The evolving and multifarious role of the administrative professional

These days, Higher Education clerical and administrative staff are expected to be equipped with multifarious skills and competences and the role of professional administrative staff is seen as pivotal to the success of an organisation.  Many tasks require a high level of professionalism and education, and some require commercial or political acumen.

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Within universities, secretaries, clerical workers and administrators have had to acquire specialist skills and knowledge.  We have had to learn on the job, using advanced computer systems and communications.  We have taught ourselves to become experts on university funding, teaching and research initiatives.  The corporatisation of universities has had a profound impact on the way HE institutions operate and our roles have been affected. Our roles have changed to those of higher education professionals and we daily respond to changes, pursue complex tasks, deliver innovative solutions, facilitate learning and development, drive the student experience and effect outcomes.

When universities were established in the 60’s, secretarial/clerical workers’ jobs were much more about paper pushing.  Nowadays, we are much more multi-skilled and we do all the functions ourselves.  The expertise of this body of staff is crucial to the core of the university’s structure and I believe that the professional administrative service is integral to the strategic success of the University of Kent.

Talking to colleagues, here are some anecdotes about how work has changed:

“Our work is often project-based, or we work as a team member on other projects”

“On a daily basis, I am asked to think outside the box, solve problems and come up with new solutions

“Nowadays, I’m always thinking about the bigger picture”

“I manage my own work”

“I make autonomous decisions effecting the way things are done within the university”

It is often the female, clerical and administration team who are the experts at the “soft skills” and the “specialist skills” – counselling the students, greeting visitors, doing the ground work for projects, managing student admissions, balancing the finances, writing the press releases, overseeing course administration, brokering student employment initiatives – all skills which can easily go unnoticed.

It begs the question, if one of these skills was performed by a man, would it have a grand title and be better paid?  We often associate the word “manager” with one who controls.  Feminine administrative functions are perceived as nurturing – feeding, nourishing, supporting, and furthering the development of.  Nurturing is usually quietly done, with much of the work invisible – and this clearly aligns with the perception that clerical and administrative functions can easily go unnoticed and be undervalued.

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