Computer Technology Dominates Modern Office Landscape

Published 04.22.2003


Not long ago, working as an office secretary probably meant taking shorthand, operating a Dictaphone machine, tapping typewriter keys and maybe even fetching coffee or dry-cleaning for the boss.

Now everything including the name of the occupation in many instances has changed, and the responsibilities are such that specialized education and training are fast becoming a prerequisite for administrative assistants, executive assistants, office coordinators and office managers, who often work for a team of employees.

At Pennsylvania College of Technology, the Office Information Systems/Office Technology associate-degree majors in the School of Business and Computer Technologies get a new name and focus this fall, being reborn as Office Information Technology, which will offer three career-emphasis options: Web Design, Medical Information and Specialized Office Information.

Driving these changes is the ever-increasing reliance on computer-based technology. Even technology-averse smaller firms need computers today and workers who know how to operate them for basic word-processing, data-processing and Web-related tasks, says Elizabeth A. Dahlgren, assistant professor of business administration and department head for Office Information Technology at Penn College.

"The computer is definitely the heartbeat of the office," she said. "Everything eventually will be integrated through the computer."

The workers performing those computer-based tasks won't fit the profile of the typical office assistants from a couple of decades ago, when personal computers were just starting to appear on desktops.

"You have a lot more responsibility there's just no stereotype to it any longer," Dahlgren said of the profession, noting many of the students in the Penn College program are male. "The student today is very much technology-oriented and probably interested in moving up in the organization."

While office workers today tackle more demanding duties requiring additional education and training, they also enjoy the benefits of ergonomic progress, Dahlgren said. The chairs, desks, lighting and other equipment are usually adjustable and designed with user comfort in mind.

"It's definitely a more pleasant place to work," she said.

Modern office workers also have more career options than their predecessors, who seldom advanced to higher levels in the company hierarchy. With the expanded duties, training and career flexibility comes more respect and better pay Dahlgren noted.

"The student today is very much technology-oriented and probably interested in moving up in the organization," she said, adding that some office jobs can pay as much as $40,000 or $50,000 annually.

Job-growth projections for the field are positive, and the skills acquired by office professionals in computer software, Web design and maintenance, research and record-keeping, etc. will serve employees well, even if they advance to other positions.

"There's a lot of opportunity," Dahlgren said.

The revised Office Information Technology major at Penn College reflects the growing dependence on information technology in the workplace. It also enables a student to focus on the career track that best suits his or her needs by offering a choice of three distinct career-emphasis options.

All students must complete a core of courses in management functions and technology that enables them to become proficient in computer-software applications; organization and scheduling; Internet and intranet communications and research; document preparation, storage and retrieval; customer service; basic accounting functions; and project management.

The Web Design Emphasis option provides concentrated training for specific Web-design environments, the Medical Information Emphasis option prepares students for a variety of medical-office careers, and the Specialized Office Information Emphasis provides concentrated training for specific office environments.

Some employment possibilities for students graduating with a degree in Office Information Technology: Web Design Emphasis are: webmaster support, assistant Web administrator, Web content developer, assistant Web developer, Web design support, and Web design consultant.

Students graduating with a degree in Office Information Technology: Medical Information Emphasis can expect to pursue positions like medical office assistant, medical transcriptionist, medical office manager, medical application support specialist and medical secretary.

For students graduating with a degree in Office Information Technology: Specialized Office Information Emphasis, possible jobs include: administrative assistant, administrative coordinator, human resources assistant, office manager, marketing assistant, executive word-processor, word-processor, legal assistant, computer support specialist, executive assistant, front desk coordinator, data entry specialist, customer service representative, legal secretary, executive secretary, software specialist, public relations representative, communications specialist, project management coordinator, office supervisor and desktop publishing specialist.

For more information about the Office Information Technology major, call (570) 327-4517, send e-mail or visit on the Web.