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Nature of the Work
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
* Expected faster than average employment growth and relatively high turnover should
create numerous job openings for most types of information clerks.
* A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement for most information clerk jobs.
Information clerks gather information from, and provide information to the public. They are found in a variety of organizations and have many different job titles and responsibilities. Hotel and motel desk clerks are a guest's first contact for check-in, check-out, and other services within hotels, motels, and resorts. Interviewing and new account clerks, found most often in medical facilities, research firms, and financial institutions, assist the public in completing forms, applications or questionnaires. Receptionists are often a visitor's or caller's first contact within an organization, providing information and routing calls. Reservation and transportation ticket agents, as well as travel clerks, assist the public in making travel plans, reservations, and purchasing tickets for a variety of transportation services.
Although their day-to-day duties vary widely, most information clerks greet customers, guests, or other visitors. Others answer telephones or elicit information from the public. Most information clerks use general office equipment such as multiline telephones, fax machines, and personal computers. This section, which contains an overall discussion of information clerks, is followed by separate sections providing more information on the four types of clerks identified above.
Information clerks who greet customers and visitors usually work in highly visible areas, designed and furnished to make a good impression. Most work stations are clean, well lighted, and relatively quiet, and overall working conditions are usually pleasant. Reservation agents and interviewing clerks who do much of their work over the telephone, generally work away from the public, often in large centralized reservation or phone centers. Because a number of agents or clerks may share the same work space, it may be crowded and noisy. Occasionally, interviewing clerks may conduct surveys on the street or in shopping malls, or go door to door. Both hotel desk clerks and ticket agents may be on their feet most of the time, and ticket agents may have to lift heavy baggage. In addition, prolonged exposure to a video display terminal may lead to eye strain.
Although most information clerks work a standard 40-hour week, about 3 out of 10 work part time. Some high school and college students work part time as information clerks, after school or during vacations. Some jobssuch as those in the transportation industry, hospitals, and hotels, in particularmay require working evenings, late night shifts, weekends, and holidays. In many cases, employees with the least seniority are assigned the least desirable shifts. Interviewing clerks conducting surveys or other research may mainly work evenings or weekends.
The work performed by information clerks may be repetitious and stressful. Many receptionists spend all day answering continuously ringing telephones while performing additional clerical or secretarial tasks. Many reservation agents and travel clerks work under stringent time constraints or have quotas on the number of calls answered or reservations made. The current technology enables management to electronically monitor their use of computer systems, monitor or tape record their telephone calls, or limit the time spent on each call.
The work of hotel and motel desk clerks and transportation ticket agents also can be stressful when trying to serve the needs of difficult or angry customers. When flights are canceled, reservations mishandled, or guests are dissatisfied, these clerks must act as a buffer between the establishment and its customers.
Information clerks held almost 1.6 million jobs in 1996. The following tabulation shows 1996 employment for the individual occupations.
Receptionists 1,074,000 Interviewing and new account clerks 208,000 Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks 166,000 Hotel and motel desk clerks 144,000
Although information clerks are found in a variety of industries throughout the economy, employment is concentrated in hotels and motels, the health services industry, banks and savings institutions, the transportation industry, and firms providing business or real estate services.
Although hiring requirements for information clerk jobs vary from industry to industry, a high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement. However, good interpersonal skills and familiarity or experience with computers are often more important to employers. For airline reservation and ticket agent jobs, some college education may be preferred.
Because many information clerks deal directly with the public, good grooming habits and a pleasant personality are imperative, as are good problem-solving and interpersonal skills. A clear speaking voice and fluency in the English language are essential because these employees frequently use the telephone or public address systems. Coursework useful to persons wanting to enter these occupations include basic math, English, geography, U.S. history, psychology, communications, and public speaking. Good spelling, typing ability, and computer literacy are often needed, particularly because most work involves considerable computer use. It also is increasingly helpful for those wishing to enter the lodging or travel industries to fluently speak a foreign language.
With the exception of airline reservation and transportation ticket agents, orientation and training for information clerks generally takes place on the job. For example, orientation for hotel and motel desk clerks usually includes an explanation of the job duties and information about the establishment, such as room locations and available services. New employees learn job tasks through on-the-job training under the guidance of a supervisor or an experienced clerk. They often need additional training in how to use the computerized reservation, room assignment, and billing systems and equipment.
