CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

OWCC preps administrators

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun

Toni Montero-Rios describes her move to Toronto this past March as a "big wakeup call." She had just left her job in Windsor as an administrator for TD Waterhouse in search of new opportunities -- but what she found was a more competitive, highly sophisticated job market for which she was unprepared.

After conducting a bit of market research, however, she came across the website of the Office Workers Career Centre (OWCC), and her entire perspective shifted.

"The site gave excellent advice regarding transmitting your resume via e-mail and other things," she said. "I could see how they would help me undertake a successful job search."

In April she signed up for the centre's Professional Office Works, an intensive two-week group workshop that introduces participants to the career planning cycle and today's labour market, assesses their skills and interests, and sets them on a more focused job hunt.

Not only did Montero-Rios learn useful techniques to more effectively find work, she also discovered her natural affinity for working with people -- a discovery that opened up avenues of employment in customer service that up until then she had not considered.

The workshop also reinforced the importance of networking to finding employment, a practice in which Montero-Rios admits she hadn't put much stock.

"After two weeks with OWCC, you really get to know yourself, which is vital because you're always changing, and if you don't know yourself, you can't market yourself," she says. "They helped me realize that I'm stronger at dealing with clients and helping them."

Armed with her updated job-search skills and her newfound knowledge about herself, Montero-Rios got to work, and less than a month later found a job through some family networking as a salesperson at a Toronto-based French skincare company.

Montero-Rios is one of 1,500 administrators or aspiring administrators who use the services of the downtown Toronto-based non-profit OWCC ( each year.

The centre was launched in 1997 by Human Resources Development Canada (now Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) in response to several years of rapid and profound change in the clerical job market. A study that same year showed office support workers had been the hardest hit of any occupational group by the restructuring and technological change of the 1990s. It also showed that in the previous eight years, 92,000 clerical jobs were lost in the GTA, a loss of 35 per cent.

What came to light through the study was the dramatic transformation taking place in office work: today the work is often more intense and complex, requires continuous learning of technical systems, involves much multitasking, and a greater need for advanced communications skills.
A key mantra of the Office Workers Career Centre is that today, it is not the person with the most credentials that gets the job, but the person who can sell herself best. Consult this checklist to see if you have a clear and concise marketing plan in place:
  • Resume -- Is it targeted to a specific job ad or area of interest?
  • Letters -- Do you have an effective cover and thank-you letter?
  • Fax cover sheet -- Have you created a personal fax cover sheet?
  • Business cards -- Are you ready to present a personal business card?
  • Portfolio -- Have you organized your personal achievements?
  • Interview skills -- Are you confident about your interview skills?
  • Dress for success -- Is your visual presentation appropriate for the company to which you are applying?

    - Office Workers Career Centre

  • "The people who use our services are women (89 per cent) with lots of experience in the occupation, but they're facing being with an employer that hasn't kept up with technology. Or, they haven't understood how their role has shifted and haven't kept up with the training or skills required," says Diane Strong, executive director of OWCC. "When they find themselves unemployed, they are really facing barriers."

    In addition to the popular two-week workshops, the centre offers a full complement of resources for administrators that range from career management workshops, a resource centre, a job board and a computer laboratory.

    Participants have an opportunity to refine their job searches, better understand their strengths and talents, brush up on existing skills and learn new ones. They are also more prepared for the numerous roles they may assume in a clerical position today: Web updating, desktop publishing, project management and more.

    "With the introduction of the Internet, there's no such thing as just a receptionist or administrator anymore. They hold a lot of information and are key to the business world," says Strong, who indicates that 74 per cent of OWCC users go on to find work in their field or a new one. "It's our goal for them to have an increased understanding of what the labour market is like for administrative professionals."

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