Everyone’s Talking About…Working In Council

Here’s another big employer and it’s such a fascinating ecosystem  I thought I’d meet up with an employee of the Hills Shire Council and find out. I went straight to the top and met with the General Manager, Michael Edgar.

First impressions of the offices are very modern, efficient and professional. There’s lots of natural light and it appears spacious and busy. The friendly Concierge triaged me into a waiting area upstairs and it wasn’t long before Michael came out to greet me and take me to a meeting room.

If Michael is typical of the Hills Council employees then I imagine it’d be a lovely place to work.  He is warm, friendly and talks very easily about his time at the Council.  This isn’t his first rodeo.  Michael started as a trainee at Blacktown Council and from there to the Blue Mountains and then to the Hills.  Now he leads around 600 people.

Given that Michael has worked at three different councils, I asked if he could paint me a picture of his perspective of this Council and the people in this shire. “I would describe this community as a ‘can do’ community.  People here really pitch in and look for Council to facilitate rather than do it all.  Not just in business but also the developers and  the volunteering network.  We have a lot of volunteers in aged services, bush care, regeneration – yes there’s a high degree of ‘can do’. This Council also takes on a businesslike approach. They would be the main differences.”

“I have really fond memories throughout my entire career working in councils – the people that work in Council are decent, good people – that’s not different between the councils.  It’s congenial and it feels good.  I find that people who work in councils are community minded; they know that what they do contributes to the community and its quality of life.  We are also very mindful that we are delivering our services to the community using largely their money so it’s important we make good use of it.  What is also important, is that the priorities and budgets are given oversight and direction by the Mayor and elected Councillors as the governing body of the organisation which adds another dimension to our work as we align ourselves with their direction, vision and values as elected officials.”

“What I think people not working in council are often surprised about is the range of positions we have. I think people think we just collect rates and rubbish” he said with a smile. “We have a wide range of positions from Childcare workers to Engineers, Planners, IT people, Accountants, Building Surveyors, Compliance Officers, Environmental Health Officers, Trainees, Journalists, Gardeners, Civil workers, Property Officers, Community services, Events staff, Marketing staff, Librarians, Customer services officers and many more supportive roles.  The diversity of business activities and professions is not always obvious.“

So, what attracts people to work at council?

“We are very supportive employers and the work is both challenging but rewarding.  We help people develop through education assistance, career development support and access to employee assistance programs. I’d like to think we also have a close collaboration between the leadership team, management and our employees. I can’t quote the exact figure off the top of my head but our staff turnover is in single figures. And, in all of my years in councils I’ve always experienced supportive working environments and have always sought to address areas of negativity or inappropriate behaviour. Work satisfaction is high in a council position.  Everything we are working on here affects the wellbeing of the community. Town Planners and Engineers would never have the opportunity to work on such incredible urban growth and local infrastructure projects as they do at council.  Can you imagine the satisfaction of working on projects and seeing new and existing communities come to life?  We work in ten year cycles but our planning must have a vision of the future – out past 30 years.  It’s incredibly fulfilling.  People like to engage in meaningful work.  Council work is meaningful.”

“We also get to collaborate with other organisations: RFS, Police, State Members of Parliament, Government agencies and many local businesses.  Let me give you an example of something we all did recently.  Remember the day that was rated as a catastrophic fire warning?  We had trucks parked down here filled with water as back up ready to go, we had people deployed in areas ready to assist the rural fire brigade and the community; we opened up the showground as an evacuation point for livestock and people turned up with their horses and dogs to keep them safe.  Even though many business experienced staff shortages that day, Council staff turned up to help the community that day because it’s important.”

“On another note, innovation is a priority, but let’s face it, the bins still have to be picked up but we can innovate how they’re picked up.  It’s immensely satisfying getting something passed that we’ve been working on for a long time. A great example of that is the lights on Glenhaven Road and Old Northern Road.  We worked really hard on that and campaigned for those lights over many years – finally the government allocated funds to match Council’s funds and now they’re in.  It’s really satisfying.”

Ok, it sounds very meaningful.  What are the challenges of working in a council?

“What is tough at the moment is that the workload is high. The biggest challenge we face is that the population is arriving faster than we expected and we’re playing catch up.  We’re working really hard to bring forward projects to help deal with increased cars and people which means there’s a high expectation of getting through the work quickly.  Let me put it this way, you don’t have to worry about watching the clocks.”

So, what excites you about the area?

“The $9 billion investment into world class public transport – the Metro. Nowhere else in the country would you get on a driverless train to work or home in the same way as the Metro.  The NSW Governments commitment to the north west metro was an absolute game changer for our Shire as it provides an alternative way to travel to, from and within our employment, residential and commercial precincts.  I’m also excited by the opportunity we’ll have by the Aerotropolis. The Aerotropolis will generate activity that otherwise wouldn’t be there. We’ve got an opportunity in the supply chain.  Imagine getting the fresh produce and flowers out internationally? We’ve got the opportunity right here in our basin.  We know there’s capacity constraints in Kingsford Smith – it’ll unlock capacity for us.”

What keeps you awake at night?

“Community safety” Michael said. “If I’m driving somewhere and I hear over the radio there’s been a vicious dog attack, my ears prick up and I don’t want to hear it’s in the North West of Sydney.  And from a bigger picture – how do we keep the community safe as the world changes around us and how do we continue to provide our services that continues to adds value to the lives of our residents? When I think about safety, I also think a lot about the safety of our workers. That’s what keeps me awake at night”.

Aren’t we lucky to live in Australia where there are people in our community worrying about or safety and coming up with ways to keep us safe?

Written by Erica Westbury Managing Director of Norwest Recruitment.

Erica Westbury is the Managing Director of Norwest Recruitment a premium recruitment agency servicing clients and job seekers throughout Greater Western Sydney since 2002. Erica is the Chair of Foster Care Angels and a judge for Telstra Business Awards.

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