CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Executive decisions

By Dorothea Helms
Special to the Toronto Sun

Forty years ago when I was a teenager, my mother suggested I consider becoming a secretary, because chances are I'd always be able to find a job. Who knew that this many decades later, her advice would still be relevant?

According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), in Canada there are 500,000 administrative professionals, which includes 402,600 secretaries, 11,900 executive assistants and 94,000 clerical supervisors.
Patty Buckner, left, executive assistant with O.N.Telcom meets with Cathy Rotar, one of her clerical staff. (Photo, Dorothea Helms)

Of course, the label of "secretary" has been replaced with the more appropriate "administrative assistant" -- because the role has changed a great deal from when being able to type and take shorthand were the pertinent skills needed for the job.

Today's administrative assistants "type" on a computer, and they possess a cross-section of knowledge and skills that spans an astounding spectrum. By the time a person has advanced to the position of "executive assistant," that breadth of skills and knowledge is even more impressive.

"An executive assistant (EA) supports one, or more, executives working in a confidential, mature, self-directed manner," says Patty Buckner, an EA with O.N.Telcom. "The EA is capable of multi-tasking and is more than simply a senior administrative assistant. If the EA has staff responsibilities, she/he will train and supervise the staff, perform evaluations, be an effective coach and have team-building skills." Some view the EA position as a step toward management; others see it as a career goal. The career path may start with some formal administrative assistant education or training, or might involve someone working her/his way up through the ranks from a junior stenographer or other employment level.

"I started with Ontario Northland (the parent company of O.N.Telcom) in 1980 as a key-punch operator," Buckner says. "Progressing through several clerical positions, I was then promoted to planning assistant. While in this position, I developed and fine-tuned the skills to prepare me for my current position of EA."

Joyce Grant is editor of Administrative Assistant's Update, a professional development publication for Canada's office support staff. She started out in journalism school and worked as an administrative assistant, then as a part-time journalist and marketer. Eventually, journalism became her full-time occupation, and she edits the newsletter as part of her freelance business.

"The newsletter has been around for years, but it's changed a lot as the profession has advanced," she says. "After the downsizing in the 1990s, administrative assistants were asked to run the show more and more."

Grant points out that, "Many managers are willing to provide budgets for training and want their administrative assistants to advance. Also, administrative and executive assistants should get in touch with professional organizations that can help."

Buckner agrees. "I am fortunate to work for a company that recognizes the need for personal development and blessed to have a boss who supports and encourages it. I subscribe to various newsletters for the administrative professional, such as Administrative Assistant's Update, The Office Professional, Managing People at Work as well as an e-newsletter by Helen Wilkie called Communi-Keys. I also read and attend seminars to keep up-to-date with the ongoing changes in this field."

Find out about courses and opportunities through IAAP (, or visit the Association of Administrative Assistants at The Canadian Management Centre (CMC) also offers courses for administrative and executive professionals (

For descriptions and salary ranges for more than 20 administrative positions, visit, and request a free copy of the 2004 Salary Guide.

For a free sample copy of Administrative Assistant's Update, or to subscribe, call 1-800-387-5164 or

Whether you pursue becoming an EA as a career destination or as a stepping stone to management, as Buckner says, "The position of EA is so diversified that your options are limitless."

Resources for administrative and/or executive assistant training:

Academy of Learning:

Canadian Business College:

Canadian Management Centre:

CDI College:

Centennial College:

Diamond Institute:

Durham College:

Granton Institute of Technology:

Halton Business Institute:

Herzing College:

National Academy of Health and Business:

Ontario Association of Career Colleges:

PrimeTech Institute:

Seneca College:

Sir Sandford Fleming College:

Toronto School of Business:

Westervelt College:

Professional events

Canadian Management Centre's 5th Annual Administrative Professionals

Conference ( * April 10 to 21, Hilton Toronto

Administrative Professionals Week * April 18 to 24

Administrative Professionals Day * April 21

(Dorothea Helms ( connects people and ideas.)

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