Secretarial Support

Modules of learning

The modules are divided into 4 areas: Clients, Your centre, Interaction and Tips.  Information was obtained through researching best-practices and discussion with veteran secretaries and administrative assistance. 

Module 1: Getting to know your clientele


We understand through research and in discussions with adult centres, that a portion of the clientele you will encounter will need extra support. It is a population that is sensitive and may have had bad experiences at school, nervous to go back, may or may not have a high school leaving degree and may be facing a host of other challenges. You will also have to support young adults, which in and itself, can be challenging! Thus, the goal of Module 1 is to get you familiar with clients on the other end of the phone or at reception.
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How does this effect what I do?

Supporting these clients will require more patience in answering many questions and concerns, an empathetic ear and maybe some positive reinforcement. Many people within the at-risk cohort may have taken months to call a centre and inquire about going back to school. *When using the Transmission Sheet to provide initial information about clients to guidance and /or SARCA counsellors, this information should be included.

Getting to know adult education clients

Adult learners want flexibility for work and family, ease of applying for a program, know the cost(s), credits that may be needed or time required to complete a program. In some cases, career advancement possibilities are an important factor. For those at-risk, these questions are even more important. We must understand the unique needs of this group, some of whom face significant barriers to returning to school, and show them how degree or credential attainment is possible. This will require a true team effort beginning at the first response (you) to help them on their journey. Working in collaboration with guidance counsellors and/or SARCA officers, will be key!

Adult learners are asking themselves : What’s the best format for me? How do I find the right program? Will I be accepted? Will this degree be respected? Who can advise me on what my options are? Will I be more successful with this degree? What do I want to achieve? Is this a requirement for my profession, or am I looking to open new doors? Can I afford it? Do I have the time? Is it the right time? Will I have to sacrifice time with my family? Can I stick with it and finish?


Callers will all be unique and have different needs. They will also have had very different experiences in school, careers and in life. Thus, it will require getting to quickly know them, their needs and offering guidance and support. This first contact, according to research, holds the power to have a potential student either move forward with their education project, or simply give up. 

Module 2: Getting to know your centre


If you are a new secretary in adult education, you may find it a little daunting. Not only is the job busy but the adult education system is complex. The goal of module 2 is to get you familiar with your centre. Knowing who’s who will help lessen the stress level a bit. Also knowing who to call when students need support, is imperative. Don’t forget you have 70+ questions and answers in the FAQ section!

What does the organizational structure look like in my centre?

