Summary

The office, or business administration associate professionals perform mostly technical tasks connected with the practical application of knowledge relating to financial accounting and transaction matters, mathematical calculations, human resource development, selling and buying financial instruments, specialised secretarial tasks, and enforcing or applying relevant government rules.

Key facts

  • Around 17 million people were employed as office associate professionals in 2018.  Employment in the occupation grew by 11 per cent between 2006 and 2018.
  • Employment is projected to grow by 10 per cent over the period 2018 to 2030 – almost 1.7 million new jobs.  This underestimates the true level of employment demand.  In order to replace those workers who will leave the occupation for one reason or another – an estimated 8.8 million between 2018 and 2030 – and meet the projected growth in demand over the same period, around 10.5 million job openings will need to be filled. 
  • The skills required for business and administration associate professionals have changed considerably in recent years due to globalisation and organisational and technological change.
  • In the workplace, using ICT, being autonomous, gathering and evaluating information are the three most important tasks and skills of office associate professionals.
  • The increasing penetration of ICT and ongoing digitalisation stress the need for ICT skills of this occupational group across the Member States and economic sectors.
  • The qualification requirements for office associate professionals are rising. The share of low- and medium-skilled workers is expected to decrease over the next decade, whereas the share of high-skilled workers will increase to around half of the workforce.

 

Tasks and skills

The office associate professionals 1 perform mostly technical tasks connected with the practical application of knowledge relating to financial accounting and transaction matters, mathematical calculations, human resource development, selling and buying financial instruments, specialised secretarial tasks, and enforcing or applying relevant government rules. Also included are activities relating to the provision of business services, such as customs clearance and buying/selling of real estate.

The five main subgroups for this occupational group are:

  • financial and mathematical associate professionals;
  • sales and purchasing agents and brokers;
  • business services agents;
  • administrative and specialised secretaries;
  • and regulatory government associate professionals.

According to Eurofound's Job Monitorusing ICT, being autonomous, gathering and evaluating information are the three most important tasks and skills of office associate professionals.

Figure 1: Importance of tasks and skills for office associate professionals

Note: The importance of tasks and skills is measured on 0-1 scale, where 0 means least important and 1 means most important.

The employment level of office associate professionals across sectors is expected to grow by 10 per cent between 2018 and 2030, a further increase following the 11 per cent growth over the period 2006 to 2018. The future job growth is expected in most of analysed European countries – in only 4 of them this occupation is set to decline.

Figure 2: Future employment growth of office associate professionals in European countries (2018-2030, in %)

 

The 10 per cent growth in employment (almost 1.7 million new jobs) understates the growth in demand for people to work as office associate professionals.  Over the period 2018-2030 an estimated 8.8 million people are projected to leave the occupation for one reason or another such as retirement 3). Given the projected increase in employment over the same period, this will result in there being around 10.5 million job openings that will need to be filled between 2018 and 2030.

Figure 3: Future job openings of office associate professionals (2018-2030)

 

Regarding education levels, the qualification requirements for office associate professionals are rising. By 2030, over 50% of these professionals will hold high qualification, exceeding the previously dominant share of the medium-qualified.  The share of low- and medium-skilled workers is expected to decrease.

Unsurprisingly, about two thirds of office associate professionals are employed within business services, with ‘wholesale and retail trade’, ‘financial and insurance activities’ and ‘legal, accounting and consulting activities’ being the key employers. These three sub-sectors shall create almost half of new jobs by 2030. On the contrary, job losses for business associate professionals are expected at ‘public administration and defence’, which may be attributed to expenditure reduction and ongoing digitalisation of public administration services.

More information about the occupation can be found here.

Which drivers of change will affect their skills?

The skills required for business and administration associate professionals have changed considerably in recent years due to globalisation and organisational and technological change.

