IN an economic climate where jobs seem hard to come by, Shirley See Wai believes she has the answer to some people’s employability issues.
That answer is secretarial school. It is not as you might commonly think it is. It’s not the cliché; glasses-wearing, typewriter-clicking female.
In fact, it is a wider subset consisting of court, CAT (Computer Aided Transcription) and Hansard reporters; administrators, secretaries, stenographers and caption and shorthand writers.
She has been teaching secretarial, administrative and reporting courses for more than 40 years. She has her own school called Paul’s Secretarial College at Second Street, San Juan. Her school is a City and Guilds of London centre for the Caribbean. City and Guilds is a UK-based educational organisation.
See Wai taught at first but always had a desire to go into business. After studying in London and specialising in the secretarial field, she taught in many other schools before opening her own. Many of See Wai’s students are now employed in ministries, court, Parliament, offices among others.
In a 2015 Financial Times article by journalist Emma Jacobs, secretary Lynn Peril was quoted as saying while being a secretary, in the old sense, was a profession in decline, there were greater opportunities today.
Similarly, See Wai shares this view.
In an age of growing robotics and automation, she believes there is an even greater need for secretaries now.
“Most companies, all companies, I say, cannot function without a secretary. They are the right-hand person to any organisation
“In fact, when you have a very good secretary or well-grounded, trained secretary, the firm takes on a different light. They are able to co-ordinate properly. The secretary has the eagle eye of the organisation and is able to direct the chairman, the manager or whatever. That is the purpose of having a secretary.”
Today’s secretaries hold many titles. She said the secretary could even be the first point of assessment for potential employees and “be able to guide the firm.”
Even the title has changed, secretaries are now called administrative executive secretary, she said.
Secretarial schools are more than training grounds for secretaries, See Wai said. The schools also help prepare people for offices.
“If you looked at offices from ten to 20 years ago, people were well-tailored, well-disciplined and well-organised because we had the secretarial schools sandpapering the rough edges.
“Now there is no one to sandpaper them and they go into the office and they learn from the wrong things that others do so.”
Apart from secretarial courses, there was also growing demand for CAT and Hansard reporters.
Hansard is the official report of the debates of both houses of the Parliament and is named after a family of printers who began working with the British Parliament in the late 18th century, Britannica.com said.
See Wai said CAT and Hansard reporting have remained small communities of people. With growing demand, this provides an opportunity for people to train and become CAT and Hansard reporters.
“Young people need to take on this skill. They can work on their own, in the court, in the Parliament, the offices...,” she said.
See Wai said, however, to do so requires a good strong English background, a "stick-to-itiveness" and a good working attitude.
She said the learning process was challenging, but when mastered one was able to make a comfortable life off of it.
She added schools were unable to fill the demand for the amount of reporters and writers needed at the moment.
“There are shortages in all the TT court. There is also a shortage in the Parliament. In offices there are shortages of machine shorthand writers, CAT reporters... a great shortage.”
Some companies were even considering bringing people from abroad to fill the shortage, she said.
She said many people felt when their child did not pass Common Entrance long ago (the secondary assessment exam which preceded SEA they would send them to a secretarial school. But this was no longer the case as completion of secondary school was now required for entry to a secretarial school.
“So many people who have the accounting and engineering qualifications are not even working.
“But there are vacancies because there are so many firms that are in need of secretaries, CAT reporters.
“There are so many firms waiting for people to work,” she said.