Updating Results

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE)

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Callum Blake

In my section, we work on setting how we will manage the biosecurity risk of travellers arriving in Australia in the future.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Australia but spent my early childhood travelling around the Pacific. After a few years, my family moved to Canberra as a temporary stopover and never left!

 Over the years I’ve lived around Australia, Europe and the US, and was lucky enough to extensively travel during and after my degree. This included doing my honours in South America, after which I took up a medical science consulting internship in the UK. While I loved the job and lifestyle there, I was eventually drawn back to Canberra to work as a university tutor for the degree I had completed a few years before (talk about full circle).

I decided I wanted to go into an Australian Public Service graduate program soon after and began applying for a variety of these, including with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. During this process, I also decided on the spur of the moment to put my name down on the Department’s temporary employment register. Within a week I had secured a non-ongoing position for three months. This worked out well as it gave me an awesome introduction to the work and when it had finished I went straight into the Department’s graduate program. As they say, the rest is history!

 How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I went through the graduate program in 2018 and absolutely loved it. I was really fortunate to do a rotation with my current team during the year, love the work and secure a permanent position with them at the end of the program. Not long after this I was successful in obtaining an acting position at a higher grade, and have been in this role since the start of 2019.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation? 

When I went through the graduate program there were several streams to choose from. I decided to apply for the generalist stream as I really wanted to get a broad set of experiences and knowledge about the work of agriculture and its portfolio agencies. All graduates received the same training and qualifications from the program; the streams only differed in the types of roles you may be placed in during your rotations.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The interview process was really interesting. We were required to do a written assessment and cognitive testing online, to begin with. A few months later, we were invited to attend individual and group interviews. This meant you had to be ready to work in a team and on your own to communicate the skills you could bring to working for the Department. As a team, we were required to put together and deliver a presentation on a topic relevant to the work of the Department, in a short amount of time. Our individual interviews were run as a ‘speed-dating’ experience, where several recruitment staff members were placed around the room and interviewees were given two minutes to speak to each. Questions ranged from what I was most passionate about in the world, to why I was interested in the Department, to what I thought I could bring to the program and what I thought I could get out of it. We were also asked to think about the strategic direction of the Department and the Australian Public Service and where improvements could be made.

What does your employer do?

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment develops and implements policies and programs to ensure Australia's agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries remain competitive, profitable and sustainable, and supports the sustainable and productive management and use of rivers and water resources.

What are your areas of responsibility?

In my section, we work on setting how we will manage the biosecurity risk of travellers arriving in Australia in the future. We are free from a large number of pests and diseases because of Australia’s strong biosecurity system. This system is constantly being improved through developing new approaches and technological solutions to manage biosecurity risks (eg animal or plant diseases, weeds, invasive species) while making the process easier for travellers who are doing the right thing and protecting our agricultural industries and environment. While a large proportion of my time is spent on agricultural or environmental biosecurity, I also work on human biosecurity concerns, helping to keep serious human diseases out of the country and assisting with the movement of human remains.

Can you describe a typical workday? What was the last thing you worked on? 

While I would say there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ workday because the material I work on changes so often, most days involve a healthy balance of working on my own and with others. Some of the most interesting things I have worked on recently are policies for dealing with ill or deceased travellers arriving into Australia and helping with the production of the well known Border Security television show.

My team does a lot of work with other departments who are also interested in managing border risks for Australia. This means a lot of time is spent liaising with these stakeholders to ensure we are all working efficiently and effectively. We also work with a number of areas within the Department in setting policies and procedures for staff operating in airports and seaports and improving the systems they use every day.

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment encourages and supports staff mobility. There are always jobs being advertised both permanently and temporarily (acting), including regularly scheduled ‘bulk rounds’ where staff can apply for a generic position at a specific level to be filled within the Department. This means staff can follow a career through a number of different areas, dealing with the vastly different subject matter, and gain a really good understanding of the breadth of work we do.

There are also opportunities to move within the Australian Public Service to other departments and agencies, and this is actively supported as a useful form of career development. Seeing how other departments operate gives you a better understanding of your own department and the public service as a whole.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I would be working in horticulture. I am obsessed with all things plants so most likely some form of urban horticulture or landscape design work.

What do you love most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most? 

I really like the variety of work I get to do in my job. Day to day and week to week I may be working with different people on a range of different projects, all while managing my business-as-usual activities. My area is looking to develop and implement changes that will have lasting effects on how travellers are cleared at the Australian border (myself included!) and I am really excited to play a part in seeing this through. As such, the tasks I enjoy the most are the ones where I can see policies lead to tangible, real-world outcomes.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends?

The biggest limitation of my job is the speed at which change can sometimes happen, due to a large number of people involved and complexity of the subject matter we work on. All the people in my team are given responsibility for discrete pieces of work and ownership of various aspects of the projects we work on. That said, we have a good work-life balance and don’t have to work unreasonable overtime or on weekends.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  1. Make sure you keep doing what you love. Study is important, but it’s everything else you do that will keep you sane during your degree. These extra-curricular passions are also just as important as your grades when it comes to interviewing for a graduate position!
  2. See every experience as an opportunity to learn about yourself, your interests and skills. Something may seem boring or useless at the time, but everything you do teaches you something about yourself that you can reflect on when going into a new career. 
  3. Always remember that people come first – no work can be done if you haven’t got strong relationships with the people involved.