Job Available: No Skills Required

by | Oct 9, 2017

I’ve got a beef and I don’t know what to do about it.

Over the time PtG has existed I’ve had various different admin people. Their role has been to look after the day-to-day running of the business. This is where the problem lies and I believe it’s a two-sided one.

Let’s start by saying I have no issue with anyone taking time out to have a family. I appreciate this sounds like an “I’m not a racist but…” type statement, but I really don’t have an issue with it. I see it as being part of an individual’s evolution over time; a period where a formal work environment is swapped for an informal work environment.

I admit to not liking the traditional ways we have of referring to this time. It’s not “Taking time off to have children,” or ”Taking time out to have children.” The first one makes it sound like you’re going on holiday and the second one like you’ve merely popped to the loo. We won’t bother discussing the impudence of the “Taking a career break” one. Regardless of gender (I know women still have to do the pushing, but more men are opting to be the stay-at-home parent), the time spent bringing up your children is neither a holiday nor a trivial trip to the loo. And using the word “break” insinuates it’s something that’s broken and needs to be fixed. Really?

Putting terminology aside, my issue is what happens when that person decides to go back into a fee-paying role. They might not want to go back to their old type of employment. There’s so many reasons for this: travel, commitment, moving on. They start to look at the local job market and may even find their way to a local agency. Both of these routes back into paid work confirm one thing; they can definitely, absolutely, totally get an admin job.

Admin is the unskilled labour of our time, apparently! And this is what is making me angry.

The change in employment that you have opted for does not mean that you decided to auction off any skills you had before you became a parent. The specific skills you used every day for the pre-child/children job might have been a little under-used these last few months or years, but they are still there. And let’s not forget about the different set of skills you have acquired and developed over this time. Although I’m with Team Mumsnet on this one; how you present these to potential employers should be minimalist not sensationalist – citing yourself as the “Executive PA and Head Chef of Maison Smith Family” is not cool. Ever!

Being a good admin person is a skill. A hiatus in paid employment does not automatically make you an administrator – if you didn’t have these skills before and you haven’t acquired them, they won’t magically appear. This argument falls down when you think of people who were administrators before the kids; what do they become after their skills have deserted them? Or are we saying they were skill-less before the children? That’s not at all insulting. We need to be careful what we’re implying when we mindlessly perpetuate these types of myth.

Being a good admin person is a skill and good administrators are few and far between. Here are a few of the things that make a good administrator:

Free-thinking self-starter
I need you to see something and do it, don’t wait to be told. No I will not provide a to do list for your every working moment. Let’s draw on our individual strengths so that we can move this business forward, together. If I have to spoon feed you the work, that means two people are doing all the jobs on your list, and these ones over here are getting ignored.

Problem solver
This is a good all-rounder, especially useful if you are going to work in a small or micro business. The ability to think through a problem and come up with a solution is key, even if you have to talk through your thought process before a decision is made, at least you’ve thought it through.

Juggler
A high level of organisation and able to properly prioritise – this means understanding the impacts of actions and activities on the business, not whether you’ll get home 5 minutes early.

Vocal
You need to be able to stand your ground and discuss your ideas and actions and be able to put forward the case to support these. If you’ve always been afraid of managing upwards, this job is not for you.

Jack of all Trades
“Not my job” can’t happen. You need to be prepared to turn your hand to anything. Small businesses can’t have different people to do all these jobs, and if you keep saying “I’m not doing that; the boss can do it!” you are stopping that boss from getting clients and growing the business. When the money runs out you don’t have a job. Who does what is a moot point at that stage.

Curiosity and understanding
Use your admin role as an open door to learning new skills and gaining new experience. Nothing should be off limits. When Trusty came to me she knew nothing about the Charity sector or data. Now she can talk with authority about Gift Aid, GDPR and data management. This is an opportunity – use it.

This list is not exhaustive but it shows why being an admin person is far from the unskilled role it’s purported to be. More needs to be done to help people who are looking for paid work to understand what their skills are. If for instance you’re a great team player but struggle to work outside of a team because you need to be able to see the size and shape of your remit, then being the administrator for a smaller business is not going to work. You’ll struggle to know what to do without those clearly defined edges to your role. And if you had previously excelled within a production environment where everything was process driven, then you will not be able to achieve anything because there’s no set of instructions telling you what to do (not unless you write it!).

I suspect there are a lot of people who are in the wrong job. It doesn’t take much to ask people you know and get them to tell you on a scale of 1 to 10 how much they love their job. Anything below a 5 and you have to ask why they are still doing it. Necessity probably – a family requires more money – but this is a miserable existence and doesn’t benefit anyone (you’ll be lacklustre in your job and it’ll show).

I can’t change the world but I can ask that people start thinking about skills not jobs. We should be helping people – those wanting to get back into paid work (for whatever reason) and those that feel they are in the wrong job – to build up a skills profile and find ways to articulate it; the things they can bring to an organisation regardless of what the role is. I want to turn job hunting on its head and value all of the skills people have and stop dismissing certain types of work as ‘not requiring skill’ or ‘trivial’ or ‘not real work’. I want agencies to stop perpetuating the unskilled myth and to recognise the abilities of the job-seekers before them and the requirements of the companies that seek their help.

Maybe I’ll then be able to stop getting angry that the role I have to support my business is considered menial and the people who chose support roles or have families can stop feeling as if they are unworthy of ‘proper’ jobs.

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