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Educational Preparation For Secretarial Positions

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Today, as well as in the past, the minimum educational requirement for an entry-level secretarial position is graduation from high school. However, with the impact that technology has had on office procedures, systems, and responsibilities now assumed by secretaries, employers generally prefer hiring those candidates who have a solid foundation in secretarial and computer skills and are proficient in the use of the English language-spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary. In addition, flexibility, attitude and willingness to accept change in all facets of the work environment, pleasing personality, poise, good interpersonal skills, and use of diplomacy in human relations are qualities that give the prospective employee a competitive edge over others. For supervisory and managerial positions, postsecondary education is desirable. The use of initiative, discretion, and good judgment, as well as the ability to organize daily activities, prioritize, manage time effectively, and be a wise decision maker are traits sought after in candidates.

Although you read in the previous paragraph that the minimum requirement for a secretarial position is graduation from high school, you need to know the background of individuals who are already working in these positions. You need to prepare yourself to compete with the population looking for employment. This author's 1988 study of secretarial and administrative support positions reflects that more than 21 percent of the 160 respondents completed high school compared to over 50 percent who continued their education at the postsecondary level-almost 19 percent earned a two-year college degree, over 25 percent achieved a four-year college degree, and almost 9 percent were in graduate school. Another important Department of Labor statistic pertaining to college graduates entering the labor force through the year 2000 is that they are expected to exceed by 100,000 annually the number of job openings requiring a college degree. College-level jobs in administrative support, although small in number, are expected to grow; however, in jobs where a degree is not required, college graduates will be a source of employment for those who either do not find employment in their field or who choose to make a career switch. Therefore, the competition will be keener; employers may look upon these college graduates more favorably, particularly as skills needed in secretarial positions become more complex. Some employers actually inflate the educational requirement for some jobs because of the abundance of college graduates looking for work and with the anticipation of grooming them for administrative and managerial positions.

Specific hiring requirements for secretaries vary from firm to firm; however, many companies require a typing speed of 65 words per minute (wpm) and above 70 wpm for individuals in word processing areas. In the federal government, an applicant must be able to take dictation at 80 words per minute and type at least 40 words per minute.



A knowledge of shorthand is a definite asset in being offered a well-paying secretarial job, particularly during periods when competition is keen. Some employers use shorthand testing as a screening device for a better qualified applicant. More will be said about the need for shorthand later in this chapter. You should know that during recent years the number of qualified persons actively seeking secretarial positions has not been sufficient to fill the demand; therefore, companies have had to resort to hiring individuals lacking in good skills. There has been a continuous need for specialized secretaries in legal, medical, and technical organizations. In these specialties, you need a firm grounding in terminology, an understanding of the field, and knowledge of office procedures used in the specific kind of environment.

In addition to the general secretarial and specialized skills and knowledge already mentioned, ability to operate an electronic typewriter and microcomputer, as well as familiarity with software programs, will give you the leading edge in a competitive job market.

The continuing changes occurring in office environments because of technology affect equipment and procedures as well as skill and knowledge requirements. Concomitantly, new career paths and positions continue to be created that call for different combinations of skills, attitudes, and knowledge. Alert individuals who consider education as an ongoing process and as an integral part of the job will become prime candidates for these openings.

Is Shorthand Obsolete?

Shorthand is a controversial issue among educators and working secretaries. Opinions are equally divided among those who feel it is necessary for secretarial employment and those who believe it is becoming an archaic skill.

A 1988 survey of newspaper advertisements by the Professional Secretaries International Association revealed that the number of ads requesting shorthand was down slightly, 20.3 percent, compared to 22.6 percent the previous year. However, in the ads specifically for executive secretaries, those requiring shorthand were up slightly, 51.5 percent, compared to 47.7 percent the year before. Many employers, particularly senior partners in legal firms and those in the executive or high-level managerial positions are reluctant to give up this skill requirement. In Florida, an agency gives free brush up courses, for it says, "Shorthand is coming back." A 1990 Secretarial Want Ad survey by Dartnell reported that "the once-treasured knowledge of shorthand seems to be heading toward the same fate as the manual typewriter," Of the 4,500 individual ads, only 11 percent asked for shorthand or note-taking skills. On the other side of the coin, those who are proponents of shorthand state that those individuals with short hand skills average approximately an 18 percent higher salary than those without. In support of shorthand, a 1990 survey of 100 alumni from the executive/office management or legal career options at the State University of New York in Farmingdale reported that 65 percent of the alumni use shorthand regularly, while 35 percent do not. In legal firms, 100 percent of the graduates take shorthand regularly; 95 percent use it three to five times a week. Speed requirements average about 80 words a minute according to 42 percent of the respondents; 33 percent stated that 100 to 120 words a minute were still the prerequisite.

Those individuals with shorthand skills have a competitive edge over those lacking this skill in being hired in the better salaried jobs. Supportive of the need for shorthand is Joan Conard, CPS and executive secretary of L. E. Shultz, the president of the HON Company, a Fortune 500 company, who believes that shorthand is one of her most valuable skills. She was hired for this job because she could take shorthand.

In checking a recent Sunday's issue of the New York Times, on one page of the help-wanted ads for executive secretaries, one-third of them specified shorthand. In comparison, a page of ads on the general category of secretaries revealed that approximately 10 percent of these positions required shorthand.

