|Secretaries’ days numbered|
|Thursday, 07 June 2012 00:00|
TRADITIONALLY, secretaries were trained to be typists, receive visitors, write minutes for important events, keep schedule of appointments and make travel arrangements for bosses. However, with advances in technology, less of these traditional roles remain for secretaries as bosses now schedule their own appointments through social networks like Facebook and through cellphones, can make flight arrangements through e-booking and can write their own speeches or documents direct to their iPads.
“With office automation, many jobs are at risk. In fact, it is estimated that by 2014 most people would have lost their jobs to technology,” said information technology expert Mr Alfred Musarurwa.
Addressing senior secretaries attending this year’s Winter School in Vumba recently, Mr Musarurwa — a senior IT manager with Metropolitan Bank — said with advancements such as video and teleconferencing the boss does not really need to be in office to attend a conference. “The boss can still participate in a meeting from wherever they are through video conferencing or teleconferencing,” Mr Musarurwa said.
He urged secretaries to start thinking of broadening their skills now in line with technological advancements.
In the past, some secretaries would make tea for the boss, dust the office before he came in and watered the plants as part of her duties — things they were never trained at college.
However, with the advent of technology, managers now have an electric kettle or coffee maker in their offices and they make their own tea and most companies now hire people who specialise in office cleaning.
“Young managers actually prefer to do all their work as is the case with my manager. He does his own typing on his iPad, takes his own calls from his mobile and schedule his own appointments. If he is travelling he makes his own travel arrangements. I am just idle most of the times.
“The only time he needs me is when he wants me to receive his visitors and direct them to the venue of a meeting,” said a secretary who preferred anonymity.
She said she was already beginning to feel the threat of technology to her job as a secretary and has resolved to study for a degree in media studies with a local university to prepare for her future.
“With the young managers coming from university, honestly our jobs are at risk especially as we get old, no one will need an old lady to receive his visitors.
“From personal experience, I have seen what technology is capable of doing to all of us and I urge my colleagues to at least take this advice and broaden their horizons,” she said.
Addressing the Winter School, patron of the National Secretaries Convention (NSC) Professor Hope Sadza urged secretaries not to be too comfortable by their current positions but should strive at getting higher qualifications.
Professor Sadza, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Women’s University in Africa, said educational attainment, economic participation and political empowerment are important dimensions core to unleashing the power of women.
She said after attaining education, women need to be economically empowered for them to make independent decisions for without their own money, someone will continue to decide on their behalf.
Prof Sadza, a former secretary herself, said in order to unleash the power of women, political empowerment is crucial. “The absence of women from structures of governance inevitably means that national and local priorities are biased towards men,” she said.
She further urged the office managers to follow the constitution-making process as a way of broadening their knowledge base and also participate in voting for a woman who is able when voting finally takes place.
National Secretaries Convention (NSC) founding director Mr Isaac Chidavaenzi said because of the new technologies most secretaries were no longer doing the work they are supposed to be doing, hence the change of name to office administrators, office assistants, personal assistants among others.
“Our meeting was meant to keep the secretaries abreast with technological developments and broaden their minds with respect to their new roles,” said Mr Chidavaenzi. He said traditionally secretaries were seen as the boss “pack” or the bosses “pet” as managers saw them as their property rather than professionals in her own right.
Mr Chidavaenzi said because of the ever-changing role of secretaries, it is important to continue broadening their skills to keep them relevant.
“The advent of technology is likely to result in paperless offices. An office, to which when you walk in, there will be no filing cabinets except for technological devices. This year’s Winter School is therefore aimed at preparing these professionals for office automation coming ahead of them,” he said.
The Winter School ran under the theme “Upskilling the 21st century office professional”.
Secretaries interviewed acknowledged that their jobs were really at risk and said this year’s theme was befitting to their profession.
Ms Biyatah Chatitiyara of Tetrad said presenters at the Winter School were of higher level.“We had speakers of higher level and we have also heard from ladies who were once in the same industry as us but have since moved to greater heights through investing in education.
“Presentations were so inspiring and we really felt challenged by the fact that typing is going,” she said.
Mr Simon Karimanzira, personal assistant to Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Dr Olivia Muchena, said secretarial work was no longer restricted to typing of documents and answering the phone.
The PA, however, said the public sector was lagging behind in terms of technological developments.
“Although the public sector lags behind, everyone is now moving away from paper to office automation,” Mr Karimanzira said.
PA to Bulawayo Mayor Mrs Eliel Sithembiso Sibindi said although technology was capable of making them jobless, she believed they would still be relevant cadres in any company as long as they broadened their skills in line with technological advancements, .
“I feel technology will actually work to our advantage as it lessens the burden of work we are supposed to be doing as secretaries. It makes our work faster, easier and more efficient,” Mrs Sibindi said.
The National Secretaries Convention was founded in 1992 by the Development Training Association to professionalise secretarial duties. The convention hosts three major events in a year — the Summer School for middle carrier secretaries, Winter School and the convention, which is open to all secretaries and is normally a regional event.
This year’s convention is slated for September in Victoria Falls.