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The growing Demand of Secretaries

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Jobs that were once considered solid careers have now declined due to societal, global, and scientific forces that have led to the creation of new positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total employment between now and 2006 will grow slower than it had in the past. This is because of changing methods in the way in which production and services are provided, such as changes in business technology and services. Most of the projected employment increase is in the services division, both business and health, of the service-production sector of the economy. An example of an employment decline in the field would be typists and word processors resulting from the growing use of word-processing equipment that increases efficiency and encourages office personnel to do more of the work themselves.

Secretarial and clerical work, referred to as "administrative support occupations, including clerical work" in the Department of Labor publications, will continue to employ the largest number of workers, even though employment will grow at a slower pace than average. This occurs because of the large number of employees required in the field and the high turnover rate. There should also be opportunities for full- and part-time work.

Although the explosion of office technology has been viewed by many as a threat to job security, the reverse is true. Office employment has been dramatically altered in number, type, responsibility, and nature of jobs available. The introduction of new services, as well as new products, has led to the creation of new kinds of jobs. Even though office automation increased productivity, it has been offset by secretaries assuming responsibilities that were previously in the domain of managers and other professionals. In addition to this, soft skills such as flexibility, a positive personality, a self-starter quality, use of discretion and diplomacy, and ability to be a team player are requirements employers want employees to possess.

If you wish to find work overseas, don't become overly optimistic because such jobs are not as plentiful or as attainable. The best approach to finding such a job is to become employed by the corporate headquarters of an international firm in the United States and then work toward this goal. You should also be aware that some countries place limitations on number and types of jobs that can be filled by foreigners and that the wages earned are frequently lower than comparable jobs in the United States.

Employment Statistics

In 1996, 3,403,000 secretaries and 1,369,000 clerical supervisors and managers were employed in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Compared to the 1994 data, these figures represent a growth of 54,000 secretaries and 29,000 clerical supervisors and managers. In Canada, 400,000 administrative professionals/secretaries are employed.

Knowing what the future projections of a particular career field are is important so that you can make a wise decision. Individuals have certain preferences about environments in which they would like to work; therefore, examining job opportunities from an industry perspective is desirable. The data presented in the tables below will give you some comparison of the employment and percent change expected by 2006 in several types of industries.

Health Services-This is the largest industry in the country, with almost eleven million jobs. Employment in the health services sector is expected to increase more than twice as fast as the economy as a whole and add over three million jobs by 2006. Offices for physicians or dentists account for two-thirds of all private health service establishments. The bulk of the jobs in offices and clinics of physicians are in administrative support occupations, such as receptionist and medical secretaries, who consist of two-fifths of the workers in physicians' offices. However, hospitals employ the largest percentage of workers. As a secretary, you should become familiar with several health specialties to determine if any are of interest to you.

In Table 6, you will note that the employment number of secretaries for the industry is 181,000 and indicates a percentage of growth of 14.4 percent to 2006. Medical secretaries show that 235,000 secretaries are employed with a 32 percent growth rate expected between 1996-2006.

Management and Public Relation Services -Management services furnish administrative services, and management consulting offers operational advice. Public relations help achieve favorable public exposure for clients and develop strategies for them to obtain a certain public image. The administrative support occupations together with the executive, administrative, and managerial occupations account for 53 percent of employment. Table 7 shows that in 1996, 48,000 secretaries were employed in this industry with a 33 percent change expected from 1996-2006.

Personnel supply services - This industry consists of employment agencies and help supply services. The help supply services companies provide temporary help to other businesses to supplement their workforce in special situations, such as during employee absences or increased seasonal workload. The help supply services firm contracts out to “client” temporary workers at a specified fee. Many companies are especially receptive to hiring these temps even full-time rather than employing permanent staff who require significantly greater employee benefits. This industry encompasses a wide range of fields from administrative support occupations, such as secretary, to professional occupations, such as nurse. Secretaries are needed in every phase of business, including banks, insurance companies, investment and real estate firms, law firms, educational institutions, as well as in federal, state, and local government agencies. Obviously, employment will increase for all secretaries, including medical. Personnel supply services is one of the fastest-growing industries and one that is expected to provide the most new jobs, which are expected to grow 53 percent over the 1996-2006 period. This is almost four times the 14 percent growth anticipated for all industries combined. Table 8 shows that 192,000 secretaries were employed in 1996 with a 32.7 percent change from 1996-2006.

This industry usually appeals to individuals who are interested in helping others. The need exists in this industry, like in many others, for secretaries and other administrative support workers as well as managers. Generally, earnings of nonsupervisory personnel are below the average for all private industry. However, job opportunities should be excellent because of an expected 49 percent increase from 1996-2006, compared to only 14 percent for all industries. Table 9 shows 61,000 employed secretaries in 1996 with a growth rate of 21.3 percent.

