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The Skills Master: Q&A with Today’s PA’s Paul Pennant

Training specialist Today’s PA was founded over 15 years ago by PAul Pennant. And that’s not a typo in his name – it demonstrates how committed he is to the PA and EA community and helping individuals achieve their potential. He speaks to Lisa Carter…

Tell us about Today’s PA – the background to the company and what you offer.

Today’s PA is 15 and a half years old now, with graduates from 80 countries around the world. Training is face-to-face, with people inviting me to their venues, along with online training at present. 

My training takes in all manner of organisations – global market-leading corporations such as Microsoft, along with PAs for Heads of State – which in itself can be daunting. If these PAs aren’t impressed with the training, they’re telling the leaders of a country about it!

Our focus is to try and make people less stressed at work through their own behaviour and interaction with colleagues, along with learning to use technology appropriately, which can have important time-saving benefits and provide additional help when alleviating stress levels. 

And what’s your own personal background?

I used to be a PA in St George’s Hospital, London, working for a quango (Government department) for five years until I decided one day that I wanted to do something different. By looking at my own skillset and researching the marketplace, I quickly realised that there weren’t any high-quality PA/EA training courses specific to the market – only additional training modules that acted as bolt-ons to other courses.

I created Today’s PA to be a specialist provider that focuses entirely on delivering the best possible training within the PA sector.

I was fortunate enough to launch the business in 2005 when the economy was buoyant and there was budget available for training, which meant I was profitable immediately. This helped with the initial and ongoing success of the company. 

Why do you think that PAs and EAs choose to train with Today’s PA? What are the benefits?

In many cases organisations have mandatory training and courses available to staff – but they don’t necessarily address individual needs, which is where Today’s PA can help. Also, in many cases, PAs training together in a room learn from each other, and are reassured that what they might individually see as a challenge to them is actually shared and commonplace across the whole industry. 

Today’s PA has been voted the best training provider for six years in a row, and when it comes to awards, being voted by assistants as the best training provider is really special, especially as we’ve been up against some very big companies. The difference with our company is we’re a specialist training provider.

What are the most popular courses you run?

Our main course is the five-day Today’s PA Academy. Day one looks at behavioural skills, day two at Microsoft Outlook, there’s PowerPoint and Excel on day three, day four is about project and event management, and on day five I teach people how to write minutes. Day two is interesting in that many people wonder how I can spend a day on Microsoft Outlook – but it’s actually about using the platform more productively, which many PAs simply don’t have time to learn.

The course can be run from an organisation’s own venue, or PAs can travel to my own venue where the Academy is hosted five times a year. PAs can choose to do the whole five-day Academy, or there’s a ‘pick and mix’ option where they can choose the modules that they’re interested in.

A lot of my business comes from referrals, from past clients who have recommended me as a preferred supplier. I’ve also developed a 10-week online course, which runs a couple of hours a week. This training is different in that I also give homework throughout the duration of the course. This is done through Microsoft Teams in groups, with the sessions recorded so that they can be accessed for future reference. 

During COVID-19 what are the challenges of training virtually? And the benefits?

Virtual training is challenging as I can’t see people physically, and for assistants who are used to dealing with people this can be a challenge. And looking at a screen can also be tiring. Interruptions can be problematic, too, and as a trainer trying to engage people and pick up on body language is a challenge in itself. 

Technology problems are also challenging, with wi-fi issues commonplace. Having no networking opportunities can also be difficult for assistants who thrive on that experience. 

What challenges and opportunities have PAs faced during the pandemic and working from home?

It’s been a mixed bag – spending time with the family is a bonus, but others find remote working quite lonely. There is also the issue with PAs working longer hours through lockdown. Cutting down on travelling has meant a cost saving, but spending more time focussing on a screen is an issue – and will become even more so in the future. 

The ‘coronacoaster’ term for feeling up and down really has come into play, with remote working being problematic as there is now no definition between work and home life.

Mental health has also been affected with many struggling to juggle the work/life balance.  

But for now, I think companies have no choice but to let assistants work from home. The evidence is there that PAs working from home one or two days a week shows an increase in productivity and is the right balance.

Going forward, I think more co-working space will become available, with office space available within local communities, giving PAs structure and also interaction, which is great for mental wellbeing.

‘Is my job safe?’ is a big problem for PAs, especially with colleagues still on furlough or being made redundant. 

Physically being able to meet people is really important for a PA, plus not knowing what is actually going on within an organisation or being able to gauge what a boss is feeling or thinking. Also, the worry that when the furlough ends, how will the organisation adapt/change?

But I would end by saying that it’s important that PAs realise that they’re not alone and to pull together.