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Time, Money, and Attitude: why PA training is last on the list

In the annual Today’s PA Survey 2019 we asked: “What challenges have you faced when asking for training?” Unfortunately, the sad fact is that when it comes to training, PAs seem to be at the back of the queue.

But let’s start with the good news …

Challenges? What Challenges?

Although nearly two thirds of PAs had attended a training day, only around 4% said that their boss understood the importance of ongoing training and so felt supported or actively encouraged to seek out relevant courses. Those lucky PAs face no challenges other than deciding which course to attend first!

Other respondents said that their employers offered online and internal courses (both generic and PA-specific), adding that whilst external training wasn’t totally out of the question, it needed to be something that wasn’t already offered by the in-house trainers.

Great as this is, many PAs felt that attending external courses would offer a valuable opportunity to meet PAs from other business sectors. As we always say, PAs learn from other PAs. Delegates have the chance to network and discuss the challenges and issues they face every day. We see this in action at our training courses and Today’s PA annual conference, especially in our expert PA PAnel sessions. When delegates ask questions of our industry experts, it often sparks a range of ideas and suggestions from others around the room, leading to many fascinating conversations that then continue well into the coffee break and over lunch …

But for every PA who is encouraged to gain greater skills and access the training they need, most are finding the opposite is true.

A Question of Attitude

Almost 16% of PAs felt that attitude played a huge part in preventing them from accessing the training they needed to do their job. Reasons included:

  • “People think the job is easy, and that all I do is answer emails and book meetings.”
  • “Training is seen as not essential.”
  • “Managers are not receptive to the idea.”
  • “It needs to be more ‘company specific’ rather than for the individual.”
  • “Other employees are more important than the assistant.”
  • “I was told it was not required.”
  • “My employer does not believe that short training courses add any true value, preferring longer courses such as degrees or similar.”
  • “Manager is supportive and happy for me to attend courses – but HR does not differentiate between a typist and a PA and so pressurises my boss not to pay for the training.”
  • “Employer tends to ignore PA/tech skills training. They think you’ve already been trained.”

Are these comments sounding familiar? Do you face similar obstacles?

The idea that PAs are ‘already trained’ shows employers are viewing the PA role as something static rather than as something that is constantly evolving. This can prove a barrier to PAs moving on in their career. The higher the level they work at, the greater the skills needed to do the job effectively.

There also appears to be a lack of understanding of how the organisation benefits from PA training, with the employer often asking, “what will we gain by sending you on a course?”

PA training is not something that should be seen in isolation. Equipping PAs to do the job to the best of their ability has a direct impact on their boss, adding value and ensuring the manager’s time is spent achieving their own specific organisation’s objectives.

Time and Budget

Although 4% said that a combination of time, budget, and attitude (“All of the Above!”) was the reason for lack of training, it was financial constraints alone that were seen as the biggest obstacle (40%).

With so much economic uncertainty around at the moment, it isn’t surprising that budgets are under so much pressure. However, if you feel you need training in any area of your role, it might help to put together a strong business case for your employer’s consideration. Far from being just another expense, specific and relevant PA training can have a direct positive effect, helping to increase your manager’s efficiency and profitability.

Time pressures were also a considerable factor with just over 25% saying it was a major issue.  As PAs are taking on more work from their manager, they find their own time is becoming squeezed. With two or more managers, the problem is exacerbated still further. How many times have you felt that there just weren’t enough hours in the day?

One PA felt that it was the classic dilemma of “my time versus the needs of my boss”. But PA training will benefit both you and your manager, meaning both of you can contribute more effectively to the bottom line of your organisation.

Other Challenges

Although time, budget and attitude seem to be the main stumbling blocks for most PAs, several said they struggled to find the best and most appropriate training for them, courses that ‘ticked all the boxes’ in terms of content or location. Courses that necessitate an overnight stay may be logistically impossible for some or your role may be too industry-specific, meaning you need to rely on more in-house training. It may require more detailed research but don’t despair – there will be a course to suit you! 

One or two respondents commented on the difficulty of finding training for highly-experienced PAs – or even finding courses that were geared specifically to PAs.

By talking to Today’s PA delegates, we know that whether you’ve been in the role six months or over 30 years, there is still so much to learn. No matter how long we’ve been doing the job, we all need a little ‘refresher’ now and again …. and office IT is constantly evolving.

One surprising result from the survey was the small number of PAs who were unsure of their employers’ training policies – because they’d never asked! There may be a variety of reasons for this but it’s important for PAs to take charge of your own career, discover what training courses are out there, and make sure you’re well-equipped to take advantage of the opportunities when they arise. This is something we all need to do.

Despite our 370+ respondents being just a tiny fraction of the wider industry, this small window is particularly revealing. Even in 2019, with all that PAs contribute to the workplace, it still seems that the majority are having to fight for access to the training they need.

The Today’s PA Survey is carried out annually and helps shed a little light on the ever-evolving role of the Assistant within today’s workplace. This year we had over 370 respondents.

Most PAs (just over 62%) came from large organisations, with the remainder coming from SMEs and a few self-employed PAs, too. The private sector was the best represented (216) followed by the public sector (121) and the rest from the charity/third sector. Nearly one third of our respondents had between 11 and 30+ years in a PA-type role, showing that there is a wealth of talent and experience out there!

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