Rob Hosking, executive director of Robert Half’s administrative and customer support practice, sat down with Office Dynamics International’s founder and CEO Joan Burge for a conversation about how AI is transforming administrative roles into efficiency centers while highlighting the need to make them more human at the same time. Rob: Joan, you founded and have led Office Dynamics International for 30 years, developing the administrative profession through training, coaching and resources. Youve probably seen a lot of job automation over the decades, but when did you become aware of AI and the potential positive impacts for administrative professionals? Joan: That’s a great question, Rob, and I like that you said “positive” impacts. There are many, if AI is approached strategically. AI isn’t really new, and automation technologies have been changing the workforce drastically over the past 30 years. But since ChatGPT came on the scene in 2022, the volume of training resources that have emerged for AI platforms has been impressive. When we first started using it, there was a lot of trial and error. Now, almost every niche has specific training available as to how to integrate AI successfully into your workflow. As an administrative professional, the time is right to start investing in your training with AI before it becomes a job requirement — something that is a near reality. Rob: Administrative professionals are helping pave the way into AI for their organizations. Our own research reports the top two uses for AI across the enterprise are firmly in our wheelhouse: improving customer interactions and satisfaction and streamlining internal processes and improving operational efficiency. Where do you see AI having the greatest impact on evolving administrative roles and tasks? Joan: That’s right. I foresee AI having an impact in many ways, but let’s focus on these two areas because I think they will see drastic changes. Regarding improving customer interactions and support, AI can help automate initial touchpoints and interactions. This contact should never eliminate the human touch because that’s what adds a special spark to our interactions. But let’s keep in mind the average person doing this job can get hundreds of emails a day, and their communications go far beyond email. AI can help ease information overload and enhance organization, freeing the assistant for more intentional, personal interactions and improving customer satisfaction. Secondly, automating internal processes and operations allows the administrative professional to assume more leadership responsibilities. Take scheduling, for example. Much of their day might be spent analyzing complex schedules to meet the calendar demands of busy executives. AI can manage this handily. Still, I don’t recommend taking eyes completely off this — a human touch is needed to accommodate your leader’s preferences, as well as special events. An important lesson I teach administrative professionals is proper “energy management.” We have a limited amount of mental and physical energy in a day, and we need to be thoughtful about how we manage it. So, if an administrative professional has more energy to devote to other tasks because of AI, they can devote it to growing the skills they need to shine in this career today. Rob: How has training and development changed for administrative professionals as a result? What skills and competencies are you focusing on now? Joan: Our training approach is now twofold: Soft skills (which we call “power skills”) and tech skills. Let’s start with tech. As a trainer, I fully believe in the power of collaboration. This year, we launched our first tech-focused digital skills course for administrative professionals, which incorporated AI training. We partnered with a tech efficiency expert to deliver the right mix of skills I know assistants need, including email management techniques, expertise in Microsoft products like Outlook, Excel and OneNote, and AI tools like ChatGPT and Gemini. These will evolve as we recognize changing trends in this business, and I train my students to recognize them as well. Power skills, or soft skills, refer to the interpersonal attributes that go beyond technical competencies — communication, leadership, problem-solving, adaptability and emotional intelligence, among others. They are crucial for all working professionals, and they always have been, but are critical for administrative professionals in the age of AI. As AI grows, the human element will become more valuable and lucrative. Grow your power skills, and you will grow your competitive advantage in the job market. Let’s take the example of an AI prompt. Large language models are only as powerful as their understanding of what humans request of them. These tools are trained on available information, and it’s the user’s job to provide context, understand inherent biases and know the limitations when crafting a prompt. They also need to be able to assess AI outputs with scrutiny. I can easily spot when a piece of text has been carelessly generated by AI with a standard, canned response. You know what else? A lot of other people can, too. Professionals with these strategic and creative thinking abilities will be an incredibly prized resource in organizations. Rob: Can soft skills be taught to anyone? How do you approach this kind of teaching and coaching in your practice? Joan: Yes, they absolutely can be taught, and I’ve been doing it for administrative professionals for nearly 35 years with Office Dynamics International. It’s interesting to me that arguably the most important set of professional skills — these power skills — are not traditionally taught in any educational system. Yet they have the power to throttle the trajectory of your career. Many entrepreneurs and trendsetters didn’t come from traditional academic backgrounds. But they share the common thread of knowing what people want and how to give that to them. This is the foundation of all power skills and, honestly, the administrative support role as a whole. Out training shows professionals ways to integrate, apply and develop power skills over time so they become constant learners and innovators, ready to adapt to any change. I believe our approach sets administrative professionals up for the most success. Rob: According to a Robert Half survey of more than 2,500 workers in the U.S., 41% believe generative AI will have a positive impact on their career, and only 14% worry it could make their skills obsolete. Still, I’m sure many of the administrative professionals you coach are concerned. What is your advice to them, and what actions can they take today to make themselves lastingly marketable? Joan: There is no doubt administrative professionals will face challenges as they adapt their skill sets. But organizations will be challenged too as their own needs shift. Administrative professionals should understand that in order to continue to add value to an organization, and to be a strong candidate, they need to always learn and grow. If you are an administrative professional, the time is right to start investing in your training. Do your research. Read articles — lots of them. Continue to invest in your training as it applies to your career field. Create an action plan to ensure you are meeting your goals and acquiring new skills, as well as strengthening your current skills. This has often been said, but it’s important, so I will reiterate it here for our profession: AI won’t necessarily replace your job, but you know who certainly will? The admin who understands how to use AI and has a diverse set of skills. Make sure that’s you! Rob: Great advice, Joan. Now lets do a little crystal-ball gazing about what the future looks like for administrative careers. What new and exciting developments do you anticipate for professionals in this field? Joan: Honestly, Rob, the future is now. If professionals aren’t already working with and continually learning AI and the power skills they need to thrive, they’re already behind. However, there’s time to catch up! I see the administrative field becoming one with leadership, strategy and business operations. It will be less tactical and more strategic. This is why I am so passionate about continuing to learn and integrate trends into my teaching curriculum. I don’t want anyone to fall behind or jeopardize their future goals. If I could pick one thing for administrative professionals to take away from our discussion, let it be this: You are the greatest investment you can make. Seek out the training you need. If your current workplace does not provide for it, then do it on your own time. As we continue to work hard for administrative professionals, I hope they will take that to heart and fight for and believe in themselves as well. As a proud partner of Office Dynamics, Robert Half is pleased to share our exclusive discount on Office Dynamics trainings. Use code RH2024 for $300 off World Class Assistant, The Star Achievement Series and Executive Support Series. Don’t miss the free webinar Five Strategies For a Standout Career as an Assistant (May 22, 2024, at 10 a.m. PT) with Office Dynamics CEO and founder Joan Burge and Robert Half district president Alexandra Von Tiergarten.