All hands on deck during the pandemic
The global COVID-19 pandemic transformed what day-to-day work looks like for nearly everyone in the Australian Public Service.
In 2020 nearly half of all respondents to the APS Employee Census said they shifted to work directly related to COVID-19 at some point during the year.
It was, and continues to be, a profoundly disruptive time. But professionally, it has also presented many public servants with an opportunity to prove what they can do in an unfamiliar setting.
This was certainly the case for Jeff Hopkins-Weise, who took up a secondment from his usual role in the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) to join a surge into ACT Health’s COVID-19 response team during 2021.
Jeff was one of 50 Commonwealth employees deployed to assist the ACT Government.
He spent three months as a Senior Outbreak Officer, helping to coordinate the Territory’s response to positive COVID-19 cases identified at sensitive exposure sites such as aged care facilities, correctional facilities, community housing and schools.
For Jeff, who had never worked in the healthcare space before, the learning curve was daunting.
‘I came across an extraordinary amount of different things in an intense short period of time. It was an amazing roller coaster eye-opening experience,’ he said.
He is frank about the intensity of the work.
‘It was full on.’
But he quickly gained confidence. What’s more, he could see clearly how his work was supporting the ACT’s medical officers to make decisions about the unfolding crisis.
Jeff looks back on the experience with appreciation and a new understanding of his own abilities.
‘I’m very proud of what I helped be a part of, hopefully we brought great benefit to the community, even if most people have no idea what went on behind the scenes.'
‘I almost have to pinch myself that I did what I did.'
Jeff is not alone.
The Australian Public Service Commission has received 13 requests for assistance from state and territory governments to bolster their COVID-19 responses. Around 250 APS employees have, like Jeff, put their hand up to assist and 160 have been deployed to help their state and territory colleagues.
They have leapt into roles from contact tracing and public health support to data analytics. Their willingness to go outside their comfort zone to support the Australian community demonstrates the commitment to service at the heart of the APS.