At Tiger, our experience in service-led recruitment of senior business support staff is something we pride ourselves in. After almost two decades establishing ourselves as one of the best PA recruitment agencies in London, we felt it was a natural next step to launch our retained executive search division, Tiger Platinum Executive Search, in 2019.
Gone are the days of ladder-like career progression, where a trainee or entry-level assistant would slowly work up the ranks of their company to eventually reach a senior position. The modern world of work has transformed, bringing with it a new approach to career development, where experience and learning are emphasised and pathways appear in a matrix or web, not ladder form.
In Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, a 21st century career is defined as “a series of developmental experiences, each offering a person the opportunity to acquire new skills, perspectives and judgement”.1 Technological advances mean that the value is shifting from technological skills to soft ones – with companies surveyed listing “complex problem-solving, cognitive abilities and social skills as the most needed capabilities for the future”. Therefore, business’ learning and development policies need to focus on supporting their employees to maintain a constant state of learning, while encouraging growth and longevity. After all, with careers now reasonably spanning over 50 years, the 21st century worker must be about to “pivot throughout this journey to align with evolving jobs, professions and industries.”1
Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of administrative professionals. In years gone by, when you hired a PA, you’d expect their career ladder to be quite linear, starting in a junior administrative assistant or junior secretary position and slowly moving up to take on more responsibility and complexity. However, the modern administrator can now diversify into a range of areas, taking on a wide set of responsibilities and developing their career in ways that were previously unavailable.
Lindsay Taylor, specialist in the professional development of administrative professionals, says there is no longer a stock-standard progression path: “The evolution of the PA role over the last decade has resulted in a profession that is both diverse and complex, as a PA sees, hears and experiences what’s going on in their organisation from ‘the shop floor’ to the boardroom table,” she says.
“With a vast scope and breadth of opportunity for career advancement, there is no ‘one size fits all’ typical career path – this can absolutely be determined and shaped by the PA/EA taking ownership of their own career and ensuring they invest in Continuous Professional Development (CPD) as an essential and integral part of that journey.”
Sharing the responsibility
A 2017 study by the Executive and Personal Assistants Association (EPAA) found that 63.18% of PAs and EAs last completed formal training more than four years ago, but over 70% had undertaken some EA/PA specific training at some point in their career and 92.53% engage in activities outside the office like reading, networking and engaging with online resources, including webinars.2
The disparity between the formal training offered and the training administrators seek to do themselves demonstrates that there is a demand for training initiatives, but currently, support professionals are having to be self-sufficient, investing their own time in ensuring they understand the latest developments in the industry.
This is despite the clear evidence that investing in your staff’s career progression will help with your attraction and retention efforts in the long run. The 2018 Workplace Learning Report produced by LinkedIn found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if they invested in their career and for 90% of talent developers, people managers and executives, learning and development is a necessary benefit in the race for top talent.3
Lindsay notes this employee loyalty is incredibly clear when administrators sign up to one of their qualifications: “Those whose organisations more readily support the learning and development needs of their employees are proud to be a part of an organisation that invests in their staff and the resulting loyalty, commitment and engagement from these employees is evident.”
Investing in training as part of a career progression programme means that in the short-term, an administrative professional can share their newfound knowledge with your workplace, enhancing their efficiency and adding business value.
In line with the findings from Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Survey, the LinkedIn research also revealed that leadership, communication and collaboration were the three most important skills for employees to take away from their L&D programmes, while the most important area of focus for talent development is how to train for soft skills.
Bridging the gap
So what can employers do to encourage the career progression of their administrative professionals? Rebecca Siciliano, Tiger’s Managing Director, notes it’s all about formalising initiatives: “We know that administrators such as PAs, EAs and office managers want to progress, so organisations need to implement formal frameworks to get them there.”
“This means establishing a clear reporting structure, feedback mechanisms and allocating time within the working day which they can devote to training,” she continues.
There are a host of secretarial business courses that can enhance an employee’s soft skills, covering topics like time management, prioritisation, diary management and multi-tasking, but not all training initiatives need be external. Rebecca says mentoring is an excellent way for a junior professional to build their skills, both technical and soft: “If an office manager wishes to move into an operations role, organise for some shadowing or a mentoring session with your operations manager, offering the opportunity to ask questions, observe processes and chat through situations.”
Businesses should also consider looking internally when hiring, allowing existing members of staff to take up a new opportunity before advertising elsewhere.
“A PA may start supporting junior members of the team, but could take the next step by supporting a director or executive, should a position arise,” Rebecca explains.
“It’s an easy transition for the employee and allows them to hit the ground running, rising to the challenge, while showing that the company is invested in their development.”
Lindsay suggests that businesses audit their performance review procedures.
“Performance reviews must offer a true opportunity for an employee to set goals and objectives that are meaningful. Having these to work towards will mean the employee is supported with their learning and development needs and because there is a procedure in place, it will be continuous.”
As with many other elements of the workplace, communication is also essential: “Businesses need to foster a culture of open communication where, not only is it accepted but rather it is expected that you check in with your manager, HR or L&D to let them know how you’re doing, so you can identify any gaps in your skillsets or knowledge,” says Lindsay.
“Businesses need to make it easy for employees to put forward ideas, suggestions and requests for development support. They need to encourage the development of soft skills, things such as communication, rapport-building, team dynamics and working styles, alongside subject specific learning.”
In the case of a PA or EA, examples of this support could include encouraging and valuing suggestions like setting up an internal PA network; attending PA conferences, exhibitions or seminars; working towards a recognised qualification, and subscribing to industry magazines and resources.
Measuring return on investment
Continuing professional development (CPD) may apply to each individual, but should be a business-led initiative.
“Supporting staff with their career progression builds loyalty and engagement, resulting in a positive impact in terms of productivity,” explains Lindsay.
“These closely linked elements ultimately contribute to the overall success of a business, whether that be financially, brand awareness or business reputation.”
For Rebecca, investing in the careers of your employees means a happier workforce that is more likely to go the extra mile.
“At the end of the day, a great employee will want to learn, grow and develop. Therefore, the more you can implement structures to do this, the more likely they are to contribute to the business.”
Is this your year for career progression? Get in touch with our team today.