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1942 Revisited: A Retrospective On Seven Decades In The Administrative Profession

The administrative profession has certainly seen its share of changes since 1942 when IAAP was formed. Back then, manual typewriters were an essential for support staff. Today, typewriters are considered dinosaurs, relics no longer found in any office. Administrative staff are expected to master far more complex tools to perform their jobs effectively now.

In the same way office equipment has evolved over time, so has the role of the administrative professional.

Seventy years ago, much change was taking place across the country. With the world at war, women began entering the workforce in far greater numbers. Those who didn’t play a “Rosie-the-Riveter” role in factories often went into administrative positions, then known as secretarial jobs.

Secretaries typically had limited responsibilities, and their presence in meetings was usually to take notes or bring in coffee. They needed to know how to type and generally answered a single-line phone. Some managed a switchboard.

The secretarial role, or administrative professional role as it is now known, has changed in far more ways than in name. It also has greatly expanded in scope. No longer solely behind-the-scenes players, administrative professionals are often highly visible, working directly with vendors, making purchasing and budgeting decisions, connecting with remote workers, and planning company events, among other activities.

Company leaders often turn to administrative professionals for input on hiring decisions. Nearly two-thirds of support staff surveyed by OfficeTeam said they’ve been involved in the hiring of new administrative personnel, frequently screening resumes and interviewing candidates.

Technology skills also have become essential. Over the decades, technology usage has expanded greatly in the workplace, and with it expectations of administrative professionals. Not only do they need to know how to use the latest tools but also be capable of sharing their expertise with others. At smaller companies, in particular, employees often turn to support staff for training on software or hardware.

Administrative professionals today also frequently conduct online research for their own projects or for others on their team. In addition, they may contribute to maintaining the company’s online presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Across Time
As much as the job function has changed over time, many of the skills critical to being an excellent administrative professional decades ago remain the same today.

Support staff continue to be on the front lines in dealing with employees, customers, vendors and other key company contacts. If their interpersonal and communication skills don’t shine, they can create a negative impression that reflects poorly on a department or even an entire organization.

Administrative professionals need to be adept at working with challenging people and resolving difficult situations. With growing reliance on email, text messaging and social media, support staff need to be able to write as well as they speak to others.

Employers also want administrative professionals who are flexible. Business conditions have always had their ups and downs, and companies need support staff who can adjust their responsibilities when needed — often unprompted. This means having an adaptable attitude and taking the initiative when problems must be solved, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

It’s an exciting time as responsibilities continue to broaden and new challenges unfold. Given the hypersonic rate of technological developments, no doubt the administrative professional’s role even 10 years from now will be quite different from what it looks like today. To be prepared for what’s ahead, savvy support staff will do all they can to keep their skills sharp by staying active in professional associations such as IAAP and pursuing the training that will benefit them most. While no one knows for sure what the future will hold, those who are proactive with career planning will be one step ahead of counterparts who take a wait-and-see approach.

Robert Hosking is executive director of OfficeTeam, the nation’s leading staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled administrative and office support professionals. OfficeTeam has 315 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.officeteam.com. For more career advice, connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.