Depending on your experience, adult centre structure can be very different from that of the business word. Knowing who you report to and all the staff and their dossiers, will help you quickly decide who to call when you need answers yourself or helping with requests for support. Below you will get a list of staff and their dossiers.
Centre Directors – In accordance with the Executive Classification Plan, the Vocational Training Center Director has responsibilities in the areas of pedagogical and educational management, management  of human, financial, material, and informational resources, as well as links with
employment or employability development organizations, management of the development of new training organization modes and management of reception and reference services. 
How it effects me –  Being your direct report, the director is the person to go to if you have questions about: 
– Your roles and responsibilities.
– Your employment status.
– The rules and regulations of the Center.
– The Center’s organizational structure and information on personnel.
– What to do when facing a complex situations with students (bad student behavior/conflicts, learning disabilities, suspicion of drugs/alcohol abuse, harassment, etc.)
Assistant Director/principal:
Bigger Vocational Training Centers also have assistant directors. If this is the case for your Center, then the assistant director is your direct report.
There are both full and part-time teachers in most centres. Therefore, some you will see on a regular basis and some not.
Pedagogical Consultants
The position of education consultant encompasses, in particular, responsibility for providing advice and support to staff of educational institutions and services in the implementation, development, and evaluation of programs of study, class management, and instructional materials.
Guidance Counsellor
The position of guidance counsellor encompasses, in particular, responsibility for providing assistance, advice and guidance as well as evaluating the psychological functioning, personal resources and environmental conditions of students in the youth and adult sectors. He or she participates in developing and maintaining active adaptation strategies in order to enable students to make personal and professional choices suited to their personal characteristics and to their environment, while on their educational path.
The position of the SARCA (reception, referral, career counseling and support) development officers, are an important resource for people wanting to return to school. They also offer help to determine the school or professional project and to reintegrate into the labor market. These services are offered in adult education centers and vocational training centers in Quebec and can help with career orientation or reorientation. Among other things, they make it possible to receive support and advice in terms of educational and professional information and guidance. They also refer people to partner organizations for support and help with financial aid options.
The position of psychoeducator encompasses, in particular, responsibility for carrying out prevention and screening activities, providing assistance and guidance as well as evaluating the adaptation difficulties and adaptive skills of students experiencing or likely to experience social maladjustments and determining a psychoeducational intervention plan and its implementation in order to create conditions to foster the student’s optimal adaptation, restore and develop his or her adaptive skills and autonomy in interaction with his or her environment. He or she provides advice and support to school resources.
The position of psychologist encompasses, in particular, responsibility for prevention and screening activities, providing assistance and guidance to students experiencing or likely to experience social maladjustments or learning difficulties, evaluating the psychological and mental functioning, and determining an individualized education plan in order to foster psychological health and restore the mental health of students in interaction with their environment and support them in their educational path and in their personal and social development. The psychologist can also be called to defuse a crisis or an emergency situation.
Social worker
The position of social worker encompasses, in particular, responsibility for carrying out prevention, promotion, and screening activities, evaluating the social functioning of students and groups of students experiencing or likely to experience emotional, social, school or family problems as well as determining and implementing a social intervention plan in order to support and restore social functioning, foster the student’s optimal development in interaction with his or her environment and help him or her pursue his or her educational path.
School Organization Technician
The principal and customary work of an employee in this class of employment consists in preparing, in conjunction with the administration, the school or center timetable and other schedules, such as the exam schedule based on, among other things, rationalization and efficiency criteria as well as adapting and applying the procedures required for the organization of administrative operations: student registration, declaration of student enrolment, exams, preparation of report cards and certification of studies, and the summer course schedule.
Information Technology Technician (IT)
The principal and customary work of an employee in this class of employment consists in programming or modifying in-house applications, managing networks, repairing complicated breakdowns for computer users, and assisting computer analysts in the development and implementation of systems. 


Module 3: Interacting with clients


Due to the complex nature of adult centres, as a secretary you will receive phones calls from a myriad of people. Knowing how to decipher who they are and what they need is important. The goal of Module 3 is to offer suggestions and strategies to identify, answer and support callers. It should be noted that certain clients with unique needs, detailed below, are dependent on a positive first experience with first response personnel to further their journey and  or studies. It can be deciding factor. Your role is critical!
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Suggestions and strategies

As a secretary, you will receive calls and requests throughout the day. Each client has unique needs and backgrounds, as was stated in Module 1. Some, listed below, will need a different approach given their current situation.
Profiles include :
– Adults looking to further their studies
– Adults with low levels of education
– Immigrants
– Youth aged 16 to 24 with or without a high school diploma (DES)
– First Nations Indigenous peoples
– People with disabilities

Information & Strategies in supporting this unique group.

