“Never underestimate the difference you can make.” That is the most important lesson Department of Health Assistant Secretary and descendant from the Wannyi people, Wendy Ah Chin has learned in a career with government spanning 25 years.
Originally from Mt Isa, and more recently living in the Northern Territory (NT), Wendy has worked in state and federal governments across Indigenous affairs, education and health. Fifteen months ago, she moved from the NT to Canberra.
“I’m loving it. There is the opportunity to leave a national footprint and improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. As much as I was enjoying the NT, I wanted to make a difference to Australia and do the best I can,” Wendy said.
“I’m only one of two Indigenous Senior Executive Service (SES) officers in the Australian Department of Health here in Canberra and I never underestimate the influence I can have. In the public service whether you’re at the junior or senior management levels, you have a sphere of influence.”
Wendy is sharing her experiences in working for government to promote the Australian Government Indigenous Lateral Entry (AGILE) Program, which is a pathway into the Australian Government for experienced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and managers.
“In the public service you get to be part of teams that make a difference to the lives of Australians. Most of us want to make a difference and there is the opportunity to do that in little ways and in big ways,” she said.
“You might think, ‘why switch careers?’, if you’re a professional and manager working in private enterprise or the not for profit or community sectors but there is untapped potential in a career with government. We’ve got so much [career] diversity and a wealth of job opportunities – nowhere else that I know of comes close.
“For senior APS officers you have overseas postings, through to national, regional and local. Your career can be whatever and wherever you want it to be.”
Location can be an important part of any decision-making when it comes to career. The APS offers opportunity to work across Australia, including in Canberra.
“You don’t have to always be in Canberra,” says Wendy. “Being part of a diverse workforce means that we can be based just about anywhere in the country. Access to Information Technology (IT) and video conferencing also offers flexibility in workplaces today.”
Personal and professional development are benefits a career in the APS can offer, Wendy said.
“The sheer size of the public service means you can be part of the work your particular agency does, but also part of the broader government as well. There are so many opportunities for networking and secondments if you want them. Leave and other conditions are also attractive.
“Most importantly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can influence the culture of the APS. We want to see more Indigenous people in the Australian Government. We are in the minority at the moment but as numbers grow, the government will increasingly reflect us in the policies we develop and the grant programs we support.
“As professionals in the public service, we are nation building, and that’s how we can make a difference,” Wendy said.
Wendy is the Assistant Secretary, Lead – Grants Hub Transition Taskforce, Health Grants & Network Division at the Department of Health. Prior to this she was the Assistant Secretary for the National Delivery Branch in Canberra, and before that, the State Manager for the Northern Territory.
Before joining the Department of Health, Wendy worked as the Executive Director, Office of Aboriginal Health Policy and Engagement for the Department of Health with the Northern Territory Government. Prior to this Wendy was the Chief Executive of Yothu Yindi Foundation and the Deputy CEO for the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (now Lowitja Institute).
Wendy has a health science degree and more recently graduated earlier in 2017 with an Executive Master of Public Administration through ANZSOG.
“I’m enjoying working in mainstream health at the moment but in the future I hope to be at the front and centre of Indigenous affairs and leading reform nationally,” she said.
Mentorship and support is also readily available in the APS, as are ongoing learning and development opportunities.
“I have a mentor who is a deputy secretary in another agency and a group of SES colleagues that I meet with regularly. I also completed my Executive Masters while in the APS,” she said.
The AGILE program provides a centralised recruitment process that allows you to apply once for positions across many Australian Government agencies. The process will be used to fill both immediate vacancies, and similar positions that become available within 12 months.