The above statements attest to the fact that the demand for shorthand is decreasing for general secretarial work; however, it is not yet obsolete. It is still a requirement in some higher-level administrative and executive secretarial positions. Shorthand skill is a plus and will open doors to positions in the executive suite.

Secretarial Programs of Study

Secretarial education ranges from high school vocational training programs that offer courses in office practices and procedures, keyboarding, computer training using a variety of software pack ages, and shorthand, to one- and two-year programs in secretarial studies in business schools, vocational-technical institutions, and community colleges.

High School Programs

Most high schools offer a secretarial specialization. Along with non-specialized courses, the usual curriculum includes the follow ing: English (three or four years), possibly including a course in business writing; keyboarding (one to two years); shorthand or speed writing and transcription (two years); and office procedures (one year or one semester). Some schools vary this basic curriculum with inclusion of such courses as business law, introduction to information technology, records management, electronic office procedures, business analysis/business computer applications, and personal business management.

The methods used to give secretarial students some hands-on experience with automated equipment to prepare them for the job market vary from school to school.

In schools equipped with personal computers, students generally learn to keyboard on this equipment. An innovative approach that enables students to operate both an electronic typewriter (IBM Wheel writers) and a personal computer was developed at Nanuet High School in Nanuet, New York. In the beginning keyboarding course, students initially learn to touch type and develop their technique on the Wheel writer. After the first half of the semester, they transfer to the personal computer. Production work is kept to a minimum. In the second level of keyboarding, students continue to develop their keyboarding skills and learn the concepts, formats, and procedures for production work on the Wheel writer; they then transfer their competencies to the personal computer.

On the third level, more sophisticated work is introduced that involves decision making, using both the Wheel writer and PC. On the next level, which is the Office Procedures course, integrated assignments are produced on the computer. Using this approach, students learn to transfer their skills from one type of equipment to another. Thus, students should be able to adapt more readily in an office environment where there is such a diversity of equipment.

Another innovative program is at the Oak Grove High School in San Jose, California. The school succeeded in receiving approval for the scheduling of a seven-period day, which would allow all students to graduate with vocational as well as academic skills. An Office Systems Certificate Program was developed in which employable skills are taught to students who opt for it.

Students must achieve a minimum of a C grade to be able to petition for a Certificate of Achievement. Besides the liberal arts courses students need to pass, the required and recommended courses are listed as follows.

High schools that have limited numbers of computers design units of instruction in office procedures courses in which students become familiar with the equipment on a rotation plan.

Alternatives to the traditional 40- or 50-minute class period have been implemented in various high schools. Some now have block programs of two or three periods so that business situations can be simulated. Under this reorganization, students can complete tasks originated within the time frame, rather than having to stop a project that is only partially completed. Some innovations also include simulated experiences in advanced keyboarding and office procedures classes. The advantage to this arrangement is that students see the interrelationships between different office jobs being performed. One of the benefits students derive in these simulated experiences is training in human relations, an aspect frequently neglected in more traditional classrooms.

Community College Programs

You should determine your long-range goals when you choose your career so that you are aware of the levels of education you should attain for positions with increasing responsibilities. With greater numbers of adults going on to college to earn degrees, you should think seriously about attending at least a two-year institution for post high school education. Employers are beginning to seek college graduates to fill jobs not previously requiring a degree. Since the early 1960s, two-year community colleges have expanded educational opportunities to provide the professions, business, and industry with qualified personnel. Practically all of these institutions offer secretarial programs for which an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree can be earned. One such program for students aspiring to be executive secretaries, which is offered at Bronx Community College in New York City, is shown in detail.

Specialized Secretarial Fields

An A.A.S. degree can be earned in the specialized secretarial fields, too; however, you must research the college catalogs to find out which two-year institutions have programs for legal, medical, educational, or technical secretaries. You may also check the catalogs of colleges that offer both an Associate in Science degree (A.S.) as well as a four-year Bachelor of Science degree (B.S,)

Legal and Medical Specialties

Specialized curriculum options for legal and medical careers, which are offered at Robert Morris College in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, and Bronx Community College in New York City, respectively, are illustrated as follows.

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The Legal Dictation/Transcription course emphasizes legal terminology and develops students' dictation and transcription skills in this specialized field. In Document Processing III, advanced word processing concepts and procedures are taught in the production of documents in the chosen area of specialization.

In specialized courses, emphasis is placed on secretarial, communications, and human relations skills, as recommended by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

Word Processing

With the explosion of office technology, information systems, and more specifically word processing, many colleges have developed programs for students who are interested in secretarial careers in word processing environments. Concepts, theory, and equipment training are being taught in a variety of ways. Some schools have integrated this instruction as units of learning in previously established courses; others have designed specific courses that combine equipment and concepts instruction or have developed individual courses for each. Several other institutions have developed word processing as a curriculum that leads to an A.A.S. degree. The latter option is offered at Bronx Community College in New York City and includes the following requirements.

For students who wish to enroll in a one-year program only, particularly adults who either wish to reenter the labor market or update their skills, several institutions have developed certificate programs in word processing. These curricula provide training in procedures, concepts, and electronic equipment needed for positions in organizations that use word processing and information systems. Machine transcription skills and reinforcement of English skills-spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary-also receive emphasis. Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York, offers such a program.
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