Summary

Office, or general and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers are the third largest occupational group in the European Union.

Key facts

  • General and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers are the third largest occupational group in the European Union.
  • The five key skills required for these workers are moderate ICT skills, problem solving, communication, teamwork and literacy.
  • General and keyboard clerks are a surplus occupation.  Eleven EU Member States report that supply of these workers exceeds the demand for them.
  • This occupational group will continue to be one of the fastest decreasing occupational groups across the European Union in the next years.
  • In 2005-2015 their employment decreased by about 6% (with other clerical support workers’ decreasing 11%).
  • Mirroring the public budget constraints, employment of general and keyboard clerks is expected to fall by about 20% in the sub-occupation’s largest employer, public administration and defence.
  • Other clerical support workers are expected to suffer cut-downs in all sectors, most notably in wholesale and retail trade and administrative and support services (about 25% decrease in each).

Who are they?

General and keyboard clerks (classified as general office clerks, secretaries, and keyboard operators), numerical and material recording and transport clerks, and other clerical support workers  1 are a composite group who mainly record, organise, store and retrieve information related to the office tasks in question. They compute financial, statistical, and other numerical data. Also, they may record production materials received, put into stock or issued; take charge of cash transactions related to business matters; compute quantities of the production materials required at specified dates; and help with the preparation and checking of production operation schedules. They can also keep records of goods produced, purchased, stocked, dispatched, and of materials needed at specified production dates, or keep records of operational aspects and coordinate the timing of passenger and freight transport.

Other clerical support workers perform clerical duties in newspapers, courts, libraries and post offices. This could entail filing documents, preparing information for processing, maintaining personnel records, checking material for consistency with original source material and writing on behalf of illiterate persons.

What skills do they need?

According to Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey (ESJS), the five key skills for these workers are moderate ICT skills, problem solving, communication, teamwork and literacy. These skills could support employees in this occupation to also tackle anticipated future skill challenges (see drivers of change below).

Figure 1: Most important skills required for general and keyboard clerks

Where are they mostly in demand?

The labour market dynamics for this occupation differ across EU Member States:

Figure 2: Shortages and surpluses for general and keyboard clerks across the EU

According to Cedefop, general and keyboard clerks are a surplus occupation.  An oversupply of general and keyboard clerks and numerical and material recording clerks is a challenge in a number of EU Member States including France, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Finland. Other clerical support workers are subject to skills surpluses only in Romania.

General and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers are the third largest occupational group in the European Union. However, this occupational group will continue to be one of the fastest decreasing occupational groups across the European Union. In 2005-2015 their employment decreased by about 6% (with other clerical support workers’ decreasing 11%). In the following decade Cedefop foresees an even larger decrease of more than 10% in the overall level (again with ‘other clerical support workers’ leading the change with a 13% decrease). However, job opportunities will exist driven, as about one third of employees will need to be replaced due to reasons such as retirement (‘replacement demand’  3).

In all three sub-groups, most employees traditionally hold medium-level qualifications, while about one fifth are highly qualified. Between 2015 and 2025 demand for low and medium qualified workers is expected to decrease, balanced by a marked increase in the share of highly qualified workers (over one third of workers in each sub-occupation).

Mirroring the public budget constraints, employment of general and keyboard clerks is expected to fall by about 20% in the sub-occupation’s largest employer, public administration and defence. Mild increase in the demand is expected in legal, accounting and consulting (+5%) and education (+10%), two of the five most important employers.

As for numerical and material recording clerks in the next decade, they are expected to decrease by about 10% in wholesale and retail trade (their largest employer), while a decreasing trend is common across the majority of the subsectors.

 Other clerical support workers are expected to suffer cut-downs in all sectors, most notably in wholesale and retail trade and administrative and support services (about 25% decrease in each).

More information on employment trends and characteristics of these occupations can be found here.

Which drivers of change will affect their skills?

The skills required for general and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks and other clerical support workers have changed considerably in recent years due to outsourcing, specialisation, technological change, and globalisation. These drivers are expected to continue reshaping job tasks and skills:

  • Digitalisation, technological and communication changes substantially affect the service industries. Skills needs have evolved mainly due to communications technologies, software development, and access to information systems. In the future, the use of online services, software and applications that could speed up or alter tasks (e.g. stenography or document storage), and Web 2.0 (e.g. social networking) may increase the need for better customer support and direction skills, and for information and diagnostic skills.  4 Developments in technology that applies to the financial industry (‘fintech’) are already increasing the demand for e-skills from employees of all qualifications and levels of seniority. Therefore, general and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers’ occupations will require strong numeracy skills (especially for those working in the financial services sector),  5 general and host-industry-specific software knowledge, and understanding of specific computer hardware and peripherals.

Most importantly, digitalisation is expected to continue shrink the demand for occupations such as numerical clerks.  6 As some tasks are being replaced by computers and software applications, clerks will need to strengthen the skills that are resilient to automation, such as soft skills, customer service and complex problem solving within teams.

