Just Secretary Jobs?

Friday, June 5th, 2009 - economics, Education, Employment, health, Legal, Medical Jobs, Secretary Jobs, tutorial

Just Secretary Jobs?

Bend Over? Well, OK, But I Don't Understand Why ...

I have only ever worked in recruitment in skill short sectors, the prts of the recruitment sector where training levels of employees were high, skills short and wages well above the national minimum wage. Clearly excluding the Gang Master sector, to my mind this always clearly excluded secretary jobs. Together with warehouse workers, it is a bread and butter income skill for the high street employment bureaus like Hayes, where entrants were plenty, and wages levels were low.

When I worked for BT, we had a series of temp secretaries who even before tax and deductions were not paid much more than the agencies were: the percentages then were around 60% to the secretary, and 40% to the agency. I also didn’t like the way most secretaries worked back then. They expected me to hand them piles of typing and to arrange meetings, and frankly as I was typing the draft myself and had been on the phone to the person I needed to meet next week, what was the point of handing the 90% complete task to them? What I wanted was a researcher and chaser/project manager, who was intelligent enough to take a brief and go find out lots of good information on it, and then chase actions from previous meetings and projects. We never did employ one of those, so I always had to find stuff to hand to these ladies to keep my boss happy – so his boss would sign off her time sheet – and hence miss deadlines because after three drafts we had missed the deadline. The last time I used one to book travel arrangements was when I almost ended up in Midland Texas over Midland Michigan, the headquarters of my then client Dow Chemical.

However, I knew the type of secretary I needed did exist, and I had full respect for them. One of the best courses I ever did was a presentation skills course given by Richard Hawkins-Adams in Bournemouth in 1993. Richard was the ex-Marketing Director for Fiat UK, who faced with the problem of shifting 5,000 rusting Punto’s from a field in the Republic of Ireland, went down to Halford’s and spent the grand sum of £12 on stripes and a name badge, and came up with the “special edition” model – ie: an end of line model that needed shifting. So good was his idea, that he had to order 20,000 more Punto’s and keep the old production line open for a month longer.

Hawkins-Adams – together with my college lecturer Heather Jones – were the people who taught me how to have confidence and hence communicate when presenting: that was the point of that week in Bournemouth. But on the Wednesday afternoon of the course, it was obvious we were all flagging, so at Richard’s suggestion we went down to the pier and all bought 99 ice cream’s! On the way back, Richard decided we all needed a break, but he needed to get paid. As we were ahead of schedule, would we mind doing something useful that would be a life skill?

We got back to the hotel, and Richard handed us each a single A4 sheet. “This is a life skill” was the thought that went round the room? On one side were a set of rules, and on the reverse a call plan for making calls to the secretaries and assistants of Senior Executives. The rules were pretty simple:

  1. Never insult anyone – all people are good and valuable, its just communication and agenda which divides
  2. Your goal is to get to the decision maker
  3. The purpose of the secretary is not to block you, but to manage the time of their boss. NEVER CALL THEM A GATEKEEPER! Keep this in mind, and the agenda is obvious: find something which is on the bosses agenda
  4. Do your research before calling – have knowledge of your customer, their company = their agenda
  5. Never ask for more than 20mins of time. Any less and it can’t be valuable and hence delegated; any more and your meeting could be in years!

The calling plan was pretty simple. I won’t give it away here, but the answer was after three phone calls you had a meeting date with the decision maker – all thanks to the Secretary, and not her boss! I still have that old sheet of A4 paper, and it still works 100% of the time.

So why do I bring this up now? This week I happened to be asked to look at a recruitment company we were persuaded that we might be interested to buy, and a large proportion of its business is the placement of what was internally termed and marketed as “secretaries.” Loving data and dBases, I did a quick search and found that:

  • All the secretaries had at least one college certificate, making the average secretary the hoder of an HND equivalent qualification. In contrast, our average HGV driver has 3 GCSE’s, and some technically can’t read; the average IT candidate on our dbase does have at least one degree, making the secretaries closer in education terms to IT workers
  • 47% of school leavers exit school with less than the Governments target of 5 GCSE’s: around 2/3rds of the secretaries on the books of this agency would fall below the Governments target on this record. And yet still, every single one of them ended up on the agencies books with an HND equivalent. It must say a lot about school, colleges or the mindset of secretaries?
  • The average wage of the secretaries was 20% less than that of our present average HGV driver; again closer to the average IT placement
  • The average secretary on the books was early 30’s, our average HGV driver is in his mid-40’s; again, closer to the average IT placement

However, the killer statistic was this: the niche secretaries – medical secretary jobs, legal secretary jobs, etc – earned 10% more than our average HGV driver, and there were distinct and obvious signs of shortages all over the dBase: hence in target market and income, they looked statistically exactly like our average IT placement. I asked if the agency had ever thought of funding the niche training in return for a medium term exclusive contract, which is what we did for HGV drivers before the present down turn. The answer, and this agency is presently run by women was: “No – they might fall pregnant!”

My learning lesson walking away from the meeting – we presently won’t be buying that agency – was that even in these dark economic times, there are still skills shortages in many markets. Secondly that the challenges that Britain faces going forward will only be meet with some coordinated thinking and action from both individuals, the government and the commercial sector – presently, in employment, that doesn’t exist. Perhaps in light of Sir Alan Sugar’s appointment to the Government this morning, this might change?

But my greatest thought and learning point is this: if you still think the joke blonde secretary exists, or refer to these people as gatekeepers, then more fool you. They are probably better educated and earning more than you! The secretary I always wanted now exists.

Good Luck!

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One Response to “Just Secretary Jobs?”

  1. LeraJenkins Says:

    Unequivocally, excellent answer

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