Alexandra Young has always been driven to make a broad contribution to society. As a kid she dreamt of becoming a journalist, and then in her more academic teenage years it was law.
“I don’t think I ever knew what I wanted to ‘be’. I really just wanted to do work that interested me and had a broad impact,” she says.
After Young completed her LLB from the University of Wollongong and cut her teeth in a handful of legal internship roles, she landed a graduate job with the Commonwealth Department of Finance in Canberra. There she worked on financial management policy and reforms to financial management legislation.
Three years in as a policy officer and Young was ready for a change — so she moved sideways and back to NSW to work as a policy analyst for NSW Treasury.
“The main challenge for me was not knowing what I didn’t know about the breadth of work done in state and federal governments.
“Having worked across multiple agencies now for over 10 years, I can better see where puzzle pieces fit together and how to leverage that understanding to break down silos and communicate better to achieve better outcomes for my projects and for the community.”
Young’s best advice for budding public servants is to be curious, ask questions, and follow your interests.
“If you have a question, it’s likely someone else does too – so be brave enough to ask it!,” she says.
Young took her own advice in 2017, when after about five years working in the financial management space, she decided she wanted to immerse herself in a new and different subject matter entirely. She joined what was then the NSW Department of Justice (now communities and justice) as a senior policy officer and has worked her way to managing major reforms for the department’s Community Corrections unit.
One of Young’s most significant pieces of work with the department occurred in her first year there, working on parole and sentencing amendments that were part of a major criminal justice reform package. The fast paced (the legislation needed to be passed by the years’ end) and highly collaborative work of that project led Young to her current role, which involves implementing initiatives that help to achieve the intent of parole and sentencing laws.
“I’ve now seen the full spectrum from Cabinet approval for legislative reforms to implementation,” Young says.
“In my [current] role, I manage around 15 projects at any one time. I have a small team of senior project officers and a project officer.
“A day might involve working group meetings, presentations to or consultation with frontline Community Corrections staff, or preparing advice or recommendations to the executive.”
Her other key career tip is to learn how to juggle competing priorities against a backdrop of evolving expectations and project deliverables. Once you have honed this skill, make it a strength and continue to work on it.
“I’m yet to come across a project that hasn’t evolved from inception to completion,” Young says.
“Flag risks with delivering on schedule with your supervisor as early and often as possible – and try to come with suggestions, not just problems.”
“Two-way communication is also a key skill I use – as well as communicating central decisions, I make sure I listen to and appreciate the experiences of frontline staff who have to implement these decisions day to day, and help create avenues for them to advocate for broader changes,” she adds.
In the justice space, it is clear to Young that good policy and better community outcomes depend on agencies working together to effect change. She makes a point to stay abreast of developments across the sector, and relevant evidence and data that relates to decreasing criminal offending (like lack of access to services or housing) so that the most informed approach or recommendations can be made.
Another important focus of her work is breaking down the agency or programmatic silos which existed before a 2019 merger took place between the NSW Department of Justice with the Department of Family and Community Services. One of the core objectives of that merger was to develop more efficiencies and opportunities by working together, Young says.
“Over the next few years, we need to continue to learn how to work better together and from one another to deliver ambitious targets and achieve the priorities set by the premier and the NSW government.”