Dr Halina Füchsel is a teacher in Ogrodowa College and lecturer in Warsaw Graduate and Postgraduate Management School. She is the author of several books and manuals for assistants, and she has been leading numerous workshops and training sessions at various management levels for secretaries and assistants. She is an honorary member of EUMA as she led the establishment of this association in Poland.
Maria Joao Borges (MJB): In Portugal, a higher education course in this area has been offered since 1962. However it seems that less and less people choose this career as a 1st option, even though there are lots of employment opportunities. Is there a similar trend in Poland?
EUMA: In Poland the first College for secretaries was organized in 1959. Assistants have appeared much later, in the 1990s.
Although College “Ogrodowa” hasn’t offered higher education, it has offered very high competences in foreign languages (German, Spanish, Russian) and other areas of business knowledge: law, administration, organization and office technology, accountancy. In the 1970s it had two thousand students. Later (particularly after 2000) we observed similar trend in Poland as in Portugal. Not only the number of young people is systematically decreasing, but they are choosing other areas of education. Ten years ago, a new direction of knowledge – Office Management was created in Warsaw Management School Graduate and Postgraduate School, but we have not had much success. This year we tried opening postgraduate studies for “European Assistant”, but for now it has only acquired attention of only few persons.
MJB: Initially a profession undertaken only by men, positions are now mostly filled by women. Can you estimate a distribution between men and women in Poland?
EUMA: Estimating gender distribution for this profession can be quite difficult. In Poland, men undertake work as secretary/assistant only in places traditionally connected with power and management, such as parliament, central and local government, the army, police. Mining industry is probably the sole business example. Women dominate in education, health service, culture and most of business firms. I believe, given the current proportions of these sectors, the proportion might be close to 20% of men and 80% of women.
MJB: Is this a well rated profession in terms of the employment outlook for the next, say, 10 years?
EUMA: I think the future might be brighter than many expect. Employment in government and administration has been growing ever since Poland joined the EU in 2004. The business sector is also keen on getting professionals to assist a growing number of management positions. Many assistants and secretaries are promoted to management positions. I am convinced that this is a good career opportunity in the foreseeable future.
MJB: Do recruiters and employers look for specific skills? Do they look for technical training or base their choice mostly in soft skills?
EUMA: I think that employer will look for technical training, but also put a very high emphasis on soft skills.
MJB: Do these professionals have to have a specific license or to be part of a trade union in Poland?
EUMA: Currently, there are no license or trade union requirements. EUMA has started work on professional examination and licensing program in cooperation with Warsaw Management School Graduate and Postgraduate School. Keep your fingers crossed for its success!
MJB: In Portugal, as in some other countries, there is a wide range of names for this profession, which often do not translate into levels of responsibility or autonomy. What is the situation in Poland?
EUMA: Yes, the same is true in Poland. The name of the position usually does not tell you much about the scope responsibilities or job description. It is usually historical and culture based in different organizations.
MJB: In some countries there is a (somewhat) vigorous debate about the name secretary vs assistant. Is that the case in Poland? Why?
EUMA: Yes, in Poland it is trendy to be called “assistant”. The name secretary is well established only in major law firms and maybe some other big brand companies with tradition. This debate has been on for the last twenty years. Although most debaters credit “assistants” with more management and independence than “secretaries”, I don’t think that is true in reality.
MJB: How is the virtual dimension of the profession evolving in Poland? Do companies look for virtual assistants?
EUMA: That is surely not the case in Poland. Secretary / assistant is probably one of the last jobs on the list of virtual professions.
Maria João Borges
Docente das UC de Práticas de Secretariado e Assessoria