Quite often I am asked which courses I would recommend for Assistants that are just starting in the profession and want to undertake some training to increase their skills and help them move up the career ladder.

I always say that it is essential for assistants to attend training courses throughout the year. We have a shed load of skills that have to be kept up to date so that we can do our job effectively. We have to be experts at IT, we have to have great people skills, and we have to be assertive and confident to be able to handle all of the daily tasks asked of us! Not many other professions have that variety of skills.  All of this means that we must, must, must attend training courses. I wrote a post about this a few months ago called Invest in yourself which turned into a bit rant because the big problem is that a lot of organisations don’t realise how vital training their support staff is! Another factor is that they don’t have the budget for it, especially if they have staff that need expensive professional qualifications and CPD programmes. Of course, there are also the boss’s that want their assistants in the office every day and don’t encourage them to attend any training.

So what training courses would I recommend for all of these instances? Firstly, let’s have a look at a few training options for those that do not want to spend too much of their company’s money!

Internal training and graduate programmes

If your company has an internal training programme which could online do take the time to have a look at the options. There should be some training that relates to you directly, will improve your skills or will help you learn more about the business. Does your organisation have a graduate programme? If it does then ask to attend their initial training sessions on the industry. I did this when I first started working in insurance. There was so much jargon and codes of conduct, especially when working with Lloyd’s of London that I asked to attend an ‘Introduction to Insurance’ course which was in-house and specifically for the new graduates. I was the only EA on the course, but it was so helpful and didn’t cost my company a penny.

Exhibition and trade shows

There are quite a few exhibitions and trade shows throughout the year that you can attend for free such as The Office* Show, The ExecSec Summit or The Office Management and PA show. You can meet with potential suppliers but also participate in free training sessions. There are also trade shows abroad that will pay for your flights and accommodation if you can qualify for their hosted buyer schemes. EIBTM Barcelona is coming up in November, and there are still hosted buyer places available. Other than you being out of the office for a day or two your company doesn’t have much to lose.

Networking Groups

There are PA networking groups springing up all over the place these days, which is brilliant! Executive Secretary Magazine has a good up to date list on their website. If there is a networking group in your area, I would highly recommend you join and go along to their events, most of which are outside of working hours.

There are also lots of ways that assistants can train at their desk, here is a quick list of possible resources:

  • Webinars
  • LinkedIn Groups and articles
  • Business podcasts
  • Blogs (like this one!)
  • Professional publications such as Olé Magazine or PA Life
  • Free online tutorials
  • Books!

I have compiled a list of books for assistants which you can buy on Amazon. There are some great resources on the site so do check it out!

If you are lucky enough to work for a company that supports your career development there are some fantastic courses you can take that will help you pick up new skills and cement the ones you already have.

IT training

I would always recommend that you train until your IT skills are advanced. We spend so much time on (usually) Microsoft software, so this should be something we are very skilled at. Also, assistants are regularly asked by their colleagues for help on IT software so our managers should be fully aware that we need to have advance knowledge and this knowledge must then be kept up to date.

Most organisations that I have worked for offer Word, Excel and Powerpoint courses. Take these courses until you have completed each stage. Even if you feel you are already an expert, it is worth taking refresher courses every now and again because the packages do change and are updated fairly often.

Outlook (or whatever email/diary system you use) is a fundamental tool for assistants. It is like a painter and his brush, or a footballer and his ball. Hopefully, you get my point! We can’t do our job unless we know Outlook inside out and back to front. This we must be advanced in! If you don’t feel that you are advance in Outlook training is essential!

Training for tasks

Once you have your IT skills up to a high standard, then I would suggest taking some training courses for the specific tasks you are asked to do at work. For example, minute taking, speed typing or preparing and writing reports. There are also tasks that assistants take on because the company doesn’t have a specific department or member of staff, such as:

  • events management
  • marketing
  • business administration
  • office management
  • social media management

I think having some training on these tasks will help you perform them to a high professional standard and will give your confidence a boost. If you think about it most of these tasks are professions in their own right so we really should be taking training courses to ensure we have the skills actually to do the job!

Personal Development

Over the years I have taken courses on assertiveness, confidence at work and how to influence people. Some were helpful; some were not. I find some of the courses that are offered to assistants a bit hit or miss, to be honest. But if you lack in certain areas and it is holding you back at work, then it is worth finding a training course that will help your personal development. I would say do some research so that you go on a course with real benefits! I did go on an internal course which was an introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It was beneficial, and I would recommend assistants take an introduction to NLP so that they can perform at the same level as their manager.

To complete a diploma or not to complete a diploma?

Well, I think it depends on a few things. Firstly do you already have a degree? Are you struggling to move from say a receptionist to an assistant? Is your company willing to pay for the course and if so what do they want in return?

I ask these questions because of my own experience. I got my degree and walked straight into an administrators role and then worked my way up to a personal assistant and then executive assistant. I didn’t need to have a qualification in the profession itself to get in the door and once I was in the job my experience and working hard led me to better roles. I left university ten years ago when the economy was a lot more buoyant so it may be different now. Perhaps a qualification in the profession will help assistants stand out from the crowd. It will show that they are serious about wanting to be an assistant.

I also think it is essential for any profession to have academic qualifications and accreditation programmes because it helps that profession be taken more seriously. So yes, I say if the opportunity arises for you to earn a diploma, then you should, especially if your organisation will pay for it. Although you do think about what your company wants in return for the course, they usually want you to agree to stay at that firm for several years, or you have to pay back the course fees. If you have to pay for the diploma yourself think about all of the other courses you can take first that will help advance the skill set required to be a great assistant. If you already have a degree, I think you should look at business courses such as an MBA rather than a diploma in administration. This would be worth its weight in gold for an assistant and their executive.

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