaching Minute Taking Made Easy I had people tell me that I was wasting my time, because no company would need that training—except for old-fashioned firms. Now, 20 years later, it is still one of my most popular courses.

I started teaching Project Management for Admins about five years ago, when no one realized what was around the bend. Today, admins are all doing some sort of project management, regardless of what it is called at their organization.

Recently, I started to teach a lot of admins to go From Admin to VA because the virtual world is right around the corner. In my program, we use the acronym VA, but we don’t call what we offer virtual assistance, we call it business solutions. You are (or will be) a provider of business solutions, either virtually or onsite.

By the year 2025, about half the workforce will be virtual. Will you be able to work virtually? Hot desking is already taking force at some of the world’s largest companies including Microsoft, Ernst & Young, and Google.

In the future, not only will we work virtually, we will not even be employees of companies. You will be your own business (or jump from contract to contract), offering administrative support through some sort of business solution (and not necessarily assistance) to those companies that need you for a pre-determined number of hours per month or on a contract (project) basis.

By 2020 (just slightly more than three years away), 50 per cent of the workforce will be composed of members of the Millennial generation. In comparison, Generation X (1946-1965) accounts for only 16 per cent of the workforce now.

What does that mean for today’s administrative professionals? It means we won’t need to assist these Millennials with anything. They will do it all themselves. Millennials (regardless of what mainstream media says) are perfectly capable, and they are not expecting you to do everything for them. They know how to write their own emails, are glued to their cell phones so they don’t need you to monitor their email for them, and with the touch of an app they can book their own travel, too. They are self-sufficient and wouldn’t know what to do with an assistant, in most cases.

They don’t need assistance or assistants. They need fully autonomous, fully functional adults who don’t need to be told what to do. They can work from anywhere, and expect that you can, too. They don’t feel the need to see everyone in the office, and trust that if there is work to be done, you will get it done.

So the future of the administrative assistant becomes more of a solutions management role. You make things run smoothly through your processes and procedures. You know what needs to be done and ensure that it gets done.

Your future looks incredibly bright to me. I see much more respect, recognition and challenge in the future for us. I see us being in control of what we want our careers to look like and potentially the paycheques that go with it. I see opportunity, growth and excitement.

There a great future ahead for admins. Are you going with me?

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3 thoughts on “Exciting Changes in Store for the Administrative Profession”

  1. Wow! Did THIS bring back some memories! I wasn’t far behind you, having graduated from College with my *Executive Secretarial* diploma in my hand in 1986. I started working for a land developer who gave me a chance, fresh out of school to help him set up his office. I HAD that memorywriter of which you speak and thought it great I could type a line before it hit the paper! I recall the smell from that fax paper but recall being told how *paperless* we would be, thanks to said fax machine! It was the best of times and yet, it was the scariest of times, but lead me to where I am today. Great article Rhonda and I look forward to hearing and seeing you at Summit!

  2. Rhonda, I think you are absolutely on target that our positions are and will be all about solutions management and virtual – I see the changes starting to creep (sweep) into my very own position that I’ve currently held for 15 years! I do worry about health care though as a contract/virtual employee – one of the main reasons I’ve held an admin position for 30+ years has been for the benefits. Anyone out there have a crystal ball on that part?

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