For those working at Downer, shaping your own career journey, in consultation with mentors and up-line management, is not only possible, it’s actually embedded in the company culture.
For Ashlee Willeboordse, this experience came as a welcome surprise when she came to Downer, and she has been able to take full advantage of the setup to fashion her own high-powered career.
The result, she says, is a sustainable and attainable career path and job satisfaction she wouldn’t trade for anything.
A career needing direction
Ashlee tells us her pre-Downer career was “a bit of a jumble”. Unsure of her strengths and weaknesses and uncertain where she really wanted to be, she moved between different jobs and locations as she searched for direction.
“I had no real idea what I wanted to do when I left high school,” she says.
She ended up as a receptionist and then a legal clerk. She ran a backpackers’ motel in remote outback Western Australia. She took on a financial planning administration role for a while too.
But, with her parents already working for a long time in mining safety, she gravitated in that direction.
“I moved into a safety role at a big mining company, before being made redundant in 2016.
“I started with Downer in a Zero Harm Advisor role with Infrastructure Services in July 2017, covering civil and rail projects.”
This was where Ashlee’s career path shifted from a winding path to a highway, with her employer’s dedicated help.
“I was given the opportunity to act in my manager’s role in 2022 while she was on secondment and was invited to apply later in 2022 when the National Zero Harm Manager role became formally vacant.”
Soon after, she adds, “I was successful in earning the role of Zero Harm Manager, Australia and New Zealand, covering the portfolios of Telco Australia, Telco New Zealand, and Meter Services, which is where I am now.”
Proactive career development
Ashlee says she has been most struck by the hands-on role the company played in helping her shape her career journey.
Downer’s career-oriented culture allows employees essentially to own and self-drive their chosen career path.
“Downer provides the opportunity to take the lead in your career via the Own Career initiative.
“This lets you formally track your goals and develop your career progression throughout the year, with career conversations and ongoing 1:1 meetings to check in on how your development is going.”
It was through this program that Ashlee was offered the opportunity to facilitate the National Broadband Network delivery partner collaboration forum which drew together providers to one of the country’s biggest ever infrastructure projects. There, she co-ordinated a Health, Safety, and Environment training module for new entrants in the telco sector.
“This rare opportunity showcased my skillset to a broader range of people and improved my stakeholder engagement.”
Ashlee was able to build on that experience and utilize the networks she had developed to progress further along her chosen career path.
“When I was offered to interview for my current role, I knew that a chance at the position was a great opportunity which I leaped at,” says Ashlee, “especially since it was with the senior leadership and Zero Harm team whose people had demonstrated that they had faith in me.”
Supportive leadership at Downer
Looking back, Ashlee recalls she knew Downer was the right fit for her when she was tapped on the shoulder early on in her time at the company, and offered an expanded role.
“When my manager at the time approached me to ask if I was interested in moving into the senior safety management role, it showed me that I had been recognized for my skillset after only eight months with the company.
“It was definitely a great feeling.”
Since then, Ashlee figures she has “just cemented that feeling of achievement,” and, by now, her career has come to develop the logic and shape she struggled to find in her earlier work life.
For her career success is the result of being able to work with people.
“My role has an impact in keeping people safe, not by physically jumping in front of them when they’re about to make an unsafe choice, but by helping them keep safety and the right way of doing things in the front of their mind.
“All the incident investigations in the world won’t matter if we don’t look at how we can do better and share that information widely.”
And understanding people, she adds, is the key.
“People are people. Everyone has their own view of how, why, and what, and it’s important to consider this when introducing new concepts and controls or when rolling out something different. “
Fantastic mentorship opportunities
Ashlee is also keen to credit the people who have been central to her career and have backed her all the way up the professional ladder at Downer.
“My mentors and up-line managers have handled every strange question I throw at them!” she tells us.
“They have all been great at being a sounding board and they will tell me when I’m pragmatic or when I’m steering down the wrong path.”
This has been backed up by a range of signposts setup by Downer to highlight specific directions in Ashlee’s career roadmap.
“Downer nominated me for the Emerging Leaders cohort in 2019, which is geared at people in the first three years of their leadership journey.
“I was provided with the opportunity to travel interstate with other members of the cohort and see what the broader Downer business does.”
With this kind of stewardship, there’s no doubt Ashlee’s career will continue to gain speed and strength – with safety always front of mind of course.