Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Surprising Survivors of the Computer Age

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Surprising Survivors of the Computer Age

Article excerpt

To find the survivors of an era, look at those who mastered its technology.

In today's corporate environment, where work force slimming is the rule, it is the "secretaries" who are surviving - and thriving, with more responsibilities than ever before under such titles as "administrative assistant" and "executive assistant." They're the office workers who mastered the era's all-important technology: the computer.

It's striking when you think about it. Ten years ago, middle managers had more seniority than their secretaries, better pay, more recognition, and a better handle on the internal workings of their company. Back then, the technology seemed threatening to secretaries, because their bosses could type their own letters on computers, and voicemail would answer the phone.

But look who's still employed. Chief executives decided to keep the secretaries and lay off middle managers in droves.

Why? It's the difference between using a technology and mastering it.

Sure, assistant vice president Smith could hunt-and-peck his way through a "Dear Gentleman" form letter on a personal computer. But it was his secretary who spell-checked it, formatted it, printed it out, and got it in the mail.

Like their predecessors, who quickly mastered the typewriter, the adding machine, and the copier, today's generation of secretaries were quick to latch onto the personal computer. Just six years after IBM introduced its first PC, 71 percent of secretaries used word-processing software, according to a 1987 survey by Professional Secretaries International (PSI), a membership group based in Kansas City, Mo. By 1992, it was up to 95 percent.

"It's not enough anymore for someone to answer a telephone and type out what you give them on a sheet of legal paper," says Theresa Dolbert, vice president of implementation and business services at Kelly Services Inc., the giant temp agency. "You need to be comfortable with a computer."

And not just for word-processing. …

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