All commercial occupations may be roughly divided into two classes: those which have to do with administrative, merchandising, or productive work, and those which carry on the clerical routine which the others necessitate. The first class of occupations may be designated by the term “administrative work” and the second by “clerical work.” A varying relation exists between the two which depends chiefly upon the kind of business represented. In some kinds clerical work is the stepping stone by which administrative work is reached; in others employment in clerical work side-tracks away from the administrative work.
There is, of course, a future of promotion within the limits of clerical work without reference to its relation to administrative work. The practical aspect of it is, in most kinds of business, that the subordinate clerical positions far outnumber the chief ones. Promotion of any sort depends largely upon individual capacity; but this general distinction may be made between promotion in clerical work and in administrative work; in the clerical field it tends to be automatic but limited; in administrative work it comes more often through a worker’s initiative or individuality than through automatic progression and it has no arbitrary limits.
Obviously one kind of person will be adapted to an administrative career; another to a clerical one. Even a beginner in wage earning might be able to classify himself on a basis like this; yet it is not essential, for in many cases it is possible that his first positions recognize this choice. He needs fundamental experience in business methods whatever he is going to do; and for most administrative positions he needs maturity. He can achieve both by serving an apprenticeship in some form of clerical work. The important things for him in the early part of his career are to understand the distinction between the two classes of occupations; to sense the relation he holds to the business as a whole; and to act intelligently in the matter of making a change.
The bookkeeping which modern business, except in the small establishment, demands of young workers is certainly not the journal and ledger bookkeeping of the commercial schools. A modern office organization may have in its bookkeeping department of 20 persons only one “bookkeeper.” This person is responsible for the system and he supervises the keeping of records and the preparation of statements. A minority of his assistants will need to be able to distinguish debits from credits; the rest will be occupied in making simple entries or in posting, in verifying and checking, or in finding totals with the aid of machines. The bookkeeping systems employed show wide variation, not only in different kinds of business, but in different establishments in the same kinds of business. Many firms are using a loose-leaf system; some use ledgers; and others have a system of record keeping which calls for neither of these devices. Bookkeeping work, especially in the positions held by girls, is frequently combined with comptometer or adding machine work, with typing, billing, filing, or statistical work; but rarely, except in the small office, are bookkeeping and stenography—the Siamese Twins of traditional and commercial training—found linked together.