  • The increasing penetration of ICT and ongoing digitalisation stress the need for ICT skills of this occupational group across Member States and economic sectors. 4 Some formerly important skills are getting obsolete by the development of “fintech 5”, related to many routine tasks in financial, accounting and secretarial activities 6. Technological developments such as “fintech” drive demand for emerging skills, as knowledge of particular software is essential in finance, trade, and commerce. Moreover, there is a widespread need for business and administration associate professionals to understand and deploy an array of new technologies in the context of their organisation. The professionals in this occupation that work with information and data analysis will also need sufficient skills to keep abreast with the greater use of mobile devices (for example, from their clients), which will be able to collect more and richer information and data. This has implications for skills requirements in the use of communications and analytical technologies and, importantly, the analysis of resultant information and data. 7
  • As employees mainly of business services, business and administration associate professionals need to cope with the challenges posed by ever-increasing globalisation and competition, especially in the exports arena. Growing international business interconnections also require that these associate professionals improve their skills related to cultural awareness, foreign languages, international logistics, foreign regulatory and quality assurance frameworks etc.
  • Financial and environmental regulations have increased and the trend will continue. In the aftermath of 2008 financial crisis, Europe went through a revision of its financial regulation system 8, but several objectives still lie ahead (e.g. the banking union) 9. As one fifth of business and administration associate professionals work for ‘legal, accounting and consulting’ and ‘financial and insurance activities’ sectors, constant update of their financial skills is necessary. Environmental regulation also continues to grow, 10 affecting workers’ skills in wholesale retail trade, real estate activities and construction.
  • The focus on better and “smart” regulation is a priority for the European Union 11. As almost one out of five business and administration associate professionals works in the public sector, the relevant changes will require technical and sector-specific knowledge of new legislation, as well as soft skills such as communication and use of social media that enable the dissemination of legislative changes to particular audiences or the wider public.

 “While the monitoring of compliance in the financial services sector has traditionally been outsourced with the introduction of these new standards there is more caution in the provision of such services which are more likely in the future to be laid at the feet of the company secretary. (…) With this increased focus on corporate governance, the role of the company secretary has been extended such that the secretary is now seen as the guardian of the company’s compliance with legislative requirements and best practice.

Source: The changing role of the company secretary 12

  • Risk of automation: As a part of its Digitalisation and future of work project, Cedefop estimates the risks of automation for occupations. The most exposed occupations are those with significant share of tasks that can be automated – operation of specialised technical equipment, routine or non-autonomous tasks – and those with a small reliance on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and customer-serving skills. The risk of automation is further accentuated in occupations where employees report little access to professional training that could help them to cope with labour market changes. Office associate professionals are reportedly an occupation with very low risk of automation.  

How can these skill needs be met?

The upsurge of digitalisation in the main employers of this occupation (such as financial and insurance activities, wholesale and retail) stress the importance of continuous and high quality on-the-job and in house training to upgrade and sharpen general IT skills or competences in handling sector or job specific ICT solutions (such as in ‘fintech’). The importance of employee training in ICT, regulations frameworks etc. due to emerging trends are already recognised particularly in sectors, such as banking 13. Particularly for those working in human resource development, skills pertinent to new forms of work and organisation (e.g. teleworking), as well as to recruiting and retaining non-EU citizens/migrants will be useful to ripe benefits from technological and geopolitical developments.

If strengthening of cross-sector knowledge and skills like ICT and languages is desirable, a challenge may lie in correct identification of more sector specific skills (e.g. a specific set of regulations). Sharing of best practices at European level would provide useful advice to business and administration associate professionals. A framework could be designed and implemented for a regular exchange of best practices across different Member States. 14 Another option could be an improved sharing of best practices collected through European projects, which could provide tailored solutions for different sectors, sub-occupational groups, and territories. This could be especially useful especially for SMEs, given their vulnerability to international competition due to skill shortages. 15

 

References

All web-links were last accessed December 2nd, 2019.

[1] Defined as ILO ISCO 08 group 33 business and administration professionals. ILO (2012) International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08

[3] The need to replace workers leaving a profession for various reasons, such as retirement. For more information on replacement demand and how it drives employment across sectors, can be found on the Skills Panorama here

[4] European Commission 2013, Definition of a Research and Innovation Policy Leveraging Cloud Computing and IoT Combination – Final Report.

[5] “Fintech” is a blanket term for technologies affecting the financial services.

[6] Frey, B C & Osborne, M 2015, Technology at Work. The Future of Innovation and Employment, Oxford Martin School and Citi.

[7] European Commission 2014, E-skills for jobs in Europe: measuring progress and moving ahead.

[8]European Commission, Banking and Finance, Progress of financial reforms, accessed 14 June 2016.

[9]European Commission, Banking and Finance, Banking unionaccessed 14 June 2016.

[11] European Commission, Better Regulation, REFIT- making EU law lighter, simpler and less costly, accessed 14 June 2016.

[13] For example, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Fintech: Innovation in financial services, accessed 14 June 2016.

[14] European Commission 2012, Europe can do better – Best practices for reducing administrative burdens.

[15] CiLT 2006, ELAN: Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise.