Patrick Fester

Patrick Fester

University of Newcastle
Graduate Policy Officer
Patrick studied Bachelor of Arts & Masters of Social at University of Newcastle

What's your job about?

I work for the Department of Employment, National Office. The Department has responsibility for Australian employment service contracts, labour market assistance programs and workplace relations law and policy. I specifically work in the Labour Market Policy Branch – Strategic Evidence Team. The main responsibilities of the team are labour market research and the development of evidence-based policy.

Currently, I work on a number of projects but my daily tasks include: policy research – reading academic journals and government research, policy writing including briefing and updates to senior executives and stakeholder engagement with the Department’s many speciality areas.

An exemplary work day is one that is dedicated to build sound policy options. As a member of the Strategic Evidence Team it is our responsibility to ensure that our policy options are well considered and backed by research evidence.

I think one of the most exciting elements of the job is seeing policy before it becomes legislation. Knowing that I’ve written work that has gone before the Minister is also quite exciting.

What's your background?

I grew up on the southern beaches of Newcastle in a little suburb called Whitebridge.

I went to my local high school until 2008. I started a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Newcastle in 2009. I worked fulltime for an accounting firm in Newcastle for my first year at University before moving to a Bachelor of Arts in 2010. I worked fulltime during my under-graduate and post-graduate degree in hospitality and for various private sector companies.

I got my current job after being selected as part of the 2016 Department of Employment graduate program. I’ve been a graduate with the Department since February 2016 and complete the program in December 2016. Following graduation I intend to stay with the Department and work on public policy.

I think an important life decision I made was to move away from Accounting. I liked the firm that I worked for in Newcastle and financial auditing was fast-paced and exciting. Moving away from the firm and a clear career path I had there was intimidating; but I wanted new challenges. The move (in hindsight) took a lot of guts from me, I was 19 earning a good income and making great connections. Leaving represented the unknown and a world of possibility. After leaving the firm I spent time travelling, following this, I returned to University to study anthropology. I knew anthropology may well be career limiting, but I wanted to study something I was passionate about. Years later it has turned out to be a great decision; I now work in Canberra on great public policy with exciting opportunities.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes of course. Any, one who is passionate and committed, could do my job. I think it helps to have an interest in public policy and have a thirst for learning. The public service welcomes people from different backgrounds, diversity in experience brings strength to the service.

There are a few characteristics and skills I would consider of high importance:

Soft skills – networking, active listening, negotiation, personal demeanour, eagerness to learn and willingness to learn from failure.
Technical skills – high level writing and analytical skills, analyse and distil key evidence, write and deliver convincing evidenced based-policy options.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

I love knowing that I am contributing to Australian public policy in a meaningful way. I enjoy policy research, writing and feeling well informed about the political issues of the day. Seeing something on the 6 o’clock news and knowing that you’ve contributed to that work is a unique experience. There have been times when we have had to meet tight deadlines and initially it can be stressful, however working as part of a team and completing the task is a really great feeling.

My job is great not only because the work is great but because we have a great workplace. The Department has social spaces to play pool and table tennis and catch up with friends on a Friday afternoon. Specifically my team is great because we get to work on cabinet documents, which means the work we do is seen by the Minister and Prime Minister. Not everyone in the public service has that chance and I’ve been happy to be given the opportunity early in my career.

The Department also offers a range of diverse social and interest clubs. The Department has a young leader’s network, gender equality network, choir and an indigenous network. The Department also has a dedicated social club which sponsors charity events and caters for some work functions. Through the Department I’ve made great friends and even participate in a social soccer side made up of public service colleagues.

What are the limitations of your job?

My workplace is very team oriented so we try not to let any one individual bear the responsibility of work. If work has to be done urgently we take a divide and conquer approach were possible. I haven’t worked on a weekend (*unlike earlier careers!). My job is not physically demanding, aside from the 5 minute walk to the café.

I think being pushed outside your comfort zone is an interesting limitation. I’ve learnt that the public service offers many challenges, some tasks push you out of your comfort zone and you have to work to master it. For some people I could see this as a limitation, for others an exciting opportunity. From my own experience organising an event for fellow graduates and senior executive was originally daunting. However, after taking time to think it through and getting assistance from colleagues, I was able to plan a great event. I also think my first role in the service was different to my expectations; I worked in a consulting role responsible for a great deal of internal stakeholder engagement. This work was confronting at first, talking to rooms of people and helping business areas solve problems. I learnt that these opportunities are what you make of them and the only real limits are the ones you put on yourself.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  • If you can afford it, do one degree (or major) for yourself and another one for your career. My first degree (B.A.) was for me. My master’s was for my career and I’m happy I did both. If you can’t – make sure you excel at whatever you do.
  • Intern, volunteer, work really hard. Nothing looks better on a resume than someone who did some volunteer work in an area of interest or interned at a local firm. You might not get paid, but learning to juggle responsibility and getting your foot in the door is invaluable.
  • If you stuff up – don’t whinge. Fix it. So you fail a class, you miss out on a job - whatever it is. Keep going. No great champion on the sporting field, or in the boardroom got there by giving in. You’ll be humbled many times in your life, learn from it, grow, and build a better you every single day.