Secretarial/Clerical Occupations In Canada

The fastest-growing sector in Canada's economy is the service sector, which is typical of the United States, thus accounting for the largest increase in jobs. Approximately two-thirds of all Canadians are employed in this category. The data and information that follow about clerical occupations, general office skills (includes administrative and office assistants); secretaries, recorders, and transcriptionists; medical

Secretaries and legal secretaries present an overview of the field. Secretarial work is a predominantly female occupation. See Table 10 for a comparison of employment statistics between 1984-1994.

Clerical occupations, general office skills, employees work primarily for government and the private sector. Fifty-two percent are general office clerks and 32 percent are receptionists. Of this total, 21 percent work part-time, this is slightly more than the average for all occupations. Women account for 76 percent of the clerical workers. Employment is moderately sensitive to business conditions, and the technological change does have a negative effect on the group due to computers, facsimile equipment, electronic mail, and related software. The largest number of clerical staff works in finance, insurance, and real estate followed by 78 percent for the federal administration.
Secretaries, recorders, and transcriptionists work in government and throughout the private sector including law offices, real estate companies, hospitals and doctors' offices, and other types of organizations. This group includes specialized secretaries such as technical, medical, legal, estate, and litigation secretaries as well as court reporters and stenographers.

Of this group, 421,000 were employed in 1994, which is 3 percent of the workforce. Secretaries account for 80 percent of the group, and women make up 92 percent of all these workers.

Medical secretaries work in doctors' offices, hospitals, clinics, and other medical settings. Of this group, 51.4 percent work in physicians, health practitioners and medical labs, followed by 35.9 percent who work in hospitals. In 1994, 37,000 were employed as medical secretaries, a growth of 18 percent more than 1984. Twenty-four percent of the medical secretaries work part-time, well above the average for all occupations. In this specialty, 99 percent are women. It is interesting to note that private health care practices continue to be the center for job creation in this occupation.

Legal secretaries work in government, law offices, land title offices, and in courts at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels. In this group, the large majority work in professional offices-81 percent. The number of legal secretaries employed in this profession in 1994 was 37,000, a growth rate of 3 percent more than in 1984. When compared to medical secretaries, a substantial difference in growth rate between 1984 and 1994 exists (15 percent). Part-timers account for 11 percent of the employees. In this specialty, too, 99 percent are women. It should be noted that most of the employment growth for legal secretaries is projected to be in private law practices. See Table 10 to note employment figures that range from 37,000 each for medical and legal secretarial employees to 421,000 for secretaries, recorders, and transcriptionists. The percent of growth of employment economy wide is 17 percent.

Labor Force Participation Rates Of Women And Men

Labor force participation rates of men and women are changing. Women will continue to have a huge stake in the current and future labor force, although at a slower rate than previously. The overall participation rate for women is expected to rise by about 2 percent, half of what it was the previous decade. This increase will be among the forty-five to sixty-four year old women who will replace the younger women. By 2006, the women's share of the labor force will be 47.4 percent. In effect, women's participation rates will increase for all age groups over nineteen, except for the group aged sixty-five and over. The participation rates for working men will decline below age forty-five, except for those aged sixteen to nineteen years, which will remain steady at 53 percent. The rate for age group forty-five and above will increase. Table 11 shows the continual rise of women in the labor force and the slow decline for men, although men still lead. The men's participation rates in the labor forces at all ages is higher than those for women.

Male-Female Employment In Secretarial Work

The secretarial field is one of the largest. The 1998 statistics showed that 3,616,000 of men and women aged sixteen and over were employed in secretarial work. The number of men in that age range was 81,000 and women, 3,535,000. For the twenty-year-and-over group for the same period, 76,000 men were employed and 3,412,000 women.
With the changes that are occurring, there appears to be a blurring of the traditional demarcation between jobs for men and women. Is this a reality in secretarial employment, a predominately female-intensive occupation? Although we cannot respond positively that the numbers of men have increased substantially in this field, we can state that more men are enrolling in office administration curricula. This might be the result of variations in department names to reflect the nature of the field and changing responsibilities of secretarial personnel. Some new titles are: department of office technology, office and systems administration, and department of secretarial and office information systems. Men are gradually becoming attracted to this career because of the changing work environment and the diverse opportunities that exist. Many men who are secretaries work with dynamic business and professional people, often within the medical, legal, entertainment, and publishing environments.

Some comments from men who were secretaries revealed the following reasons for pursuing this field: "Serving others and being at the top of things and networking with counterparts are only a few of the rewards achieved from this career." "Successful secretaries have adapted to the Information Age by expanding their job skills. They realized long ago that knowledge is power." "The profession was intriguing since very few males sought entrance, and I wanted to secure a future with skills that would be helpful in landing a job." Other reasons for men entering the field include nationwide opportunities in a variety of industries and the challenge of involvement with high technology and challenging responsibilities.

The Alternative Workplace

The traditional office environment is no longer the sole focus of the workplace. Alternative workplaces that incorporate nontraditional locations and practices are being supplemented. This is a transformation that moves the work to the worker. What precipitated this movement? Women account for a large percentage of the labor force. They are now interested in lifelong careers and frequently are multiple jobholders. What do these changes in lifestyles, values, and social patterns mean in terms of employment? First, firms want to retain their valuable employees. Women need to balance their work and home life; therefore, it is necessary to adopt innovative work patterns that are flexible in work schedules and locations. Second, since women have the needed skills and productive capacity to help support the country's economic growth, business has to respond to their needs by establishing alternative work patterns that would spur recruitment, improve morale, and reduce absenteeism and turnover. Another important reason for developing alternative work patterns is to reduce the amount of space utilized and lower overhead costs. AT&T, as stated in the Harvard Business Review of May/June 1998, indicated that by eliminating offices people don't need, consolidating others, and reducing related overhead costs, they freed up $550 million in cash flow. At IBM, a survey of employees in their Mobility Initiative plan "revealed that 87 percent believe that their personal productivity and effectiveness on the job have increased significantly." AmEx's alternative plan "helps the company retain experienced employees who find the flexibility to work from home especially attractive."1 This section will explore how and where work can be done and the many forms an alternative workplace can take.

Part-Time Work

Part-time workers are the largest group of employees performing less than full-time responsibilities. Generally, these workers are students, young people not ready for full-time commitments, mothers who need the extra income but only want to work while their young children are in school, or mature individuals with family responsibilities. Part-time employment means working less than thirty-five hours a week; however, the usual time frame is to work three days a week or twenty hours per week.

Today part-time employment is used in different ways, according to the Department of Labor. Individuals combine several part-time jobs to make up a full workweek. Another pattern is to hold a full-time primary job and a part-time secondary job. Approximately eight million workers held more than one job at a time, and more than half of all moonlighters in 1997 combined a full-time job with a part-time job, according to the February 1998 Monthly Labor Review. In the administrative support profession, approximately 6.5 percent of total employment were multiple jobholders Opportunities for employment in secretarial positions as part-timers continue to increase, for employers see the benefits in reduced labor costs and flexibility in hiring staff when needed. Kelly Services of Troy, Michigan, and Manpower Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, two of the largest sources of part-timers, report that the need for part-timers has grown so fast that they cannot readily fill temporary job openings.

In some businesses, a scheduling alternative is available. Instead of working a full five-day week schedule, a popular option is to compress the forty hours into a four-day week. Another choice is to work twelve hours a day for three days. This type of scheduling allows for extended hours for the company and a weekday for employees to use for personal responsibilities.

Temporary Employment

The traditional idea of hiring a temporary employee to fill in for a receptionist who is sick or on vacation has changed radically in the past few years. Temporary help performing all sorts of work is used throughout the company. This type of hiring falls into the category of contract staffing, in which the temporary employee is obtained from a help supply service firm that is the employer of this individual. Much of this started with global competition and downsizing. Advantages for the company for which the temp works are the following: available staff without the burden of paying for benefits, fewer layoffs in slow seasons, decrease in record keeping, replacement of unsatisfactory workers, and screening of employees for qualifications and experience. The data reflect that the use of temps has increased 240 percent in the last decade and will probably continue to grow. The benefits for the temporary worker are experience in different types of organizations, development of skills, and growing list of references.

Two other trends in staffing the office are outsourcing and employee leasing. Outsourcing is a form of contract staffing that transfers business functions to a third party. Smaller companies frequently use outsourcing because they can't justify a full-time experienced employee on staff, or perhaps they have difficulty hiring and retaining such experts. Outsourcing may also be used to augment the manpower already on the payroll. Some midsize organizations are resorting to selective outsourcing where they off-load only one or two tasks. According to Chris Miksanek in the August 1997 issue of Datamation, "...87 percent of senior management is currently considering outsourcing."

In leasing, a long-term permanent arrangement, the customer has a contractual agreement with the leasing firm, which is the employer. The advantage of these two trends is that the customer never handles payroll, taxes, insurance benefits, vacations, or other administrative items.

