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INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY (ICT) BASED OFFICE SKILLS REQUIRED BY SECRETARIES FOR EFFECTIVE ADMINISTRATION

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background of the Study

The introduction of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is promoting efficiency in all areas of human activities.  Individuals, groups and governments all over the world are taking the advantage of this opportunity to transform the activities of various sectors through the development of new skills. Information and Communication Technology has been identified as a major factor for effective service delivery in public sector, including the local governments. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has changed the face of offices and consequently made business environments to wear a new look. This is particularly noticeable in the area of office administration and management (Agomuo, 2005). The author stated that information and communication gadgets, equipment and facilities improve the manner in which message is preserved, recalled, shared and relayed for information and communication purposes.  Agomuo further stated that the electronic systems are now available for the performance of many functions that were formerly done manually in offices. This makes for greater effectiveness and efficiency in the performance of office activities. New digital machines and electronic equipment now make for faster, neater, more accurate and more reliable outputs.  Most activities of office managers and their assistants are now based on the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which promotes organizational efficiency.

As a result of new ideas caused by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the world has become a global village. Ofurum and Ogbonna (2008), in their view stated that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the combination of computing, telecommunication and video techniques for the purpose of acquiring, processing, storing, and disseminating vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information.  These basic objectives of ICT are made possible through the computing, telecommunication and video techniques. The computing techniques provide the capacity for processing and storing of information; the telecommunicating techniques provides the capacity for communicating the information to users; and the video techniques provides the capability for high quality display of images.  Information and Communication Technology (ICT), according to Igbinoba (2005), refers to the use of skill in combining information and communication process and devices to obtain, analyse, store, recall and transmit accurate information from one place to another.  In this study, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are tools used for processing, transmitting or communicating data and information electronically.  The effective use of ICT requires some peculiar skills that are essential to any activity.

The possession of the appropriate ICT skills leads to the effectiveness and efficiency in information processing, storage and disseminating of information in local government.  Skill as a concept is the ability to use human knowledge effectively in carrying out a given task. In view of Nkokelonye (2008), skill is the ability to put into use acquired competencies, attitudes, and behaviour after an exposure to theories and practices fundamental in a field of study.  Ezeji and Okorie in Odu (2010) identified three major categories of skill, which are technical skills, human skills and conceptual skills. Technical skills encompass the understanding and proficiency in specific activities, especially one involving methods and procedures. It is the ability to use knowledge, methods, techniques and equipment necessary for the performance of specific tasks.  The technical skills are acquired from experience, education and training in specialised fields, such as medicine, engineering, music, office administration, and accounting among others. Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) (2008) in the National Policy on Education (NPE) stated that technical skills are for empowering and preparing youths for the world of work. On the other hand, human skills refer to the ability of an individual to work effectively to encourage co-operative effort within the group of which he is member of the team. Conceptual ability involves the ability to recognize the interdependence of the various functions of an organisation. Conceptual skills draw heavily on one’s analytical and diagnostics capacities to identify problems and opportunities, gather and interpret relevant information, and make good problem solving decisions that serve the organizational purpose.  In the context of this work, a person is said to have acquired a skill when the person can competently and professionally finish a given piece of work at a given time with minimum errors. The possession and application of ICT skills has become indispensable in modern offices.

The strategic position which the office occupies in any given organisation as the information nerve centre has in turn placed major emphasis on the use of Information and Communication Technology in offices.  The universal nature of the office makes it a place of action, where various functions necessary for information handling are performed, and each function involves the use of one form of technology or another (Agomuo, 2005).  The author further stated that the office has been described as a place where administration, which is the management and handling of information takes place.  According to Oyesode (2006), an office is a place (room or building) where the paper or clerical work of an organisation is done. The author also pointed out that the office is a place where administrative, clerical and financial duties in an organisation are done. In the office environment of today, different types of business including the small, medium and large scale companies are relying on Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) to run their primary business operations. Devices ranging from photocopiers, computers, fax-machines, electronic communication, and image processing among others have their own intelligence and are used to perform functions more efficiently in offices (Eze, 2000).  As pointed by Oyesode (2005), not only do these integrated systems ensure the smooth operation of basic office functions, but they increasingly provide key interfaces between management and clients in modern offices.

