I would firstly like to clarify that the there is a difference between UK and US English. The UK refers to the PA Job title and is the equivalent to the US English Executive Assistant. In the UK, an Executive Assistant is as the name suggests a much higher level of professional who supports a top level Executive.
This job title requires increasingly wider ranges of skills. Business requirements became more varied for an Assistant type role. This means that the mixed training of soft skills, management training and technical job skills have now become the norm. Assistant level professionals are taking varied training.
I can divide the skills into two categories for a modern PA into the technical or hard skills and the interpersonal or soft skills.
The technical skills of a PA are vastly different to what was required by a traditional Secretary and this is because of a change in technology and business practice. Letter writing and memos, which required great accuracy and speed in touch typing, have become obsolete with emails. This means that the repetitive manual work needed in an office has disappeared. This has enabled a modern PA to become more of a genuine support in all areas of the business.
Therefore, the technical skills required include some touch typing and maybe Audio Typing, but not to the level of before. A speed of 40wpm or more will be sufficient. However, you will need to full range of Microsoft Office skills, mostly in Word, Excel and Outlook. Outlook is a vital skill as you will need to be able to diarise. The ability to take minutes at meetings is fundamental. You should also be able to manage office systems and filing.
You are a face to the public and this will mean that you should be able to handle suppliers, by negotiating and booking key supplies for the office. This will mean that an understanding of basic accounting and how to post invoices or raise them is needed to be truly effective. This skill is a growing trend and requirement.
On the soft skills side you will need to make a great impression of your manager by using excellent communication skills. This means being able to care for clients professionally. You will also need to be able to deal with a fast changing environment to support your manager, so this means being able to delegate, prioritise, meet deadlines and work under pressure.
You can see that this means that any choice to become a PA and take a training course in PA, Secretarial or Administration is now far more complicated than it has been in the past. It is necessary to ensure that you get a balanced training programme that will meet the needs of a modern PA.
I am a PA Trainer with years of experience in practice and as a trainer at Souters Training in London.