Building a public service career from an architecture background

By Melissa Coade

Friday May 21, 2021

Liz Foo
Liz Foo, Tasmanian Department of Education senior asset management officer

On the Way Up

Liz Foo isn’t desk bound 40 hours each week for her job with Tasmania’s Department of Education — from assessing acoustic improvements in state schools and checking onsite security upgrades, the young upstart has already carved out a unique niche for herself in the public service

Foo has a degree in environmental design (architecture) on top of another qualification in infrastructure financial management. An interesting combination for someone who would go on to be a senior asset management officer for a major government department. 

The young professional started with the public service through Tasmania’s state service graduate program and was shortlisted by Education’s facility services team and has never looked back. 

On any given day, she could be maintaining software systems including troubleshooting errors, visiting schools to review security upgrades, or managing other small projects such as acoustic improvements in physical classrooms.

“This part of the job makes the outcomes of my work tangible and is a great thing to be able to experience,” Foo says of being able to visit classrooms.

“I get to work on projects that have a direct impact on classroom environments and safety of school premises. It is rewarding and I have people around me that are always ready to help or teach me the skills I need to learn.”

An increasing demand for school places in step with a growing population in Tasmania is one of the key issues that Foo’s department are working to cater to. To this end, they are collecting data on asset stock to develop a more proactive approach to plan for growth areas, or be ready with solutions to continue delivering ‘quality education in quality spaces’ as the landscape shifts.

One of Foo’s career highlights has been her work on a project known as the Asset and Project Management System Implementation, where she supported several teams as an interim business analyst (of sorts) to translate their needs into a working software system. 

“I worked as a conduit between a project management consultant, transatlantic configuration consultants, internal stakeholders and end users,” Foo says. 

“I’ve also learnt more about myself in that I’m able to think quite strategically to connect the dots quickly and to adapt to new situations in an agile manner.”

On completion, the project outcomes and relevant data on the department’s assets were presented to the Tasmanian premier and education minister. 

“The best part of this project was having the support I had, learning new technical skills and refining skills around analysis, research, and communication. Even though I don’t miss meetings at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon, it was a privilege to work with the team and to learn all I have.”

Initially, Foo wanted to pursue a career in hotel management and hospitality but a childhood spent jet setting with her family (Foo’s father worked in aviation) led to a lifelong passion for different buildings, streetscapes and eventually architecture. Pursuing that degree brought her from Malaysia to Tasmania in Australia, where she has stayed. 

“I always wondered why or how a place and space could make people feel certain emotions and as I got older, I learned that elements of design influenced it and that fascinated me.”

After her university studies, Foo worked with Hobart City Council as part of a research scholarship program offered through the University of Tasmania. In that same year she went on to apply her architect skills with clients and construction projects for the local firm Terroir Architects

“I joke a lot with my close friends to tell them I had a short stint in the architectural industry as a consultant only to land in a government agency on the client side of things yet still work with computer aided drawings and building plans,” Foo says. 

During her time in the public service, she has found opportunities to learn from the department’s capital team about educational facility design, and how these projects are delivered. 

“I’ve made the most of my knowledge to participate in international research projects and to be on juries for design awards, focusing on education,” Foo says.

“It always helps to have a supportive team and manager around you that you can talk to and learn from. If there are opportunities worth pursuing such as a short course or a workshop, that should be communicated or at least mentioned — as if you don’t try, you’ll never know,” she adds.


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