Raising the status of the European PA

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The latest Brexit developments have revealed a hole in support staff recruitment, with demand for multi-lingual staff outweighing supply

There is plenty of debate about what might happen when the UK leaves the European Union. While some of the issues, at this point in time at least, are speculative, there’s no denying the overall impact the decision has had on business operations. As the separation looms, a rising number of companies are looking to either open or relocate offices to mainland Europe. From private equity firms to investment banks, these businesses desperately require multi-lingual employees in a range of support functions. The problem is finding them. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Germany.

For recruitment firms like Tiger, this creates an almost daily challenge. In the short term, we’re focusing on seeking out German and English speaking support staff who are willing to relocate, usually back to Germany from the UK. We’re also seeing employers compromise on ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’, opting to hire candidates that may not have all the required skills or industry experience, but can thrive through training.

Whatever the final Brexit outcome, a longer-term solution is required to combat this shortage. In Germany my feeling is that the administrative or support role has not evolved as quickly when compared to other countries. For example, in the UK it’s a valued career choice with a clear progression. A senior EA these days will perform a role not unlike that of a business consultant, representing their executive in meetings and getting involved in strategic decisions that impact the future direction of the company.

In Germany, by contrast, this is rarely the case. As such there needs to be a change in mindset towards support staff, along with an emphasis on educating young people about the career opportunities available within the industry. At the moment, most just don’t recognise or understand the wide variety and range of support roles post-university or college.

This could be corrected by raising the professional status of support roles at a higher education level. For example, there is a clear opportunity for European educational establishments to create courses that place the role of the PA on a superior plane, devising curriculums at diploma level and above that elevate the status and career opportunities available.

This is a long-term goal, of course. It doesn’t solve the immediate issues, which firms like my own will continue to do their best to address. But unless we take steps to build a viable future for the PA role, businesses across Europe, and beyond, whatever the outcome of Brexit, will suffer as a result. We have to look to the future with confidence, and raising the professional status of the PA is one vital way in which to achieve that.

David Morel is chief executive officer of Tiger Recruitment

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