Business operations in modern offices are getting more complex and advanced as they are now ICT - based demanding various skills from the secretaries. Every aspect of business operations such as communication, finance, manufacturing and engineering is experiencing great changes through the application of ICT devices.  These functions of business are now technologically-based and they require technology-based skills. The term information and communication technology - based office skills are generally referred to the use of integrated computer systems to support administrative procedures in an office environment.  ICT-based office systems represent structured methods of handling business and communication through an integrated network that may include, word processing for generating correspondence, electronic message systems for person-to-person communication, teleconferencing services, facsimile transmission, electronic filing system, on line calendar systems and links to corporate files and outside services (Eze, 2000).  The major features or characteristics of ICTbased offices are that work organizations are getting increasingly flexible, process-based and multi-tasking.  According to Oranu and Ogwo (2006), the growing complexities of office systems have made employers to seek for employees who are able to flexibly adapt, apply and transfer knowledge to different contents under varying technological conditions and to respond independently and creatively.  Employees in modern offices, including government offices are required to be equipped with the ICT-based office skills for easy, effective and efficient operations. The general functions of an office that are performed through ICT are gathering of information, keeping information, arranging information, giving information and protecting information.

An Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – based office skills, undoubtedly, offers new roles and responsibilities for secretary.  Such new roles mean that additional training, qualifications and skills are required from the secretaries (Akpomi and Ordu, 2009). In the past, the secretaries’ functions were performed manually such that documents and records were maintained on papers, stored in files and drawers. As a result of modern office equipment, secretaries require to increases their skills for effectiveness and efficiency.  Many office functions and secretarial duties which were previously done manually have been computerized. Atakpa (2010) stated that secretarial functions everywhere in the world have undergone a lot of technical changes.   Thus, the diversities of these office technologies require the secretary to possess new skills to enable them to be relevant in modern offices. The introduction of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in modern offices and organisations would make secretarial work more interesting and more productive. Typewriters are disappearing in favour of word processors, and spreadsheets are replacing calculators. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has changed the equipment and work groups behaviours in offices.  Of course, no secretary today would like to work in an office where information processes and other secretarial activities like administrative work are still done manually (Oni, 2001).

According to Mayer in Azih (2013), a secretary is an assistant to an executive who has the mastery of office skills and ability to assume responsibility without direct supervision.  The secretary displays initiative, exercise judgement and takes decisions within the scope of his or her authority.  A qualified secretary should have a wide knowledge of business insight, versatile knowledge in accounting, personnel, office practice, and communication and knowledge of the operation of all departments within the organisation where he or she works.  This is unlike an untrained secretary who possesses only knowledge of shorthand, typewriting and basic office practices.  The employability prospect of the secretary depends largely on the work skills acquired for employment. To meet the challenges of ICT- based office, secretaries would  need to possess skills in word processing, database management, desktop publishing, micrographic, reprographic and office communication skills for effective operations of ICT- based equipment and facilities (United Nation Educational Social and Cultural Organization, UNESCO and International Labour Organisation, ILO 2004). 

Word processing is the ability to use advanced hardware to manipulate words, sentences and paragraphs.  The word processor is a type of electric typewriter with storage and processing components.  One of the major features of the word processor is that as the words are typed, they are displayed simultaneously at the Visual Display Unit (VDU) which enables the secretary to effect corrections like deleting or inserting words, sentences and paragraphs before printing the documents (Agomuo, 2005).

