Administrative Professionals: A Look at a Rapidly Changing Profession

With technology transforming the way America’s offices operate and the advent of smartphones, administrative professionals have felt some of the most disruptive changes of any profession. Basic needs like typing, organizing, and scheduling are no longer enough to fill the job description of one position. The most menial tasks are automated as technology streamlines once time-consuming processes. The result: administrative professionals are being called to take on coordination of more complex tasks, changing the skill sets that employers seek.

Based on industry research and insights from Express experts, the six top skills needed for the modern administrative professional include:

  • Business acumen
  • People management
  • Problem-solving
  • Strategic thinking
  • Project and event planning
  • Technology proficiency

Administrative Professional as Problem Solver
Terri Greeno, an Express Employment Professionals franchise owner in Crystal Lake, Illinois, explains that new technology “will allow assistant and administrative roles to perform at a higher level and increase their value to the organization.” The modern administrative professional or executive assistant, she says, “watches the horizon for the executive while maintaining a well-ordered landscape.”

“Outthinking trouble,” Greeno said, is among the “keys to success. Skills are not only typing anymore.”

Hanif Hemani, an Express Employment Professionals franchise owner in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has seen the changes in the role of administrative professionals firsthand.

“Administrative professionals require a much higher skill level when it comes to technology,” Hemani said. “They are not only required to multitask to a greater extent, but also take on a wider variety of responsibilities, for example, managing and maintaining websites, performing accounting functions, and providing sales and marketing support.”

Shannon Wenninger, an Express franchise owner on the north side of Indianapolis, also sees administrative professionals increasingly handling complicated issues.

“A true executive assistant is a problem solver, a consultant to his or her boss, a strong writer, organizer, and member of the team,” she said. “They make sure the executive is focused on those key activities for the success of the organization while handling the majority of the tasks that could take his or her boss off course from what they need to achieve.”

Technology as an Empowering Force
Mina Stallworth, administrative specialist in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, Express office says administrative professionals must stay ahead of the curve with technology.

“As executives are becoming more tech-savvy themselves, it is now the support team’s responsibility not only to meet them at that level but essentially exceed their capabilities,” she said. “There is much more of a need, now more than ever, for executive assistants to be on a continuous path of development.”

But, she’s quick to note, that technology should be empowering.

“With technology simplifying many processes and creating efficiencies, it gives the administrative support the opportunity to be more efficient and resourceful,” she said. “They are finding new ways to do traditional tasks while not being tied down to a desk, which gives them the opportunity to be more involved in other areas of the business.”

In Edmonton, Alberta, Express franchise owner Jessica Culo has seen a similar trend.

“We do see employers looking to add administrative professionals to their teams that can impact their businesses in more complex ways,” Culo said. “We now often see administrative job descriptions that include accounting support components or digital marketing components. Gone are the days when the main requirements of an administrative job were answering a high volume of phone calls and filing. More companies are going paperless.”

Both Hemani and Culo agree that administrative professionals need to be technologically proficient, and technology is more helpful than harmful to the profession.

“Technology is a reality of the modern administrative professional’s job,” Hemani said. “There are many similar technological platforms that, once learned, provide a good foundational competency. How a company decides to use technology, and the training they provide their employees will determine its effectiveness.”

Stallworth also emphasizes that technology and the changing workplace are not a threat to administrative professionals, provided they adapt with the times.

“I don’t foresee these roles being eliminated but really evolving into an even stronger support role as they are becoming multifaceted,” she said. “Most leaders are now tasked to wear multiple hats, with expanded responsibilities of three to four people themselves; so a capable executive assistant will assist them not only in staying afloat but staying ahead by anticipating their needs, foreseeing problems and addressing them proactively.”

An executive assistant has a role as “a liaison between the executive team and the internal staff due to the executive assistant’s strong relationship building skills,” she emphasized. “Understanding personalities, timing, communication styles, and approaches and having confidential knowledge and overall trust and reliability” cannot be replaced by technology.

Advice for Executives
Wenninger, meanwhile, has advice for businesses grappling with whether to hire administrative professionals.

“With the appropriate help, you can stay focused on building your business while your administrative professional can help you run the business you have already built,” he said.

“Today’s workplaces look vastly different from those 20 years ago, and the workplaces a decade or two from now will have changed dramatically, too,” said Bill Stoller, CEO of Express. “But there are skills that Alexa-or any ‘smart’ device will never replace and that will always be in demand, regardless of the changes we experience. Professionals who can foresee challenges and think critically are essential to a business’s success, and as the administrative professional’s skill set evolves even more, he or she will be seen less as an ‘assistant’ and more as a partner.”

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