Internationally-Trained Professional Business Support Staff: Join an association!

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Internationally-Trained Professional Business Support Staff: Join an association!

By Wendy Terry

This is the third in a series of articles on professional associations that internationally trained professionals may join in order to establish a network with their Canadian peers. In the February/March 2007 issue, we focused on engineering associations, and in the April/May 2007 issue, we highlighted computer associations. This article will focus on business support staff associations, that is, associations for professions that support the work of business, government agencies, or community organizations.
Support staff does accounting, payroll, human resource management, marketing, purchasing (shipping, receiving and warehousing), business communication and administrative assistance. They do not sell the products or services nor do they make or develop them but they support those who do those tasks—the line staff—such as engineers, computer programmers, social workers, etc.

Computerization has blurred the division between line and support staff. As a result, some functions that were separate such as purchasing, shipping and receiving, and warehousing have combined into supply chain management and logistics. The computer and voicemail systems have taken over traditional secretarial tasks. Secretaries have been transformed into administrative assistants who more directly support management.

Mid to large-size organizations hire specialized support staff while smaller organizations tend to have one or two support staff who perform many of these functions. For example, a receptionist may also do the accounting or a bookkeeper may also do the purchasing. Associations for support staff exist at the more specialized professional level. For all organizations, very specialized support staff is usually contracted out, for example legal, transportation and advertising firms.

All the following associations are listed in the Associations Canada Directory, which is available in all public libraries.

We urge internationally trained professionals to join these membership-based associations because it is the most efficient way for newcomers to find their professional peers. You can join the associations listed in this directory without being certified or having Canadian work experience. Your international credentials and work experience are enough. You can network with colleagues in your field and perhaps find job leads through attending events like annual conferences, monthly speakers’ events, dinners, and through the associations’ on line job banks. An employer looking for an accountant is more likely to post a job on the Certified General Accountants web site than to put an ad in the paper or even to use an employment agency. The job banks of these associations are part of that “hidden Canadian job market.”

In these associations you can showcase your experience by writing articles for their newsletters, or giving an after dinner presentation at a monthly meeting. For example marketing professionals would be highly interested in how marketing works in China, India, Russia, or South America compared to Canada.

You have the basis to start up many good conversations because your peers are interested in how things are done in your country, just as you are interested in how things are done here.
Don’t worry about your English. Professionals in a common field find ways of communicating. It is easier for a computer professional to talk to another one even if it is in a second language than it is for that same professional to talk to a lay person who shares no knowledge of the specialty.

The membership costs--$100 to $200 per year—are minimal compared to the networking value.


There are several associations for accountants. The two that are more likely to have members who work as support staff are the Certified General Accountants Association and the Certified Management Accountants. Their web sites are and These are training associations as well as membership based. For the CGA you can take courses at a college like Seneca or university like Ryerson. These courses can be credited towards a CGA designation. You can also take courses directly from the CGA. As you are working as an accountant while you take your courses you are earning while you learn. To take the CMA training program you must first have a BA. Similarly, to train as a CA, a Chartered Accountant, you must have a BA first. Chartered Accountants audit the books of organizations and often work for auditing firms. The chartered accountants website is The CGA and CMA have job banks open only to members.


Because of the size of some organizations and the complexity of the payroll function in an organization, payroll has become a specialized area. In fact some firms contract out payroll services to other companies. The complexity of payroll administration stems from the managing of multiple staff benefit deductions such as dental care, life and/or disability insurance, pension contributions etc. The Canadian Payroll Association is a membership-based association for payroll specialists. CPA’s website is CPA has a job bank for members.
Human resources

Human resource management is another key support staff area. These professionals are responsible not only for hiring and firing but often organize the training of staff, administration of benefits programs like health care and pensions and ensure adherence to workplace labour, health and safety standards. Human Resource Professionals of Ontario, HRPAO is a membership-based organization for professionals working in this diverse field. Its web site is It has a job bank for members.

The Canadian Marketing Associations is a membership-based

association for marketing firms, and it has a great Marketing Resources section on its website There is a Glossary of Terms that is a gold mine for newcomers trying to pick up the technical language of marketing.
There is also a membership-based marketing organization called the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, MRIA. Its website is This is a new organization which was formed in 2004 from the merger of three other organizations. This merger reflects the changes in the field of market research brought about by computerization. Knowledge management is an emerging field here. Organizations gather detailed data from front-line contact with customers and clients. Then it is fed back and compiled into information reports by IT. This detailed knowledge is then organized in a way that assists marketing.

Purchasing is now part of the new field of supply chain management in which the management of the purchasing, shipping and warehousing of products have been combined so that shipping and warehousing costs are saved. Logistics is the new name for shipping—how to get the product there just in time for production or to replenish sold items. The Purchasing Management Association of Canada (PMAC) is a membership-based organization of professionals. In fact, it has over 40,000 members. It has a job bank for members and a certification program. On its web site——it is described as the leading professional association for supply chain management. There is another organization called Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Canada. SCL’s website is It also has a job bank for members.
Business Communication

Organizations put out a large quantity of communications including company newsletters to staff and customers. So not surprisingly there is an International Association of Business Communicators, IABC. Its website is Despite the international title its largest chapter is in Toronto. It also has a job bank.
Administrative Assistance

The secretary has been replaced by the administrative assistant. One of the secretary’s main job functions, keeping records, has been almost taken over and transformed by the IT Department. Typing and sorting mail has reverted to the manager who has a PC and laptop at hand. Answering and directing phone calls has been taken over by voice mail systems. So the secretary’s other role in assisting the manager with core projects has now surfaced as the main job task and as result the job title has changed to reflect this shift.
For example being an administrative assistant to the market research manager requires more systems knowledge (getting at computerized data) and knowledge of marketing than being the secretary to the marketing research manger did in the past. There are several associations for administrative assistants. The Association of Administrative Assistants was founded in 1950 and is totally Canadian. It has a Qualified Administrative Assistants designation. Its website is The Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries CSCS, focuses on professionals who work in companies that are responsible to shareholders. Its website is The International Association of Administrative Professionals IAAP is like the AAA. Its website is
All these associations have local chapters and special interest groups. If you do not see your expertise listed on a website phone one of them and ask where to find a network of people with specializations similar to yours.
All these associations will have committees that look after the management of the association such as Membership, Finance, Education, Annual Meeting, Magazine or Newsletter. By volunteering on these committees you further deepen your professional contacts.
Participation in a professional association is one of the best ways of networking with your professional peers.
June/July 2007

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