A database management system (DBMS) skill is the ability to organise large numbers of records in a database. Adesina (2006), stated that database help in the collection of a considerable volume of data, which are verified, stored, retrieved and updated on regular basis. It is a collection of programs that allow users the ability to create, query and modify the structure in the database and to control access to it.  Database is used for keeping personnel records, customer’s records and assets records. 

Office communication, these are central nervous systems of today’s organisations which the secretaries ought to acquire the skills in other to operate them.  Examples are electronic mail (e-mail), voice mail, bulletins board systems, and facsimiles allow organisation to send messages in text, video, or voice form or to transmit copies of document and to receive it in seconds, not hours or days. Office communication system enhances the communications and coordination among work groups and organisations.  It also helps to reduce the flow of paper messages, letters, memos, documents, and reports that either flood many offices and postal systems (Ayandele and Adeoye, 2010).

Desktop Publishing skills is the ability to use modern printing process that combines personal computers and design software to create and edit layouts for producing all kinds of materials such as reports, books, magazines, brochures, flyers, and newsletters. According to Oliverio, et al (2007), desktop publishing is the ability to produce high quality printed documents that include both text and graphic.  It is closely related to word processing and requires many of the same skills. A reprographic skill is the ability to produce many copies of original document.  Jacci (2003), define reprographics as a general term for the reproduction of documents or images especially those that are virtually undistinguishable from the original. The equipment varies in sizes depending on the volume of multiple copies to be made.  A reprographic skill today involves the use of two primary types of equipment: copiers and duplicators.  Copiers use an image-forming process similar to a camera to create copies directly from existing originals. While duplicators make copies from masters on special paper that must be prepared before copies are reproduced.

The introductions of the word processor and other ICT applications have helped to make the secretarial career path clearer.  For a secretary to be employable in an ICT- based office, Merony (2005), believed that the secretary must be well experienced in the specific automated office equipment training, the concept and theory of specific automated office equipment, knowledge of the categories of equipment and their intended uses and differences, the skill to use resource or reference materials properly among others.  Secretaries are regarded as the strength of any organisation and in government offices. There are two categories of secretaries in government offices: administrative secretaries and professional secretaries.  Administrative secretaries in the local government are secretary to the local government chairman who is an appointee; they are bureaucrat and the professional secretaries who are employed as the office staff. The administrative secretary, performs the following functions; writing of minutes of meetings of the executive committee of the local government and keeping the records of the meetings; co-ordination of the activities of the departments of the local government; liaising on behalf of the chairman, with the local government council through the Leader of the Council; liaising with the appropriate officers of the State government on State local relations and carrying out other duties that may be assigned to him from time to time (Kunle,  A. 2008). The professional secretaries employed by the local government administration are fundamentally responsible for the processing, storage, retrieval and reporting of the information.

There are no organisations that can succeed without secretaries working as part of the administration and management.  Incidentally, the secretaries in the local governments (rural and urban) seem to lack basic ICT-based office skills. The preliminary investigation conducted shows that secretaries are not familiar with the word processing, database management, desktop publishing, office communication and reprographic skills. It was observed from the preliminary investigation that most of the secretaries are still performing office activities manually. These have caused delays in processing of information, keeping information, arranging information, giving information and protecting information.  The years of experience of the secretaries with regards to the level of ICT-based office skills possessed need to be determined for effective administration of the local governments in any location. 

Location is the environmental condition around which a local government is situated. It could be urban or rural. Urban environment can be conceptualized as State or Federal headquarters with essential amenities also that which has high population density, with power supply and road networks (Osokoya and Akuche, 2012). Local government location can affect the secretaries output positively or negatively. Local governments in the urban area have ICT equipment and facilities, but the secretaries are not trained on how to use them.  While rural environment is characterized by low population density containing a low variety and isolated places, power supply has been epileptic, low, unsteady and at times unavailable.  What more of the rural area that is not encouraging in the use of ICT equipment and facilities in local government. 

