Rebeka Adamson, New Zealand’s new Personal Assistant of the Year, has a big year ahead of her

Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what is your current role?

I am from Palmerston North, New Zealand, and my current role is Personal Assistant to Operations Director at Enable New Zealand. We are the largest provider of support services across the health, rehabilitation and disability sector for the provision of equipment, housing and vehicle modifications in New Zealand.

What is your background?

I am the youngest of four girls and we were raised in a small town called Masterton. I came from a low-‘income family and my Dad worked every shift possible to make ends meet while my Mum supported the family at home.

As is often the case where money is tight, education was not a priority. I was desperate to stay at school and proceed to university, but the cost of books and uniforms was more than we could afford.

So as was expected of me, I left school on my 16th birthday to look for a job and joined a free training institute who recognised I was a fast typist and skilled on a computer. They lined up an interview for me at a local newspaper where I jumped at the chance of eight weeks’ unpaid work experience.

I carried out odd jobs in reception for six weeks before they offered me a full-time job in their Production department, where I created adverts, formatted independent publications, and looked after the Classifieds section of the daily newspaper.

After three years I was given the opportunity to transfer to Palmerston North to take on a more challenging role. Moving away from my family was difficult, but thankfully my husband Chris, whom I had met just a few months earlier, already lived there, which made the move easier to make. We have now been married for seven years and have a two-year-old son named Max.

How did you become an Assistant?

My journey started in 2006 when I was working in the farming industry as a Senior Administrator, and my supervisor approached me with a brochure she had received in the post. It was advertising an Administrative Professionals’ Day event hosted by the Association of Administrative Professionals NZ Inc. (AAPNZ), so we decided to attend to learn more about it.

I can safely say that this introduction to AAPNZ single-handedly turned my job into a career, and suddenly I was no longer “just’” an administrator. At only 20 years old I felt out of place being around such capable administrators, but I was welcomed with professional and personal development through guest speakers and mentoring.

Two years into my membership, I was awarded a scholarship towards a Diploma in Business Administration. This qualification gave me the skills and confidence I needed to pursue an Assistant role, and by 2010 I was employed by Enable New Zealand as a Personal Assistant.

You are known as New Zealand’s new PA of the Year. How did this come about and how has it changed your working life?

I have been inspired by previous winners of the award for nearly 10 years; however, it wasn’t until I attended my first national AAPNZ Conference in 2012 that I realized I shared many of the same attributes as the finalists. My confidence though was severely lacking, so I concentrated on upskilling as well as starting a family.

I finally applied for the Award in 2015 and was stunned when I became one of the finalists, but felt completely intimidated when I learnt about the amazing women I was up against. They had more experience than I had, but I couldn’t allow that to affect my mindset.

It was a nerve-racking few months, but being forced to take stock of my skill set and achievements boosted my confidence like no other experience has before. That is until I won, of course!

Being announced the winner of the 2015 AAPNZ Administrative Professional Award was an extraordinary achievement and one of which I am incredibly proud. The ways it has changed my working life have been numerous.

For a start, I now voice my professional opinions or concerns with conviction instead of uncertainty. I still have self-doubt, but this Award has given me confidence in my own abilities and knowledge. I am now more critical of my work, but this helps me strive to find continuous improvements.

I have been assigned a mentor who helps untangle my thoughts, provides valuable feedback, and is an excellent sounding board for my ideas.

The Award has also encouraged me to create an online presence, which has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities on a global scale and connect with many industry leaders. I was recently invited to write a guest blog for the Global PA Association that I will be writing soon.

What are the main changes you have seen in the time you have been an Assistant?

Technology has evolved rapidly, which has seen Assistants adapt at the same pace. As a result of our tenacity, expectations placed on Assistants have grown, making our roles even more critical to an organisation’s success than ever before.

The world seems to have a better understanding now of the role assistants’ can play, and that administration is in fact an educated and highly skilled profession. Although this mindset is moving in the right direction, there is still room for improvement.

What inspires and motivates you?

I am inspired to help others so I try to carry this through all aspects of my life.

I’m a “big picture” type of person; I see my role within the Health and Disability Sector as having a ripple effect. When my Managers, teams and networks are well supported, they have a greater ability to provide the services that are integral to the lives of others. In my opinion, behind the scenes is just as important as the front line.

I am also motivated to be a good role model for my son. It is important for me to show him the value of education, the importance of following your dreams, and the significance of helping others with no expectation of reward.

You have managed to juggle a young family with your studies and career very successfully – how have you managed this and what advice would you give to others in the same position?

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve needed to keep a clear vision in my mind of what I hoped to achieve in order to stay on track, and I couldn’t have achieved what I have without my husband believing in my vision as well. Chris has always supported my endeavours and keeps our life ticking when my head is stuck in the books. It is imperative to have family support.

There have certainly been trade-offs though, and anyone considering an acrobatic lifestyle needs to be willing to accept these. The last time I worked full-time and studied extramurally, I sacrificed a large portion of my personal life to study. This time, my personal life has had to come first as I don’t want to miss spending quality time with my family. This has meant less time for study, and subsequently I received my first C on an assignment. Normally I am an A student, so this grade was difficult to accept, but I am proud that I was still able to pass with the limited time I had.

I encourage those willing to take on this lifestyle to inform your employer. I have had great experience with two employers supporting my education; from decoding financial jargon, offering advice, and by providing study time away from the office.

Many employers will consider financial support, especially if there is strong evidence that the study will enhance your capabilities in the workplace. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation; you may be pleasantly surprised where it leads.

What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant?

Join and be active within a professional association. You will learn how to network with peers in your industry, receive mentoring and professional development, and there will be opportunities to practice new skills within a safe environment that are directly transferable to your role.

Within nearly 10 years, my AAPNZ membership has helped me achieve:

  • Web and social media experience
  • Confidence with public speaking
  • Improving my project management abilities
  • Two scholarships
  • Certification status, which means I have been nationally benchmarked against industry standards
  • And lastly, the opportunity to be New Zealand’s ambassador for the administrative profession through the Administrative Professional Award.

Joining a professional association has been the best investment I have ever made, and I look forward to continuing my relationship with AAPNZ.

So what’s next for Rebeka Adamson? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

In February 2016 I will be a guest speaker at the Aspire Conference being held in Auckland, New Zealand, where I will share my top efficiency tips with fellow administrators. I have always enjoyed sharing my knowledge with others, so this has been an exciting development in my career.

Within the next five years I hope to engage in many more training and public speaking opportunities, as I want to be part of the rapidly evolving global move towards the professionalization of administrators.

Of course some of this starts at a local level in giving back to those who helped me start my career. Within the Manawatu sector of AAPNZ, I plan to volunteer for the Vice President role before finally taking on the role of Group President. I hope to be as strong a leader as the women before me.

Lucy Brazier, OBE is one of the world’s leading authorities on the administrative profession. Author of ‘The Modern-Day Assistant: Build Your Influence and Boost Your Potential’, she is the CEO of Marcham Publishing, a global force synonymous with world- ... (Read More)

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