Cynthia Sasongko's Stepping Into story

Sun 22 February 2015

AND’s Stepping Into program has expanded into new parts of Australia in recent years. When staffers at Western Australia’s office of the Australian Government Department of Education (formerly the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations) in Perth heard about the program, they were keen to contribute.

“We’re a small state office and we love fresh eyes coming into the organisation,” says the department’s Robin Keen. “We’ve had graduates and cadets through other programmes, and they’ve always been successful. Graduates have an enthusiasm and a suitcase full of talent ready to share with people. For graduates, it’s such a significant ‘setting the scene’ for a first job or return to the workforce. They see workplaces can have diversity, which adds to the richness for all of us. We get equally as much out of it.”

The Department of Education’s WA state office took on board Curtin University student Cynthia Sasongko, who was undertaking a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences. After moving to Australia at the age of 12, Cynthia had faced many barriers at school, university, and in the workforce.

“I was waiting for graduation, looking for internships or an entry level job, and I’d tried everything,” says Cynthia.  “I’ve had many interviews for jobs, but when I mention my disability, they’re reluctant to take me on. They are concerned about how much it will cost them to make adjustments.”

Cynthia came across AND’s Stepping Into program when she was searching online for job opportunities.

”I thought, ‘I have to give this a go’,” she says. “I was hoping to get practical experience in analytical research and problem solving skills.”

The department offered Cynthia an internship in the Early Childhood, Youth and Transitions Branch, and she was surprised that she did not have to ask for workplace adjustments.

“Robin said ‘we’ll bring in a workplace assessor to check out the physical layout’, things like computer height and basic ergonomics,” says Cynthia.

Robin and her colleagues drew support from their head office and AND in order to address the physical environment of their office.

“It made us sit back and see that we needed to formalise some processes,” says Robin.  “For example, on our floor there is no accessible toilet for people needing wheelchair access. I hadn’t thought about it before and we quickly located the appropriate facility within our building. We also had to think further about our induction, especially for emergency situations. It heightened our awareness about ensuring that we have the right processes in place and documented. I felt confident thanks to that preparation.”

Robin wanted to ensure that the work Cynthia undertook was meaningful and valuable to the organisation. “We wanted a snapshot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early education in WA,” says Robin.  “We worked with Cynthia to develop the project so that she had a plan with clear objectives. We also wanted her to learn about project scoping, team work, managing time and interpersonal skills. Instantly people took a shine to her. She is so talented, her personality is outstanding. She is outgoing and humble at the same time.  It was a bonus.”

Over the five weeks of her internship, Cynthia developed her report about closing the gap in Indigenous education. “I felt confident about taking on that research project,” says Cynthia, attributing her confidence to the thorough preparation and support from Robin. At the end of her internship she produced a report, and was offered the chance to do a presentation of her findings to the branch.

“The presentation knocked our socks off,” says Robin. “She came up with a terrific report. The State Manager was there. He could see how confident and competent she is.”

“They didn’t tell me [State Manager] Kevin was coming to the presentation until two hours before,” says Cynthia. “I just had to do it.”

As a result of her internship and presentation, Cynthia was offered a position as Executive Assistant to the State Manager. “It’s a great opportunity for her to consolidate her work experience,” says Robin. “It’s a great grounding to apply for graduate programmes in the future. She can put it on her CV and have referees. She’s really gone from strength to strength.”

“In my current role as an Executive Assistant, I am able to develop my knowledge and skills within the Australian Public Service (APS) environment. The role consists of a variety of tasks based around the department’s business needs,” says Cynthia.

“This is a perfect role for graduates to build a successful career in the department and gives graduates the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally, while being supported and encouraged by employees at all levels. 

I’m quite resilient because of the barriers I’ve experienced. I can be calm, sort things out, prioritise. I can do different projects, programmes. It’s useful to have the quality of adaptability, given all the [Machinery of Government] changes right now.”

“My short term goal is to be the best I can be. My long term goal is to establish myself as a professional public servant and a leader in my chosen career path,” she says.

Robin is confident that the Stepping Into program is an exemplary way to support organisational diversity agendas. “To me, the program completely translates into diversity,” she says.

“Part of our own learning is to be self-aware about the strengths and weaknesses we bring, and it’s the same for other people. It can make us stronger, better. It is essential to us having a balanced view. They offer a dynamic perspective, if only we are open to that.”

“More students, universities, and jobseekers with disability need to know about Stepping into,” says Cynthia. 

“Jobseekers with disability need extra support. Once you’re in a job and have a supportive team, it’s easy. At last year’s 21st anniversary of International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), our office hosted a disability Olympic Games, where teams were presented with challenges designed to simulate coping with specific disabilities and battled it out for prestigious winners’ medals. It was a great opportunity to experience the kinds of difficulties that people with disabilities face every day of their lives in a light hearted kind of way. It was a fun day and it’s good that people in the office see me as someone they can approach to ask questions about disabilities.”

For more information on Stepping Into, please contact Program Manager Stephanie Littlewood at stephanie.littlewood@and.org.au or 02 8270 9200.

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