The local government is the third tier of the administrative structure in Nigeria. There are 774 local government areas (LGAs) in the country. The functions of Local Governments are spelt out in the Constitution. The local governments focus on the administration of the people at the grassroots level which have the majority of the population of Nigeria (Abia State Government Official Website, 2012). Each local government is administered by a Local Government Council, the chairman, and the vice-chairman elected with him, the supervisory councillors, administrative secretary appointed by the chairman upon assumption of office and professional secretaries charged with the responsibility of processing, storage, retrieval and presentation of information. It is therefore, important that secretaries in local governments secretariats should, however, acquire ICT skills in other to fit into the administrative world of computer for effective and speedy work delivery in their various departments for effective administration of the local government.   

Administration is the process of organizing people and resources efficiently so as to direct activities towards common goal and objectives. In addition, Eksteen in Makhura (2001) observes that administration is those functions required for effective business operations to ensure smooth day-to-day operations of an organisation. Administration in the context of this study involves the control of office activities, and other related administrative activities. The administrative machinery for any organisational system must be based on certain basic principles which, according to Amebenomo (2002), are principles of good documentation and negotiation techniques, principles of decision making and problem solving.  The author further noted that these principles constitute very important aspects of administrative functions, and that every administrator must work for effective communication in the organisation he or she administers.  The effectiveness of these functions can only be facilitated through the use of ICT facilities such as telephone, computer networking and email, among others in processing, managing and disseminating timely and accurate information for organisational decision making and problem solving.  Therefore, the proper use of ICT facilities is an essential factor for successful operations and administrating of local governments. The ability of the secretaries to expertly and accurately use ICT facilities will lead to success, effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery in the system. Incidentally, the poor and unreliable way office processes are being conducted especially manually in local government’s offices suggests that secretaries may not have the required skills for ICT-based offices. 

In view of the aforementioned inadequacies in communication, documentation and information processing in local governments in Nigeria, it is doubtful if secretaries in employment of the local governments are skilled enough in the use of ICT for their work and service delivery.  The study will be anchored on the following theories: Social-Technical Theory of Organisation, Information/Innovation Diffusion Theory and Theory of Skill Acquisition. It is therefore imperative to investigate into the information and communication technology-based office skills required by secretaries employed by local government in Abia State Nigeria.

Statement of the Problem

The local government is the third tier of government in Nigeria.  It is charged with the administration and development of the grassroots population.  The local government generates, processes, stores, retrieves and communicates the information concerning the finances, personnel, works and politics among others for the local government area as well as the State and Federal government.  The secretaries employed by the local government administration are fundamentally responsible for the processing, storage, retrieval and reporting of the information.  These important office functions were hitherto performed manually by secretaries are now to be performed through Information and Communication Technologies – based in more organisations. However, the reports on loss of data of various kinds in local government system in Nigeria, brings to question on the extent to which ICT is used by the secretaries for processing, storing, retrieving and communicating information in the local governments.  Lack of computer to collate and coordinate data needed to facilitate revenue generation.  The cases of frauds, disclosing of different information, insecurity of financial personnel that is the tax collectors, licensing officials among others, political and administrative data as well as the delays experienced by staff and other stakeholders over the sending time and receipt of local government messages, circulars and memos add to the doubt on whether ICT facilities are used for local government activities or not.  The preliminary study carried out in local government councils in Abia State by the researcher revealed more cases of lost circulars, memos and other documents. In addition, office activities in local governments were observed to be handled manually, although many of the offices have some ICT equipment and facilities.  The scenario suggests that the secretaries may not have the required ICT-based skills for working in the offices.  Based on this, it is therefore, pertinent for this study to determine the ICTbased office skills required by secretaries in local governments in Abia State for effectiveness in their functions.

