I’m just back from a week in the UK where we held the first of our regional events in Edinburgh and Leeds. The PA Big Questions took place at The George in Edinburgh and Horizon in Leeds. I was really pleased that we had 50 assistants at the events, all there to discuss the issues that face assistants and the industry as a whole. As this was the first event of its kind I wasn’t too sure how the events were going to pan out, but I was really pleased to see so many assistants sharing their experiences, giving each other advice and having a good old chit chat about the job. I wouldn’t say it was quite a group therapy session, but a lot of the attendees said that it was a cathartic experience!

So what did we do during the big questions?

Prior to the event, I asked all of the attendees to select five questions from our list of ten (you can see the full list here). During the event we took each question and discussed the reasons why these issues are still so prevalent in the industry and what changes we can make to ensure they are resolved. We had the fantastic support of the Green Hat People who provided iPads and a lot of useful technology that helped the attendees collaborate and share their thoughts.

So the Big Questions happened...

The results

In both Leeds and Edinburgh the attendees picked the follow question as the most important to the role:

How do we get our organisation to value the work that we do? 

Here are a few of the points raised around this issue…

  • The differentiation between PA roles within the same organisations.
  • The PA role is seen as old fashioned. It is still considered secretarial rather than the full service offered by modern PAs.
  • There is a lack of dedication from some PAs who do not see the role as a career
  • Objectives are not aligned across organisations so prevents a consistent approach to the role.
  • There is a general lack of understanding of the role.
  • Assistants should take more initiative and be more proactive with projects and working on tasks that show off their skills.

It was interesting that attendees in Leeds and Edinburgh went on to pick different issues. I meet Assistants from all over the world and generally we share the same frustrations with the role, but there are also little differences that I think affect different areas and industries. Here are a few more issues that we covered and an overview of the conversations our delegates had.

How do we ensure career development is central to the role? 

  • We do not have a clear career path
  • There are no specific PA skills development
  • No ongoing training required for the role, e.g. Our IT skills. We are just expected to be an expert.
  • We are often isolated in roles so the responsibility is on the individual to be continually motivated
  • PA networks can be the only face to face resource to find out about new technology, processes, procedures, best practice
  • We should use our annual reviews to keep the subject on the table
  • We should sell the benefits of developing assistants (in monetary terms)

What impact will technology have on the role? 

  • Increased remote working
  • Bosses have a lower dependency on their assistants
  • People will expect things faster
  • Expectation we will know all the changes overnight as if we are THE expert
  • Bosses more tech savvy, perhaps more so than us
  • Fuels higher expectations
  • Can be overloaded, expecting instant response/action
  • 24 hour demands

So what happens now?

Well, first of all I want to say a big thank you to the assistants who came along to the two events. Your contributions were incredibly helpful. The next step is to collate all of the information and take it with me to the Assist Conference in February. We will hold workshops on each issue and we will come up with really practical solutions that assistants can use when faced with these frustrating aspects of the role.  By next year I hope to have a guidebook that gives solid solutions to the issues we face as PAs today.

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