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What new skills will PAs need in 2021 and beyond?

By Roddy Adair, Director of Hays Personal & Executive Assistants

2020 was quite a year and one in which we saw huge changes to our world of work. We set out to understand how PAs and EAs were affected by the consequences of the pandemic and what lies ahead in 2021.

Highlighting themes of skills, salaries, hiring and working patterns, here are some of the findings of the Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2021 Guide to give you a flavour of the year just gone and what 2021 might have in store.

The role of a PA is evolving

Over the past year, PAs and EAs have been put under the spotlight and many organisations are looking to redefine what the role entails. A new skillset has emerged, as PAs and EAs are taking on additional responsibilities in response to their organisations adjusting and changing direction.

Changing skillsets are fuelling perceived skills shortages in the profession, with nearly three quarters (73%) acknowledging that they experienced some form of shortages in the past year. Employers put these shortages down to more PAs and EAs reaching retirement age, fierce competition for roles and opportunities, and fewer people entering the job market.

Looking at exactly what skills employers want, the technical skills most in demand include:

  • Administration skills (needed by 55% of employers)
  • Finance skills (32%)
  • Projects and change management (26%)

And the soft skills which top the list are:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills (needed by 69% of employers)
  • Flexibility and adaptability (51%)
  • Problem solving (51%)

In light of the turbulent year just passed, it’s unsurprising that the soft skills most in demand reflect a constantly changing world of work in which we interact completely differently to how we did a mere 12 months ago.

Salary rises are marginal, but employers are still hiring

Admittedly, salary rises for PAs and EAs have been fairly marginal over the past year. On average, salaries have risen by 0.2% – lower than last year, when they rose by 0.8%. During the last 12 months, about two in five (41%) employers said they increased their employees’ salaries or rates of pay, lower than the UK average (48%).

On a more positive note, 41% of employers say they plan to increase their employees’ salaries over the next 12 months.

More positive still is that hiring is very much on the agenda for this year. Nearly two thirds (64%) of employers plan on hiring in the next 12 months, which encouragingly is on a par with last year (67%). There look to be opportunities for both permanent and temporary staff in the year ahead.

New patterns are defining our way of working

Encouragingly the majority of PAs and EAs report a good work-life balance, with nearly two thirds (61%) describing it as either good or very good. Over a third (37%) say it has stayed the same since the Covid-19 pandemic begun, and interestingly, the same proportion said their work-life balance has actually improved.

It’s likely that our way of working will continue to change as we move through 2021. Home and remote working is important to over half (53%) of PAs and EAs, so even when our world of work returns to some sense of normalcy, this might remain the preferred way of working for many. Flexible (working hours can shift) and hybrid hours (partly remote and partly office-based) also emerged as popular working patterns.

In addition to the themes highlighted here, there is much more in store for 2021. We can certainly expect changes and challenges to keep occurring, but by staying adaptable, open-minded and optimistic, PAs and EAs can make the most of our new world of work.

The survey was conducted between October 26th – 16th November 2020 and received 22,956 responses. The findings above reflect responses from 578 employers of and professionals working as personal and executive assistants.