Purpose of the study

The major purpose of this study is to determine the ICT- based office skills required by secretaries for effective administration of Local Governments in Abia State.  Specifically, the study seeks to determine the;

1.  word processing skills 

2.  database management skill 

3.  desktop publishing skills 

4.  office communication skills 

5.  reprographic skills 

Significance of the study

The findings of the study will be of immense benefit to the secretaries and the administrators and or employees of local government councils, curriculum planners and programme developers including National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), National Universities Commission (NUC), and National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), National Manpower Board (NMB), and Federal and State Ministries of Education.

The findings of the study when published will be of benefits to secretaries irrespective of where they work.  The employed and the potential secretaries would through the findings from the various ICT-based office skills of this study become aware of the expectations and demands the profession places on them based on emerging technologies. The secretaries would become aware of their areas of deficiency, the type and level of training required of them.  An understanding of the findings would help the secretaries to enrol for private training and continuous learning, and apply for management sponsorship for further training on word processing, database management, desktop publishing, office communication and reprographic skills. 

The findings of the study when published will also help the administrators of local governments to identify the areas where the secretaries require ICT-based training. The findings of this study would also enable the administrators of local government areas to organize database management, word processing, reprographic, desktop publishing and office communication skills training programmes for secretary and other local government staff for effective administration of the local governments. The result of the study would help the local government administrators to identify the necessary ICT facilities to be provided for secretaries for effective practice and administration of local government offices.

Furthermore, the findings of this study when published will also enable curriculum planners and programme developers e.g. the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), National University Commission (NUC), and National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), National Manpower Board (NMB) in curriculum planning, review with regards to ICT-based facilities and skills. The knowledge of the outcome of the study would help the curriculum planners to know the ICT skills that would be included for secretarial education in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Above all, the findings of the study will enable Federal and State Ministries of Education to know the areas of needs in terms of providing of facilities, re-training of secretaries and curriculum review among others.  An understanding of the findings will help the Federal and State Ministries in charge of local government administration to organize regular training programme for secretaries in local governments and to provide ICT facilities in the local governments. The findings will also assist the Ministries of Education and Administrators in the recruitment of secretaries that are ICT - based office skills compliant in the local governments. The knowledge of the findings will help the administrators to recruit secretaries that possess the needed ICT skills for effective administration of the local government and to sponsor the already employed secretaries for workshop, seminars conferences on ICT skills required for office administration.

Research Questions

The study will answer the following research questions:

1.  What are the word processing skills required by secretaries for effective administration of Local Governments in Abia State?

2.  What are the database management skills required by secretaries for effective administration of Local Governments in Abia State?

3.  What are the desktop publishing skills required by secretaries for effective administration of Local Governments in Abia State?

4.  What are the office communication skills required by secretaries for effective administration of Local Governments in Abia State?

5.  What are the reprographic skills required by secretaries for effective administration of Local Governments in Abia?

Research Hypotheses

The following hypotheses formulated for the study will be tested at 0.05 level of significance:

Ho1:  There is no significant difference in the mean ratings of administrative secretaries and professional secretaries on the word processing skills required by the secretaries for effective administration of local governments.

Ho2: There is no significant difference in the mean ratings of administrative secretaries and professional secretaries on the database management skills required by secretaries for effective administration of local governments.

Ho3: There is no significant difference between the mean ratings of administrative secretaries and professional secretaries on desktop publishing skills required by secretaries based on their years of experienced for effective administration of local governments.

H04:   There is no significant difference between the mean ratings of administrative secretaries and professional secretaries in urban and rural areas of local governments.

H05: There is no significant difference among the mean ratings of administrative secretaries and professional secretaries on age differences.

Scope of the study

The study will be limited to local governments in Abia State, Nigeria. Abia State is a State in South-Eastern Nigeria.  The study will be limited to information and communication technology-based office skills required by secretaries for effective administration of local governments. This study is specifically delimited to the skills required by the secretaries in word processing, desktop publishing, database management, reprographic, and office communication skills. The study will cover all the 17 local government areas in Abia State. However, the administrative secretaries and the professional secretaries will be considered.

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