Discussions in my close circle of industry confidants appear to be overwhelmed recently with conversations about the future (or not) of the profession.
In the World Economic Forum’s ‘The Future of Jobs’ report for 2018, Administrative and Executive Secretaries are number three on the list of jobs that are in decline. The press is full of articles about how AI is going to remove the need for Assistants, and every Administrative Conference worth its salt is looking at what the future of the profession looks like.
Meanwhile, Glassdoor have ranked the Executive Assistant role in it’s top 25 Best Jobs for 2019.
It’s a confusing time to be an Assistant.
The truth is that you are a resilient lot! Back in the 1950s when electronic typewriters came on the scene, the job sections of the newspapers were full of tales about how secretaries were only going to need to work half-days moving forwards. And the same with the advent of the PC; you were all doing to become defunct then too. There would simply not be enough work for you. But here we are. You morphed into what the business world needed. AI is simply another opportunity for the profession to move forwards. The robots are coming, but we can take advantage of the opportunities that this presents.
Someone needs to understand what technology is out there and how it can help make our businesses more productive. Someone needs to understand the processes in order to automate them in the first place.
An Assistant on a recent course told me she was nearing retirement and her bosses had already mentally put her out to pasture. She asked my advice as to how she showed she was still current. I suggested she researched what is new out there in terms of technology and started to make suggestions as to how her business can use it. Nothing makes you more current than being proactive.
AI is moving at breakneck speed. I had been laughing off suggestions that it would remove the need for our jobs – after all, I reasoned, I have yet to see a machine that can reorganise a meeting in 10 minutes, taking into account all preferences.
This is no longer a valid argument. Talking to Rhonda Scharf, who is about to publish a book on the subject, machine learning means that the technology will indeed be able to remember preferences – and probably more efficiently than we do.
Diana Brandl’s excellent talk on The Future of Work shows how technology is advancing in offices right now. Alexa, for example, now has over 55,000 apps. Diana cites businesses that have an Alexa in each room. They use it as an Assistant to start presentations, take notes or find meeting rooms. Alexa can manage schedules, keep track of to-do lists, and set reminders. It can schedule 1:1 meetings between colleagues, move and cancel meetings, and dial into conference calls, so employees stay focused on important tasks whether at home, at work, or on the go. IT teams are using Alexa to build custom skills that add a voice interface to applications such as Salesforce or ServiceNow, providing personalised voice experiences that redefine the way employees get work done.
So what does all this mean for you?
Take a look at the skills the World Economic Forum is saying we will need for 2030. Whilst they are saying the role is in decline, the report also predicts a dramatic increase in demand for more employee hours across these three skills sets:
- Higher cognitive: these skills include advanced literacy and writing, quantitative and statistical skills, critical thinking and complex information processing.
- Social and emotional, or so-called “soft skills”: these include advanced communication and negotiation, empathy, the ability to learn continuously, to manage others and to be adaptable.
- Technological: this embraces everything from basic to advanced IT skills, data analysis, engineering and research.
All three of these leap off the page as being the skill sets most savvy assistants are embracing and training for.
There is no doubt in my mind that the 4th industrial revolution will change the way we do business but we should be embracing it. Rather than a threat, it should help us to elevate the role so we can finally take our seat at the table and be part of the conversation.