If you are looking for challenge and excitement and want to become acquainted with different kinds of companies, temporary employment might be an approach you should investigate. Each day is different, for you never know what you are getting into. One basic advantage of working as a temp is the opportunity of determining whether you like the job and environment. This might also lead to a permanent job if you have the right skills and attitude. While you are working as a temp, take advantage of the training most temporary staffing agencies offer to make you more marketable.


Flextime, a concept in scheduling daily work hours for full-time employees, is receiving favorable acceptance in many companies and continues to be adopted throughout the country. There are variations of flextime scheduling; however, personnel usually work during a core period each day. From options established by management, workers select the time that completes a day's productivity. For example, employees might have the choice of arriving at work between 6:30 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. and leaving between 3:00 P.M. and 6:30 P.M. Thus, employees have some control over their workday. Occasionally, a company will offer a four-day workweek that narrows down to a ten-hour day.

Flextime has resulted in positive effects on employee attitudes, and sick leave is less abused. A recent business survey indicated that more firms are adopting flextime scheduling. They claim it increases efficiency and morale and decreases absenteeism and turnover. One can assume from this finding that as personnel satisfaction increases, company image is improved. This gives a firm a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Productivity usually is maintained or increased, and many employee benefits are realized. Although flextime was originally designed for lower-level employees, some Fortune 500 organizations are now extending this work pattern to managers and professional employees.

Telecommuting is one of the most recognized forms of alternative workplaces. Work is performed electronically wherever the employee is and frequently supplements the traditional office rather than replacing it.
Telecommuting also referred to as the electronic cottage, initially involved people working at home or at a satellite office on a computer or terminal and communicating by phone to the home office. This concept has been broadened and includes those individuals who work out of a customer's office or who communicate with the office via laptop or mobile telephone. Interestingly, Alvin Toffler in 1980 in his book The Third Wave predicted that millions of Americans would establish auto-mated work centers in their homes. His predictions became a reality as computers, fax machines, and modems became accessible in terms of pricing, and America grew into an information-based society.

Is the office becoming obsolete? Although we may never witness its complete extinction, there is every reason to believe that there will be a substantial reduction in the physical office. Increasing numbers of employees work at home.

Companies vary widely in the approaches they use with home offices. Some allow employees to use their own discretion. Others, such as AT&T, IBM, and Lucent Technologies, provide laptops, dedicated phone lines, software support, fax-printer units, help lines, and full technical backup at the nearest corporate facility.

One health-related facility implemented a telecommuting program because it became increasingly difficult to find qualified medical secretaries. Management worked out a program whereby physicians dictated over the telephone to a central system, secretaries accessed the information through telephone lines, and the documents were transcribed on computers. At a scheduled time each evening, the day's work was transmitted back on communication lines to the clinic where it was printed.

Of course, there are many concerns about whether telecommuting will really work in the long run because employees cannot develop a sense of belonging that fulfills psychological needs, nor can they be part of the informal interaction in the office. Another disadvantage is the inability to be a team player because a home-based work environment doesn't permit the employee to have that kind of interactive work experience. Also, communication via e-mail is not a substitute for personal interaction.

If you plan to be a telecommuting worker, follow the tips for success outlined below:

  • Plan your working hours without interruptions.
  • Design an organized working environment.
  • Maintain a work agenda for you and your manager to review.
  • Plan regular meetings at the office with your supervisor or manager.
  • Become part of a team or group and attend regular meetings at the office.
  • Communicate by e-mail or in writing of progress of work at the beginning of each week.
  • Keep your workplace at home private.
  • Share your home office with your coworkers for meetings.
  • Network with other telecommuters and staff.
Job Sharing

Another alternative to full-time employment is job sharing where two people assume responsibilities for a job. They divide the work between them and arrange their own schedules to provide full-time coverage on the job. Job sharing differs from part-time work in which an individual is an independent employee who has the sole responsibility for a particular job.

Advocates of nontraditional work groups point out several advantages of job sharing:
  • Job sharers are interested in careers and advancement.
  • Productivity will probably increase because of greater job satisfaction, more concentrated effort, and lower rate of absenteeism and turnover.
  • Coverage can be arranged during peak periods or absenteeism due to sickness.
  • Greater continuity occurs in job performance. If one of the job sharers leaves the job, the partner can usually fill in while a new person is being trained.
Unless carefully planned, job sharing can be a failure, too. Some factors companies consider are recognition of each individual's strengths and weaknesses, parity with full-time positions in terms of salaries and benefits, clearly understood expectations, and voluntary job sharing. Personnel factors to be taken into account, when establishing such a working arrangement are good communication skills, organizational ability, cooperativeness, and similarity of work values.

Although many employers have expressed resistance to such programs, others endorse the concept and have initiated it.
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