Skills Ahead!

It was no accident when this Careers Web Page received its new look last October that we had a section called "You, the Lynchpin".

By – Sally Longson

As we all know, PAs, secretaries and administrators hold organisations together. While the boss is out hooking, securing or managing the business, you’re ensuring that everything required is done to keep the organisation and the office functioning as it should do.

The importance of the key role you play is already recognised and this was supported by the CFA’s Administration Skills Survey in March 2003.

  • “97% of employers believe that effective administration is crucial to the effectiveness and overall performance of their organisation.”

  • “93% of employers believe that administrators are crucial to the success of their business.”

In the last year or so, the CFA (Council for Administration) has done a great deal of research into the skills required by administrators; and what employers want now and will need in the future. Currently 4.7 million administrators make up about one sixth of the workforce, and this number is expected to increase to 5.0 million by 2009. This is good news, particularly at a time when reports of large scale redundancies are making the headlines regularly.

In undertaking its research, over 1,500 job descriptions have been analysed along with the skills and qualifications demanded by employers, previous experience and salary levels, both nationally and by region.

In its ‘Administration and Business Skills Development Plan’, the CFA identify two core administration markets, namely administrators who make up two thirds of the 4.7 million people mentioned above; and one third of specialist administrators, such as medical and legal secretaries and college administrators. It also identifies that employers are increasingly expecting employees in non-administrative roles to have a broad range of business and administrative skills, so that they can support the delivery of their role.

So what does this all mean for you?
In order to know which skills you need for the job you want, first of all you need to work out which level you are currently operating at.

  1. A Levelling Experience
    From considering 1,500 job descriptions it identified 13 administration skills themes, and five different levels of administrator, from the most junior to the most senior.

    The 5 levels are:-

    Level 1 People with no experience or six months’
    Level 2 People with 6 – 18 months’ experience
    Level 3 Administrators with 18 months to 3 years’ experience
    Level 4 Administrators with 2 to 5 years’ relevant experience
    Level 5 Administrators with at least 5 years’ experience

  2. What are the skills you need for each level?
    Whatever your level, 5 themes were identified as being a must:-
    1. Administration services
    2. Communication
    3. Performance at work
    4. Planning and organisation
    5. Team Building
    For Skill descriptions
    Click Here

  3. The following table gives an overview of which of the skills you need for each of the five levels.
    SkillLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5
    Administrations services
    Background to business
    Facilitating change
    Legislation, regulations and ethics
    Managing Information
    Managing Resources
    Performance at work
    Planning and organising
    Policy, systems & procedures
    Project Management
    Team Building
    Working with Technology

    The research shows that you need to have both broad and specialist skills to be effective; you need to be flexible and take responsibility and for the future, you’ll need to boost your skills in the following areas:-

    Whatever your level, 5 themes were identified as being a must:-
    • Numeracy/finance
    • Office management
    • Problem solving
    • People management
    For The CFA’s detailed breakdown of skills required by employers by Level
    Click Here

The research identified that the more senior you become, the more you’ll need skills in management and organisation, background to business and legislation, regulation and ethics.

Across the board, employers placed most emphasis on skills and experience, as opposed to qualifications, which is interesting as 25% of DeskDemon users are qualified at degree level!

So these are the skills your boss wants you to have ~ but what are they doing about it?

Alarmingly, while 79% of administrators are considered to be proficient in their job roles, the other 21% lack the right skills. The situation worsens when employers are seeking to take on staff with the right administration and business skills. 42% of candidates applying for administrative roles, don’t have the right skills for the job.

A mere 28% of employers believe training in administration is a high priority.
Despite the importance employers apparently place on effective administration to the success of their business, only 54% have a strategy to ensure that their staff are receiving the right training; and that the administrative function is operating effectively. This means, in Grand National speak, they expect their runners to function without the proper tack and trainer, and probably rely on the sheer goodwill of their employees to get the job done – somehow. A part of the problem is the need to improve the value on the administrative function, say the CFA, and to provide it with the proper recognition and training opportunities.

Looking forward to the future!

To try to ensure that highly skilled administrators meet the needs of all employers in any sector, the CFA have produced an Administration and Business Skills Development Plan.

The report points out that it’s important for standards, qualifications and training programmes are “suitable, consistent, accessible, promote excellence and are respected by employers and individuals.” It’s also vital for training providers and employers to understand the views administrators have of training and qualifications.

To read the plan in detail visit:

Many people fall into administration without any real thought, but in fact, they enjoy it, as the recent DeskDemon poll has shown (66% of DeskDemon users are happy or very happy bunnies!). The challenge facing employers now is to ensure that they make the most of the talent, skills and abilities you bring to the company. This is especially the case if they are to keep their clients and staff happy; to cut costs and minimise change in personnel. Low pay, poor image, lack of progression opportunities is not helped when employers themselves lack insufficient strategic direction on subjects such as future training needs – something we all moan about, and feel that we’re the bottom of the pile when it comes to budget.

So how does this report help you personally?

The Bottom Line is:
Continue to be the professional you are.
Take control of your own future.

Knowledge like this can put you in a strong position in the job market. You can put this information to work by building on the skills you currently have and develop new ones. The work done thus far by the CFA, together with advice from leaders in the recruitment market and careers specialists, strongly suggest that you need to take control of boosting your own employability.

If you can start to plot your path and build on the considerable skills base you already have, you’ll be in a good position to make the most of future opportunities and be in demand throughout your working life!

Action Plan:
  • Take a look at the skills you are missing for the level you wish to attain.
  • Develop your argument for the need for skills training you need now & in the longer term: be specific about how it will benefit your organisation and your boss, both now and in the future
  • Research the training opportunities available to you, in-house, distance, online and open courses.
  • The full CFA ‘Administration Skills Foresight Report’ includes a detailed breakdown of the skills demanded by employers for each level and by region.
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