  • Stats – Breakdown of communication and how it relates to clients feeling supported: 55% non-verbal (body posture), 38% how you say it (tone) and 7% what you say.
  • Building trust, in very little time, is difficult yet important. The way you welcome people and project non-verbal communication and tone of voice are important as is asking questions for clarifying the needs of the clients. All these out-way the information you may give. As we saw from the statistics above.
  • If receiving a phone call you may say, “Whitney Adult Centre, this is Steven, how can I help you today?” If live, smiling can be a very good non-verbal initial sign of support.
  • Being courteous, empathetic, listening, asking questions and then conveying the information professionally, is key.
  • If issues with understanding arrive, mentioning that, “maybe I didn’t explain myself properly” shows support more than saying, “maybe you didn’t understand me.”
  • Using open ended questions is better then using closed questions. For example, you could say, “what training needs to you have?” rather than, “do you have training needs.”
  • There are four main ways people communicate. They are: 1) Only hearing things we are interested in, 2) Curious and interested in what someone is saying and listen intently, 3) Listening and being empathetic (feeling how they may feel) to what someone is saying, and 4) Being able to summarize everything you heard in the conversation.
  • Closing a call or at reception is equally as important as the opening message/communication you give. For example mentioning, “it was a pleasure talking to you today, is there anything else I can help you with?” is a good closing comment.

General questions:

  • Are you a current student? If yes, how can I help or can I have your name so I can look up your file. If no, how can I help you today?
  • If callers state that they are working, it’s important to ask if they are currently working in trade like carpentry, secretarial, accounting etc. These people may qualify for RAC.
  • If callers are unsure of a plan, you can use the PINEG (Priority Intervention Needs Exploration Guide) document to evaluate if the caller needs support by either a guidance counsellor or SARCA development officer. You can also use the Flow chart and then Transmission sheet to take down information that will help the support team with the dossier.

Module 4: Tips


There is little doubt that the secretarial role in any business is one of the most important aspects. The first response personnel are key running the office, organization, support and customer service. We thought it was important to put a tips, and perhaps, a survival guide, as one of the modules. The goal of module 4 is to support you and maybe offer some suggestions

Suggestions and simple tips

Perfecting any role takes time and focus, and becoming a great secretary is no different. By being prepared and developing the skills you have, will help give you the confidence to thrive in your secretarial role. If you have ever asked yourself, ‘What qualities make a good secretary?’ then, these tips are for you. 
How to excel in your role
1. Get to know your bosses preferences
The better you know the person or people you work for, the easier you will find it to assist them. Everyone has preferences for when they like to do admin tasks, have meetings or simple have lunch. Getting to know these internal agendas of who you report to, will help the flow in the office.
2. Always have a to-do list
In an ever-changing and fast-paced working world, where you often only have short amounts of time with the people you support, it is vital to always have a list on the go where you can note down their requests. It could be divided into urgent and not so urgent items. A to-do list will also allow you to highlight anything you are waiting to hear back on and stay on top of your workload. Having a dedicated book/journal that you keep this important information in, can also help. It is something that you carry with you at all times.
3. Set reminders
Particularly if you are a secretary supporting several people, having reminders will keep you on top of priorities and prompt you to do certain things. This will ensure you don’t accidentally forget something important and by utilizing the relevant apps, this should be easy and quick to manage.
4. Allocate time to catch-up with your boss
You cannot put a value on having face time with the person or people you support. Schedule in a time regularly. This will limit frustrations when you need answers to move a dossier forward and your boss always seems to be running to another meeting. If this is not possible then perhaps a video conference or phone call would suffice. Ultimately the more information you have, the easier it is to provide the administrative support required.
5. Make use of a paper or electronic calendar
Having your own calendar clearly marked with upcoming commitments will help to ensure there are no clashes and the work is spread out equally.
6. Learn how to prioritize
Not all requirements will be urgent, but there may be times when you have to drop what you are working on to focus on something else. By learning how to prioritize will allow you to concentrate on the most important things first and only when they are done, to complete the other, less critical tasks. Time is valuable and you want to use it wisely.
7. Be flexible
As well as focusing on the skills you need to be a great secretary, there are also personal qualities of a good secretary which can make a difference. These include being polite, friendly and professional – it is amazing the impact a smile, a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ can have. In addition to this, flexibility is key, particularly in a fast-paced global world where priorities may change by the minute.
8. Professional development
Personal development is something we should all continue to focus on, no matter how senior we are in our career. Ask your employer if there are opportunities for career development. There are also a number of great books on this topic.

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