An Interview with Jody Wang of Cumberland Council
It’s easy to underestimate the sheer size and complexity of many council projects and initiatives that are undertaken. The public generally only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to major projects. Yet if you look a little deeper, you’ll find layers upon layers of financial planning, compliance and strategic analysis that too often goes unseen. One of the unsung heroes of major projects at Cumberland Council is Jody Wang, who thrives in the complexity of planning and budgeting. It’s safe to say that without the crucial beneath-the-surface work that Jody does, the council wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of planning success it has seen in recent years.
The Path So Far
Before entering the world of Local Government, Jody worked across a number of different roles and industries in the private sector. Having completed her undergraduate business degree in 2008, Jody took a job as a financial and data analyst at George Western Foods, most notably known for Tip Top Bakeries. While Jody gained a wealth of experience on the sales side of the business, she soon outgrew the entry-level position and decided to apply for a Working Holiday Visa in the UK. Having secured a data analyst role for an oil and gas company, Jody spent her year in the UK travelling as much as possible.
When she felt it was time to return to Australia, Jody took a position at Nestle as a business analyst for two years. Yet soon enough, it became time for another change. This time around however, Jody moved into the public sector rather than another country and she has never looked back. When asked about her time in the private sector, Jody admitted that it can be very challenging. With the pressure of sales targets, KPI’s and long working hours, it unfortunately affected her work life balance. In the public sector she’s been able to find a much better balance in her work and life while still being challenged in her work and progressing her career.
A Day in the Life
So, when we talk about the ‘behind the scenes’ work on Council projects, what do we really mean? Well, Jody focuses primarily on the Council’s annual budget and how it progresses throughout the year. With so many different groups within the council working on various projects, the budget acts as the lynchpin between each section to ensure everyone is on the same page financially. While an annual budget may seem to be quite rigid, it is actually quite fluid, with quarterly budget reviews held to update, adjust and amend the budget to fit the current state of council projects and initiatives. Jody also communicates with the Department of Planning and Compliance to ensure that all the work is compliant and in line with the state objectives.
Beyond that, Jody is also involved in monthly financial statement reviews to identify potential savings and areas in which they’ve overspent. Without this level of careful reviews, projects could tailspin into budget overruns which affect the bottom line of the Council. And of course, Cumberland Council’s yearly fees and charges need to be reviewed too.
This work may appear to be quite complex at face value, but Jody credits her strong training within Council, as well as her years of experience, for equipping her with the skills and expertise necessary to succeed in her role. At Cumberland Council, Jody is subject to regular training days, with a focus on EXCEL training, financial modelling, soft skills and communication training.
A Public vs Private Comparison
Jody has recent and extensive experience in the private sector, so we took the opportunity to explore how Jody compares her experience in the private and public sector.
Jody has found there to be less of a focus on sales and profit targets and more of a focus on professional development combined with work life balance.
Local Government roles tend to have a much better work life balance, with a full-time working week to be considered 35 hours. Unlike the private sector, we’ve found that overtime is not an expectation for you in the same way that it can be in the private sector. In fact, at Cumberland Council, employees are entitled to one day off a fortnight once they’ve reached 70 hours, which means that Jody doesn’t have to wait until the next public holiday to enjoy a three-day weekend.
On top of that, Jody expressed an appreciation for the greater level of support she has found in a Council role. While the private sector often expects you to learn from your own experience, Cumberland Council provides regular training which helps to fill skill shortages, increase work efficiency and accuracy and build stronger relationships through soft skill training. It’s because of this support that Jody feels that her work is more meaningful and appreciates the strength of the team she works with.
Recent Developments at Cumberland Council
While some may feel that Councils have a reputation for being slow to adopting change, Cumberland Council has recently implemented new financial management software which facilitates more transparent reporting and efficient communication between departments. With the new software, everyone can conduct cost investigations and make their own calculations. As a result, a large part of Jody’s role has been assisting in the transition by training employees on the new software. She admits it has been a long process, but the feedback has been very positive, and the process has been extremely rewarding.
When asked about what Jody wished she knew before entering Local Government, she expressed a desire to have a greater level of understanding about community engagement. We often hear that community development is one of most powerful aspects of working for a Council. A large part of this success comes from a deep understanding of what the community values and ensuring that the Council is working to build on those values.
And Some Advice for Applicants
Finally, Jody offered some advice for aspiring Council employees in their applications. While being a university graduate is important in finance roles, it is important to highlight other elements of your experience in your application. Communication skills, volunteer work and community engagement are viewed quite favorably. In your application, Jody suggested that you attempt to match the selection criteria on the application to your own skills and experience to demonstrate your expertise more accurately.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Jody.