Receptionists generally receive on-the-job training. However, employers often look for applicants who already possess certain skills, such as prior computer and word processing experience. Some employers may prefer previous experience, some formal education, or training with office equipment or procedures. On the job, they learn how to operate the telephone system, computers, and the proper procedures for greeting visitors, and distributing mail, fax, and parcel deliveries.
Most airline reservation and ticket agents learn their skills through formal company training programs. They spend some time in a classroom setting, learning company and industry policies, computer systems, and ticketing procedures. They learn to use the airline's computer system to obtain information on schedules, seat availability, and fares; to reserve space for passengers; and to plan passenger itineraries. They must learn airport and airline code designations, regulations, and safety procedures, and may be tested on this knowledge. After completing classroom instruction, new agents work on the job with supervisors or experienced agents for a period of time. During this period, monitoring of telephone conversations may serve as a training device to improve the quality of customer service. Agents are expected to provide good service while limiting the time spent on each call without being discourteous to customers.
In contrast, automobile clubs, bus lines, and railroads tend to train their ticket agents or travel clerks on the job, through short in-house classes that can last several days. Most information clerks continue to receive instruction on new procedures and company policies after their initial training ends.
Advancement for information clerks generally comes about either by transfer to a different, more responsible occupation or by promotion to a supervisory position. The more skills, experience, and additional training an employee possesses, the better their advancement opportunities. Receptionists, interviewers, and new accounts clerks with word processing or other clerical skills may advance to a better paying job as a secretary or administrative assistant. Within the airline industry, a ticket agent may advance to lead worker on the shift.
Additional training is helpful in preparing information clerks for promotion. In the lodging industry, clerks can improve their chances for advancement by taking home or group study courses in lodging management, such as those sponsored by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Motel Association. In some industriessuch as lodging, banking, or the airline industryworkers commonly are promoted through the ranks. Positions such as airline reservation agent or hotel and motel desk clerk offer good opportunities for qualified workers to get started in the business. In many industries, a college degree may be required for advancement to management ranks.
Overall employment of information clerks is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. In addition to the many openings occurring as businesses and organizations expand, numerous job openings for information clerks will result from the need to replace experienced workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Replacement needs reflect the relatively high turnover among these jobs. Many young people work as information clerks for a few years before switching to other, better paying jobs. This work is well suited to flexible work schedules, and many opportunities for part-time work will continue to be available, particularly as organizations look to cut labor costs by hiring more part-time or temporary workers.
Economic growth and general business expansion are expected to stimulate faster than average growth in the large number of receptionist jobs. Hotel and motel desk clerks are also expected to grow faster than the average as the composition of the lodging industry changes and services provided by these workers expand. Employment in other information clerk jobs, however, is projected to range from a decline to average growth, reflecting the impact of new technology and trends in the industries where their employment is concentrated.
In 1996, median weekly earnings of full-time information clerks were about $345. The middle 50 percent earned between $279 and $447. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $213, while the top 10 percent earned more than $576. Earnings vary widely by occupation and experience. Weekly earnings ranged from less than $185 for the lowest paid hotel clerks, to over $710 for the highest paid reservation agents. Salaries of reservation and ticket agents tend to be significantly higher than for other information clerks, while hotel and motel desk clerks tend to earn quite a bit less, as the following tabulation of median weekly earnings shows.
Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks $421 Interviewing clerks 356 Receptionists 333 Hotel and motel desk clerks 267
Earnings of hotel and motel desk clerks also vary considerably depending on the location, size, and type of establishment in which they work. Large luxury hotels and those located in metropolitan and resort areas generally pay clerks more than less exclusive or "budget" establishments and those located in less populated areas.
In early 1997, the Federal Government commonly paid beginning receptionists with a high school diploma or 6 months of experience, salaries ranging from $18,980 to $19,240 a year. The average annual salary for all receptionists employed by the Federal Government was about $21,240 in 1997.
In addition to their hourly wage, full-time information clerks who work evenings, nights, weekends, or holidays may receive shift differential pay. Some employers offer educational assistance to their employees. Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks receive free or reduced rate travel on their company's carriers for themselves and their immediate family and, in some companies, for friends. Relatively few information clerks belong to unions. However, unions representing these workers include the Transportation Communications International Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.
A number of other workers deal with the public, receive and provide information, or direct people to others who can assist them. Among these are dispatchers, security guards, bank tellers, guides, telephone operators, record clerks, counter and rental clerks, survey workers, and ushers and lobby attendants.
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