The workplace revolution has started, says Grace Lewis, and your admin staff are leading the way

For two days this week, the Blackberries will be off, the Bluetooth headsets will remain on the sideboard, and there’ll be no chance of you getting any work done in the office as your personal assistants, secretaries, and administrators will mostly likely be at the Executive Secretary LIVE conference in London.

But once you get back to the office, will it be same-old, same-old, with the learning needs of your admin staff being ignored?

Lucy Brazier, publisher of Executive Secretary Magazine is all-too familiar with the tale of the overwhelmed, undervalued admin staff; her LinkedIn group regularly receives posts from worried administrators who are tasked with increasingly difficult conundrums and expected to resolve them within tight timeframes.

“Assistants are not just admin support; they are taking on more and more middle management roles – project management, finance, office tech support,” she says citing research from the American Society of Administration Professionals (ASAP) which points to jobs cuts during the recession as the reason why so much ‘redistributed work’ has fallen heavily on the shoulders of admin staff.

But despite the increasing workload and mounting responsibility, when it comes to training, support staff have a battle on their hands to convince the boss that they are worth stretching the L&D budget for.

Research suggests that a fifth of the world’s working population is in an admin-based role, and yet a recent OfficeTeam survey of HR managers in North America found that less than half of organisations currently offer or plan to offer subsidised training for administrative professionals in the next 12 months.

John Kerr, operations director at UK-based Develop Training, says he wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results here if the same survey was conducted in the UK.

“There are definitely people out there for example who would never get the training and experience that a technical operative would for example,” he says. But that doesn’t mean their value to the organisation is any less.

Perhaps the problem isn’t recognising the value of ‘back office’ staff, but a confusion over whose responsibility it is to manage them day-to-day. Brazier says there are over 162 job titles for management assistants on a global scale, all with differing levels of responsibility and pay, and yet not one of these roles comes with the promise of career progression.

Group support and acknowledgment from the business is invaluable to any assistant trying to get by day-to-day says Zelda La Grange, former private secretary to Nelson Mandela.

“An assistant plays such a vital part in the business landscape that it is important for the person to understand how his or her individual performance contributes to the overall objectives of the organisation…Managerial skills, financial management and leadership skills have now become important aspects for a PA to run an office effectively and efficiently,” she says.

A little support goes a long way, so maybe it’s about time we sat down and designed development paths for some of those forgotten learners.