Expanded Roles Prompt New Urgency for Admin Training

By Judy Geller

When organizations trim their ranks of middle managers, who takes up the slack?

In many cases, it’s administrative professionals.

A report just released by the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP) cites research showing that today’s administrative professionals (admins) handle work previously performed by middle managers.

While admins still have their traditional roles, they are shouldering more managerial responsibility. They manage budgets, act as chiefs of staff, serve as office tech gurus, and take charge as project managers. This trend toward greater responsibility among admins appears widespread, showing up in nearly every industry.

According to the report, “Meet the New Middle Manager: Today’s Administrative Professional,” the shift has come relatively quickly. Data from the Administrative Professionals Conference (APC) show that in 2008, only 7 percent of attendees held non-traditional job titles; most were administrative assistants. Five years later, more than 22 percent of APC attendees had titles such as manager and project coordinator.

The report points to three drivers for this change: organizational shake-ups from the Great Recession, proliferation of new technologies including mobile and social media, and an economic recovery favoring leaner businesses.

One of the results is a training gap that leaves administrative professionals often struggling to learn skills on the fly.

Bridge the Training Gap

Even though they can streamline office operations, improve quality, and boost productivity, administrative professionals often are overlooked when it comes to training. But now that businesses rely on admins to master more technologies and fill in for middle managers, training is taking on a new urgency.

Fortunately, the training landscape is changing to better equip admins for their evolving roles. Conferences, seminars, online courses, Webinars, certificate and certification programs, professional networks, and free resources give admins training and answers they can call upon year round.

So, how can HR, training and management design just the right training solution for their admins?

5 Steps to Developing Administrative Staff

The keys to administrative training and development are keeping expertise and tools up to date, and developing new skills that will meet evolving organizational needs. A little research and analysis up front ensures that training supports your goals, motivates admins, and fits into the budget.

Here are some simple steps to help you set up a professional development plan customized for your admins:

1. Inventory the tasks admins are really responsible for. Chances are, any job description older than five years will not accurately reflect the realities of today’s administrative positions. Does the admin design presentations, coordinate travel arrangements, arrange and manage meetings, manage the department’s budget, or oversee specific projects? Does he or she work as part of a team—and act as a team leader? How much purchasing authority does the admin have?

What technology tools does the admin need to keep up with—and what new tools does she or he need to learn? According to the report, a recent ASAP poll found that most respondents spend between 61 percent and their entire workday using Microsoft Office applications and dealing with electronic communications.

2. Categorize skills used in the tasks. Admin skills frequently are categorized into five areas of key competencies: office and digital technologies, interpersonal communications, project and task management, management skills, and career development. Talk to the admin and the manager to see not only what skills currently are needed, but also what skills will be needed in the future.

3. Agree on priorities. Managers and admins often differ in their concept of which skills are most important. Reaching consensus on what activities deserve top attention, and what the admins expect for growth opportunities, can narrow down areas for development. Because of dependence on digital tools, technology probably will stay at the top of the list.

4. Create blended learning programs that are customized to the meet the identified objectives. Set up a program that builds skills through blended learning—a combination of live and online options for convenience and flexibility. The value of instructor-led training is well known and can be met with workshops, seminars, and conferences such as ASAP’s annual Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants’ Summit.

A conference also builds motivation, and makes available valuable peer-to-peer networking for sharing solutions. Add in a mix of live/online Webinars, courses, and seminars. Online learning is cost and time effective—and offers access to hundreds of topics. Finally, reinforce the learning with on-the-job practice, goal setting, and sharing with peers.

5. Nurture career orientation and ongoing professional development. Professional associations and networks are just as important and valuable for admins as they are for any career professional. Admin discussion groups that share resources and solutions abound on LinkedIn and other social media.

Credentials such as certificates, certifications, and degrees demonstrate mastery of core skills. ASAP’s PACE certificate, for example, has been designed to allow enrollees and their managers to select courses and providers so long as competency requirements are met.

Look to the Future

Organizational evolution will keep changing what it means to be an administrative professional. To stay competitive and increase efficiency, companies will continue to give flexible admins more responsibility, with the help of innovative technologies. A plan of customized training, using a blended learning approach, can give administrative professionals the new and updated skills, motivation, and confidence to add the most value to the company and the most satisfaction to their careers.

About the Author:

Judy Geller is the founding director of the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAPorg.com), an association that provides professional development, training, and resources to address the changing roles and demanding responsibilities of administrative professionals and executive assistants. Reprinted from Training Magazine

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