Becoming an administrative assistant is to take on the job that was in the past generally referred to as secretary. Some aspects of the job have changed over what is an extremely old profession, but some aspects have stayed the same. The role of a secretary has certainly changed. Excepting titles like “Secretary of State” or “Secretary to the Privy Council” it is generally not a high ranking role in an organization. Initially, it had entry level connotations, in the sense that it was a general business apprenticeship. Now it is a more likely to be a reliable job, but one without much room to grow built in, the sort of role where work stress begins and ends on the thresh hold of the office door. And for over a century, people in the role are grads of some sort of office Administration College or program.
Typing, and the typewriter, was probably one of the first things that revolutionized the role. A Victorian era invention, the typist replaced copy clerks who recorded everything by hand. While at this time an immaculately readable script was a key business skill, it was now faster and easier to create text on a keyboard. This is also, coincidentally, when the role began to take on some feminine connotations.
By the end of the Victorian period, women were learning shorthand, typing and stenography for short term careers. Many of these establishments are still in operation, having transformed themselves into the modern career colleges, usually with a course offering that goes beyond just being and office administration college but also offering healthcare courses and accounting training, as well as IT certification, work readiness preparation and numerous other job focused programs.
In addition to clerical duties, the role has also had some general support expectations, much like a personal assistant, who might do shopping, trip planning or event organizing for their employer. Administrative assistants are generally considered to be a fantastic thing to have to allow other employees to focus on their specialized training.
However, it was not until close to the end of the previous centuries that computer skills rose to primacy. Initially an office of any serious size would have not just secretaries, but a busy typing pool hammering out copies of things. A photocopier, the precursor of which was the mimeograph, did away with typing pools, while first the electric typewriter and then the computer changed the face of administration work.
As well as making many administrators redundant, because the other workers in an office could now use software to create presentations and format business correspondence, administrative assistants now took on broader roles, and the line blurred between a secretary and say, an accounting clerk. Thus it’s quite normal for a modern administrative assistant to have extra skills like accounting training.