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Pitman still the big name in Secretarial Training


The Pitman name has long been associated with shorthand and secretarial training. Its history dates back 140 years, when Sir Isaac Pitman set up his first shorthand school.

It is now the oldest and longest-running independent training company and has over 100 centres across the UK.

Sir Isaac’s History

Pitman Training’s founder was dedicated to phonography, having developed his own system of shorthand based on phonetic rather than orthographic principles.

The rules he put together in his book Stenographic Soundhand, which was published in 1837, are still used by secretarial staff around the world today.

Sir Isaac’s own career began in the secretarial profession, although it is unlikely he could have realised just how important his name would be to the likes of typing courses and receptionist training.

Born at Trowbridge in Wiltshire on January 4th, 1813, Sir Isaac was educated at the local grammar school. His first job was as a clerk in a textile mill. He originally took up the Samuel Taylor’s system of shorthand and developed an enthusiasm for developing the art of phonography.

Educator And Writer

As well as the secretarial experience, Sir Isaac also had a background in education.

Following his job as a clerk he entered a training college for teachers in 1831 and then taught in primary schools for 11 years. With this experience under his belt, he opened up his own private school in Bath. It was at the suggestion of publisher Samuel Bagster that he wrote Stenographic Soundhand.

Bagster printed the book at the lowest possible price so that it could be widely distributed and reach plenty of budding secretaries.

He devoted himself to perfecting phonography and ensuring it was widely used, in the secretarial profession and beyond. In order to publicise the skill to as many people as possible and to make sure it was learned and passed on, he set up a Phonetic Institute in Bath.

In addition, Sir Isaac set up the Phonetic Journal to create a forum for discussion and progression of the art, which he continued to edit for years afterwards.

He was also an enthusiastic spelling reformer and embraced a phonetic system which he tried to bring in to general use.

Another of his books, Phonography, published in 1840, went through many editions and he also printed a number of standard works in shorthand.

He was knighted in 1894, shortly before his death in 1897.

Important Historical Moment

Sir Isaac Pitman’s introduction of schools for secretarial training coincided with an important time in history for communications.

The 19th century saw the start of mass production of the typewriter, which revolutionised the office environment at the time. It became one of the great inventions of the period for communications technology, alongside telegraphy, the telephone, the camera and the gramophone.

Indeed, the Qwerty keyboard, developed by typewriter manufacturers Scholes and Glidden, remains the standard for English-language keyboards.

Not only was it important from a business point of view, but also in social terms, opening doors for women to take up secretarial work. Typewriters gave women jobs in the office environment, furthering their liberation. This eventually led to their gaining more equality, due to their presence within and contributions to business operations.

The World Wars then accelerated women’s role in the work place and from then on the secretarial profession became dominated by female workers.

Pitman Today

It is unlikely that Sir Isaac Pitman could have predicted the spread of his training centres not only in the UK, but also internationally.

The company, which has become one of the most trusted in the world of private training, now offers over 125 courses, with everything from Word 2007 courses to touch typing courses.

It has branched out to include bookkeeping and even personal development education, as well as offering diploma courses for higher level education.

There are around 100 centres across the UK and Ireland where people can still learn shorthand, as Sir Isaac’s first students did, although many now choose to study Teeline instead.

The Pitman name has even spread as far as Kuwait, Malawi, Mauritius and Saudi Arabia, where there are centres offering the courses.

Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and Jersey have not missed out either, all offering secretarial training under the guise of the school set up 130 years ago.

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