Universidade Europeia: www.europeia.pt  |  Licenciatura em Secretariado e Comunicação Empresarial: http://bit.ly/sce_ue

sexta-feira, 9 de maio de 2014

À conversa com...Sabrina Franchini, Presidente da EUMA Bélgica

Sabrina Franchini is the National Chairman of EUMA Belgium. After taking a languages course at ISTI in 1987, she took Secretariat at ECSEDI. She began her career in 1988 in European Expedite as Assistant Sales Department and then, in 1989, took a position as P.A. to the CEO BeNeLux & France at DHL GLOBAL FORWARDING, where she still is. She is in charge of Fleet Management, Travel & Transportation and Events Organisation. She became National Chairman of EUMA Belgium in January 2013 after a 2-year mandate as Deputy PR Officer.

Maria Joao Borges (MJB): In Portugal, a higher education degree 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 Belgium?
Sabrina Franchini (SF):  It is very mixed in Belgium.  We have always had members in EUMA Belgium who rolled into the job via other studies.  We have had members with a diploma as laboratory assistant, or script girl/production assistant Film & Television or interpreter or historian or economist.  I would say about half really studied office management.
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 Belgium?
SF:  We do not have exact figures for Belgium but my sources at Belgian Office Management Schools tell me it reflects the student population:  95% female and 5 % male, other sources speak of 90% women.
Within EUMA we have had very few male management assistants  as members. Out of the top of my head I can think of 5 male management assistants at European level who have been at some point a member of EUMA.   One of them was a Belgian but he moved into another job (complaints handling at a multinational consumer company).

The required competences for a management assistant anno 2014 have changed. The schools put a lot of effort into attracting young people to the new competences via testimonials, pictures of male students in office management on Facebook, etc.   For the male students it is rarely the first study of choice.   

Even though, Management Assistant still stays a predominantly female profession, we do tend to evolve away from the classical ‘support role’. The modern business support team organizes events, reviews business processes, implements lean management projects, creates the right setting in which the correct stakeholders gather, specializes in communication and cross media, works as facility manager or project manager,…  This evolution will create more options for men as well, as the classic interpretation of the ‘assistant’ element will become less relevant.
MJB: Is this a well-rated profession in terms of the employment outlook for the next, say, 10 years?
SF: Even if managers do more things themselves, are more technology-savvy, a highly skilled management assistant is still an asset.  In crisis-times there are of course lay-offs, but that is true for any position.  The skilled management assistant may even find him/herself doing a lot more because of his/her ability to multitask and because he/she is generally up to date in a lot of fields.
MJB: Do recruiters and employers look for specific skills? Do they look for technical training or base their choice mostly in soft skills?
SF: A good knowledge of current office-programs + a dynamic personality who gets things done + good interpersonal skills + the ability to keep confidential information are key elements in the recruitment of a management assistant.  Most recruiters are looking for an allround profile with specific expertise depending on the vacancy: relevant experience at C-suite level, or in HR Management, or in marketing, etc.
MJB: Do these professionals have to have a specific license or to be part of a trade union in Belgium?
SF:  No.
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 Belgium?
SF:  Management Assistant is certainly the most common job title used in current job ads.  Executive Assistant implies a more senior role.  Personal Assistant implies a much broader and more confidential role. Furthermore, some job titles are linked to the corresponding business unit, such as Sales & Marketing Assistant, Purchasing Assistant, or evolve into other admin profiles like customer service officer, facility manager, …
The new competences in the educational programmes of Bachelor in Office Management prove that the MA anno 2014 is a co-manager. Students are prepared to reflect, to take initiative, and to work autonomously.  This should prepare them well for the actual job as we know it today.
MJB: In some countries there is a (somewhat) vigorous debate about the name secretary vs assistant. Is that the case in Belgium? Why?
SF:  We held this debate at the end of the 90s.  As the role expanded more to a proactive role including project management, the term ‘secretary’ is considered to be too restrictive and associated with somebody who only executes, performs strictly clerical tasks and does not take initiatives.
Unlike a secretary, a management assistant has the liberty to make independent decisions, works proactively to help make her/his boss make better use of his/her time, and can have a broad range of responsibilities and tasks.  These can entail negotiations with suppliers, supervising staff, HR & finance management tasks, etc.

MJB: How is the virtual dimension of the profession evolving in Belgium? Do companies look for virtual assistants?
SF:  Not so much.  Smaller companies may use external independent management assistants.  Sometimes these external MAs work from home, often they come in a few hours or days per week and do the job at the office.  Purely ‘virtual assistants’ do not seem to occur frequently.
However, many companies are implementing certain aspects of the NWOW (new world of work) and assistants are required to work with a wide variety of digital and virtual tools.

With thanks to Hogeschool Gent, Thomas More Hogeschool Mechelen and VIVES Campus Kortrijk for the input.

Maria João Borges
Docente das UC de Práticas de Secretariado e Assessoria

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