  • Technological advancements will have a deskilling effect  7 on workers within this occupational group.  8 At the same time, clerks that will retain their jobs and new entrants are expected to increasingly take on additional higher functions, including customer service, quality control, research and management.  9 This will also push clerks to develop an active positive learning attitude and concomitant ‘soft skills’, such as communication, problem solving and team work.  10
  • Globalisation reshapes the division of the tasks in industries and companies that participate in cross-border value chains. The tasks performed by general and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers’ are deeply affected by information flows, which have been disrupted and are now reorganising themselves along new global value chains. Ostensibly, more generic clerical functions will be outsourced outside Europe, but more specialist, less routine and more niche clerical functions will remain.  11
  • The trend towards increased regulation will continue in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis of the last 80 years  12; even after the high number of changes implemented so far, several objectives lay ahead (e.g. the banking union)  13. A constant update of financial skills is therefore demanded by keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers in the financial and insurance activities sector. Also, data Protection regulation has experienced a similar pattern,  14 and clerks will likely have to take into account changes in everyday administrative procedures (e.g. filing).
  • The rise in demand for sustainable goods and services, often fuelled by legislators’ choices, will emphasise the importance of ‘green’ skills. There will be increased ‘greening’ of general and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers’ skills, especially in terms of understanding the organisation and service offer, environmental legislation and customer preferences.  15 The decisions of clerks, not just managers or people working in the environment sector who classified as ‘green collar workers’, could have substantial impact, given that they represent the third largest occupational group across the EU. 16 Knowledge of the efficient use of resources, in terms of accessing and using goods and services, and recycling will also become paramount.

The Maltese “Employment and Training Corporation” has devised a Vocational Education course in office procedures, which gives an example of a comprehensive approach to deal with the challenges that general and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers.

At the end of the course, the successful learner will be able to not only deal with some of the classic tasks related with clerical jobs (i.e., receive incoming and send outgoing communications, effectively through electronic mail, letters, forms, telephone, fax and courier; collaborate with other staff members in a professional way and through effective means of communication, [..] communicate effectively when using the telephone and answering machines; devise and complete letters, forms, memos and other mail, in an effective manner; deal with customer’s queries and/or complaints effectively”), but it will also be able to deal with the most recent challenges derived from recent drivers of changes as listed above.

Therefore, waste reduction and recycling initiatives in office environment are an integral part of the formation process, as well as instructions on how to conform to Data Protection Regulations, and the “use of different media channels, so as to effectively market and promote the company’s image and brand”.

Source: http://etc.gov.mt/Resources/file/Courses/2015/Office%20Procedures.pdf

How can these skill needs be met?

General and keyboard clerks, numerical and material recording clerks, and other clerical support workers are expected to face employment pressures and skill challenges in the following years.

Providing qualitative and accessible training to these workers would be indispensable for their job security and development. This training should take into account three target groups: the older workers, who should be able to get acquainted with new trends (such as ‘green’ skills, new legislation and technological changes); the new entrants, who will need both these skills on top of the typical clerical and administrative ones; as well as those who lost their job as clerks due to skills obsolescence or the economic crisis. Up- and re-skilling programmes will need to focus not only on technical skills (such as e-skills, operation of specific software and hardware), but also soft skills that could be more resilient to replacement from automation.

References

[1] Defined as ILO ISCO 08 groups 41 general and keyboard clerks, 43 numerical and material recording and transport clerks and 44 other clerical support workers. ILO (2012) International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08. More information on the occupation can be found here and other clerical support workers.

[2]2016 Cedefop forecast.

[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, accessed 16 June 2016.

[4] OECD Education Working Papers 2010, How technology changes demands for human skills, OECD 2013, The skills needed for the 21st century and European Commission 2013, Employment and social developments in Europe 2012: The skill mismatch challenge in Europe.

[5] According to the specific sub-occupational group and complexity of the assigned tasks.

[6] Blix, M 2015, The economy and digitalization – opportunities and challenges.

[7] ‘Deskilling’ here regards the minimisation of workers’ skills due to factors such as technology/automation, attrition, lack of learning opportunities, etc.

[9]Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2013, Hollowing out and the future of the labour market; OECD 2013, The skills needed for the 21st century, and European Commission 2013, Employment and social developments in Europe 2012: The skill mismatch challenge in Europe.

[10]DEPICT Project 2012, Literature review: Understanding employer skills’ needs across Europe and CfA business skills @ work 2012, Business and administration: Labour market report.

[11]Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2013, Hollowing out and the future of the labour market.

[12]European Commission, Banking and finance, Progress of financial reforms, accessed 16 June 2016.

[13]European Commission, Banking union, accessed 16 June 2016.

[15] International Labour Organization 2011, Skills for green jobs a global view synthesis report based on 21 country studies.

[16] EIANZ 2013, Who are the Green Collar Workers?