A secretary in the UK is usually an office-based administrator tasked with supporting managers and executives in fulfilling their roles through the provision of back-office skills.
These skills will include the ability to touch type (typing without looking at the keyboard or your fingers), audio type, mastery of the whole of MS Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access as well as soft skills such as answering the telephone, taking messages, diary management etc.
A well-respected office role, secretarial positions have traditionally been regarded as a female-orientated career however males are increasingly developing the same skill set and becoming secretaries.
It is generally considered necessary to have relevant qualifications to embark on this career choice and the longest established name in the field is Pitman, whose diploma-level secretarial course is widely regarded as the yardstick.
The role of the secretary gives rise to a number of specialism, notably the Medical Secretary and the Legal Secretary, where specialist vocabulary, knowledge and sometime, equipment, is deployed. It is essential to take a medical secretarial course or legal secretarial course to work in these fields. In each branch of the secretarial career, the progression route is to Executive PA.
Since the 1990’s, the role of the secretary has become increasingly reliant on technology and on Microsoft Office in particular although some firms are Mac-based. The Office software suite comprises a word processor, “Word,” a calculation spreadsheet, “Excel,” a presentation package, “PowerPoint” and an email and diary management tool, “Outlook.”
It is essential for all secretaries to master these and with frequent product improvements and developments, to constantly retrain to enable them to deliver productivity to their employers.
Gaining employment as a secretary usually involves personal interviews and skills testing and a pre-requisite for being invited to interview is usually the attainment of a nationally recognised qualification such as that offered by Pitman Training.
While the demand for secretaries has grown in recent years, economic pressures have seen many employees working for a number of superiors simultaneously. At the same time, technological developments have facilitated a new type of secretary called the Virtual Assistant or VA. The VA is likely to work from home on a self-employed basis, servicing a number of clients on an hourly-paid or retained basis. Again, recognised qualifications are usually required for this type of role.