Over at the Vault.com, there was an interesting write-up this week… “The Five Fastest Declining Industries for 2011”. What interested me the most was the decline in ”Office and Administrative Support”. OK, technically this is probably a job function rather than an Industry, but it takes a long time for these categories to catch up with the real world. Whatever we call it, this is important information for most corporations, since all corporations have secretaries and admins. This decline has been going on for a very long time. Back in 2001 an article in Barron’s showed how secretarial positions (which later morphed into “administrative support”) had been on the decline since 1987.
Because titles (few firms still have “secretary” positions) and functions have changed, it’s difficult to track the exact decline. Barron’s did make one other thing clear. Every downturn in the economy leads to a permanent decline in the number of secretaries. As the economy slowly picks up, the support staff for our knowledge workers… the lawyers, bankers, accountants and other professionals… that traditionally get secretarial support will have less and less in the future. In some firms, this is the result of a plan with some automation, some transfer of functions to new staff, and even some outsourcing. What about your firm and your professionals…. Is there a plan?
Maybe it’s time to start thinking about a plan. One reason that I brought up this topic was that 2011 is a special date, the 100th anniversary of the secretarial school. In order to get more women involved in corporate work, Katherine Gibbs set up the world’s first secretarial school in 1911. Where are we 100 years later? Dictation, short hand, and many of the traditional skills of the secretary have not been taught in the last two decades. The last practitioners of these skills are slowly aging out of the work force. Voice mail, cheap digital voice recorders, and even Optical Character Recognition have eased some of the transition pain. But there’s a lot more pain to come as the number of secretaries and the quality of traditional secretarial skills declines. If the economy recovers as expected, 2011 could be a very difficult year for managing secretarial functions. We’ll talk more about this later, but for now… that’s more than a Niccolls’ worth for now!