CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Work smarter, not harder

In the past 20 years there have been more changes in office work than in the previous century. Titles have changed, roles have changed and labour market trends have changed.

Office professionals are rarely called secretaries anymore. They are more likely to be called an administrative assistant (or departmental assistant or co-ordinator) a title that includes entry-level, intermediate and senior positions.

The roles have also changed. In previous decades, in most companies, a secretary supported each manager and as he rose in the company, so did she.

There were also typing pools (where large numbers of young women typed the long documents that were required for most businesses), filing clerks staffing filing rooms and department receptionists who answered the phone, took messages and received and directed visitors.


In most companies today, an administrative assistant supports several managers. It is assumed that each manager will do some of her/his own computer work and only large or complicated tasks will be assigned to the administrative assistant.

The admin is likely to be responsible for fielding phone calls, dealing with visitors, scheduling meetings, making travel arrangements, filing, faxing and sorting volumes of mail and e-mail.

It may even be possible that the admin is not working in a large company at all, but for a subcontracted company that provides specialized administrative funtions such as resume screening, payroll, staff scheduling, mailing, accounting or data processing.

In the days of typewriters most secretaries or typists were expected to type 90 words per minute, because, if there were any changes required in a text, the whole document had to be retyped.

Today, most companies ask for keyboarding skills of 40 to 45 words per minute since computer corrections can be made simply and quickly. While this may seem like a lowering of skills requirements, most administrative assistants are expected to know and test at 90% on the full Microsoft Office Suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

Now that the need for old skills has disappeared, managers are increasingly asking administrative assistants to fulfill more knowledge-oriented tasks. They may be asked to research, prepare graphs and tables, do desktop publishing or website management.

Administrative professionals are also called upon to have a high level of understanding of the latest office equipment, including setup and troubleshooting of printers, fax machines, laptops, LCDs, Blackerries and palm pilots.

Many Small businesses want someone who can do it all - including office mangement and bookkeeping.

Since computers and e-businesses have have transformedoffices across Canada, the number of office workers has decreased significantly. Where previously there would have been one secretary for one manager, today, there may be one administrative assistant for four or five v-ps or 10 to 12 managers.


There are very few filing or mailroom clerks and most companies have only one receptionist.

In the accounting department where there might have been 15 accounting clerks with adding machines, now there are three accounting assistants with computers, doing the same amount of work more quickly.

The office work load and the skill demands are high. For today's office professional "work smarter, not harder" is not just a saying, it has become a way of life.

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