On the job as an adviser in the Aboriginal Employment Unit Victorian Public Sector Commission

Penny Scott studied Diploma of Legal Practice and is now an adviser in the Aboriginal Employment Unit Victorian Public Sector Commission.
Jaymes Carr
Jaymes Carr
Team GradAustralia
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What's your job title? How long have you worked in your current position?

I have worked at the Victorian Public Sector Commission for a number of years. I am currently working as an adviser in the Aboriginal Employment Unit. The Aboriginal Employment Unit aims to improve employment outcomes for Aboriginal people in the public sector. I have recently returned to the Victorian Public Sector Commission after completing a five month secondment in the Aboriginal Affairs Policy Branch at the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

What does your job involve?

In my current role, I have been able to work on systemic issues relating to the underrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the Victorian public sector workforce. I have a passion for equality, diversity, and social inclusion across the domains of gender, disability, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

What is your employer’s mission/goal?

The objective of the Victorian Public Sector Commission is to strengthen the efficiency, effectiveness and capability of the public sector in order to meet existing and emerging needs and deliver high quality services, and to maintain, and advocate for, public sector professionalism and integrity. We work collaboratively with the Victorian Government departments and agencies to achieve our outcomes.

What do you do on a daily basis? Have you worked on any projects that you’re particularly proud of?

My day to day work involves a lot of desk top research and the occasional stakeholder engagement. As part of the newly-developed Victorian Public Sector Aboriginal Employment Strategy, I am working on a project relating to the “re-imagination” of recruitment and selection processes in the Victorian public sector. I am conducting research on racial unconscious bias, social identity theory, similarity-attraction theory, and institutional racism. I feel that this project has the potential to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s important that the diversity of Aboriginal viewpoints and perspectives is valued in the Victorian public sector.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?

A challenging aspect of my role that I enjoy is complex problem solving. This involves identifying trends, opportunities, and threats for your organisation.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role? Please be as specific as possible.

It’s really nice when your job aligns with your motivation and your interests. I’m really passionate about social justice and I get to make that happen. And of course, the operating environment for government is different to the private sector. You’re not working for the almighty dollar, you’re working for the public good.

What’s your background?

I’ve had a very varied career to date. While I was completing my Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice in 2009, I worked as an Associate in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to Chief Magistrate Burns before his elevation to the Supreme Court. I had various duties including managing court files, taking appearances, and swearing in witnesses. I liaised with internal and external stakeholders including police officers, self-represented litigants, prison officers, barristers, lawyers, judges and members of the public. I highly recommend that students consider undertaking an Associateship prior to undertaking a graduate program. The understanding you get of the inner workings of the court system stands you in good stead later on in your career.

Where did you grow up?

My story is a little bit different to others. I grew up in a mid-sized country town in Central West New South Wales. When I completed Year 12, I moved away from home in order to study. I didn’t have the luxury of living at home with mum and dad while I completed my undergraduate degrees. You might say that I’ve had an interesting journey!

Where were you educated and what did you study? Please specify your graduate degree.

I graduated from the University of New England with a Bachelor of Arts and Laws awith First Class Honours in Law. I was admitted to the legal profession in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory after completing the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the Australian National University. I am currently studying Masters of Employment Law at the University of Melbourne (due for completion this year). I haven’t yet decided whether I want to do a PhD in Law, possibly at Cambridge University, but I do like the idea of being called Doctor Penny!

What attracted you to that field of study?

The area of employment and labour relations is fascinating, especially the intersections with equality and human rights in domestic law and at the international level. It’s a really complex area of law spanning workplace health and safety, industrial relations, and equal opportunity. There also happens to be a shortage of skilled and experienced employment lawyers. Even if you specialise, it doesn’t mean that you always have to work in that area.

What personal qualities are required for success in your position?

To be successful in government, I think it’s really important to have good people skills. In the public sector, the emphasis is often on cooperation and collaboration. Team players are willing to share information, knowledge, and experience. They pitch in and help others when needed.

What’s one thing it might surprise people to learn is advantageous in your job?

A personal quality that is often advantageous is flexibility and adaptability. Change can be uncomfortable for us humans, and for this reason, we may want to resist it. This is why resilience is important. People notice when you can effectively navigate changed priorities and directions without undue discomfort.

What are the limitations or downsides of your job?

Although I have had limited experience in the private sector, a key difference is the pace of work. The wheels of government turn very slowly. If you are forging a change agenda, this can often be frustrating. In a government context, the ability to persuade others to see your point of view is very valuable.

Is there a reason that you chose public service over private practice?

Working in the public service as opposed to private practice has a number of advantages. Overall, I find that the best thing about working for government is the variety. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you can move around quite easily in the sector. There are lots of roles for lawyers, whether it’s working in legal roles or non-legal roles like policy or projects. You’re not confined to time sheets and you can easily access flexible working arrangements depending on the kind of work you do. This can include working from home, different start and finish times, or job sharing. If you’re sociable, the morning or afternoon teas also rate a mention! My key message is that there are options besides working for a commercial law firm, and one of these is working for the government.

If you could give three pieces of advice to your younger self at university, what would they be?

I’ve learned so much since my undergraduate days. My first piece of advice would be to talk to people more. According to the 70:20:10 Model of Learning and Development, people obtain 70 percent of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal education. Learning and development opportunities are great, but don’t forget to learn from your mistakes and successes. You should also learn from those around you, including your colleagues and your manager. Reach out to people for advice. If you want to work for the government, learn to like coffee… and lots of it! My second piece of advice would be to read as much as you can about professional development. Sign up to Forbes and the Harvard Business Review. They are a goldmine of information. My last piece of advice would be to learn a language before entering the workforce. I didn’t take language classes at university and I wish I had. Language skills look great on your resume.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by the former first woman Governor General of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce. She once said, “Girls can do everything, just not all at once…” For some reason, the quote has stayed with me over the years…

 Learn more about working in this field, jump to community sector legal practice or the Human rights law overview.