In what other space do you have the ability to work across so many diverse areas? This helped bring Tanya Di Lorenzo into the public sector and, in turn, is part of what has kept her there for almost twenty years of service.
Tanya began her career with a double degree in Arts and Law. Reflecting on this, she names herself one of those people who undertook a Law Degree with no intention of ever becoming a lawyer. Many of us find ourselves in this situation, fresh out of high school and driven to immediately start pursuing higher studies – even perhaps with no clear direction. For Tanya, though, this decision led her to the public sector graduate program, where she encountered the area of industrial relations.
Eighteen years on, Tanya has led a diverse, continuously challenging and rewarding career across the people space, where she has had the opportunity to be involved with projects that she would never have imagined she could impact.
A snapshot of Tanya’s current and previous roles:
- Director of People, Culture and Capability, Department for Infrastructure and Transport
- Department for Education,
- Director Workforce Management
- Assistant Director, Year 7 to High School – Workforce
- + more >
- University of Adelaide, Industrial and Employee Relations Project Advisor, 2013
- Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Senior Industrial Relations Advisor 2005
- With some background in mind, let’s dive into Tanya’s responses to our questions.
What initially attracted you to the public sector?
Tanya reflects that what brought her to the sector all those years ago is still what keeps her here today, and it comes down to two factors:
- The diversity of the work and roles you can get involved with.
- Knowing that your work directly makes a positive impact on the South Australian community.
When Tanya started at the ASO2 graduate level, she was equipped with her degree but felt untested in the workplace. She found herself trying to navigate the intricacies of Cabinet Ministers and complex stakeholder relationships. Being thrown “into the deep end” was an exciting and challenging time from Tanya’s perspective and promised an exciting future career path.
Being involved in industrial relations for many years in the sector, she eventually came to a crossroads in her career where she realised that she wanted to extend herself into operational human resources. Making a career pivot is never easy, but as Tanya shared, the sector’s diversity was invaluable in making a change that kept her passionate and engaged with her work.
Did you find it challenging to move into the Education Sector without a background in teaching?
A pivotal moment in Tanya’s career occurred after her move to an industrial relations role within the Department for Education. When the opportunity came up to become a Human Resource Business Partner for what at the time was over 160 schools and pre-schools, she found herself as the first person in the team not to have a teaching background. As Tanya noted, this was undoubtedly a challenge, and she told us, “I knew that I had to do a lot to win over the field and show that, YES, I could understand schools and their operations without being a teacher.” Historically she found that “the thinking had been that you needed to have been [a teacher] to provide advice on staffing and HR matters in schools.” Tanya grew in this role to feel she had a tangible impact across her team in changing this thinking. Now, several years on, they are far more blended in terms of their diversity of backgrounds and experiences, with a more profound sense of the value of the HR profession in the education space.
The move of Year 7 to high school was a significant milestone for SA that you were involved with. What are your reflections on how you managed this considerable change?
“We were the only state in the country that didn’t have high school for Year 7s” It was a big deliverable for the Government of the day and a truly massive project- in which Tanya shared she was privileged to be involved. “The workforce component was enormous, and they needed a separate stream” to manage this. In response, Tanya applied for the role of Assistant Director of Workforce, Year 7 to High School. Tanya noted that this is probably the most challenging thing she has undertaken in the sector and her proudest. Her task in this role was “to ensure that a primary teacher could be supported to transition into a secondary school setting and teach secondary school students, noting that they’re extremely different environments, and the change management required was enormous.”
One of the other challenges in this project was changing the existing ideas and processes around recruitment. Tanya and her team immediately found that they needed to approach this differently. Compounding on an already challenging project, it was at this time that COVID-19 reared its head, adding increasing complexity. Tanya noted that this challenged her to think differently, especially in recruitment. In response to COVID-19, video introductions were introduced as part of the application process, which greatly improved the quality of candidates being interviewed. In this way, COVID-19 had an unforeseen silver lining, fast-tracking this development and providing the opportunity to think differently.
What’s your advice to others trying to manage change?
Reflecting on these challenges, Tanya shared that they have reaffirmed the importance of your team and the people you surround yourself with. She found it was necessary to remember to inject fun into the work environment. When dealing with high-pressure projects, falling back to group dynamics that support resilience and well-being helped her team meet the challenges they faced along the way.
Tanya also explained that as a leader, it’s essential to set clear goals so that your team knows where they are, where they are going, and why. Having clarity around your goals will help you be more responsive and agile when situations change – as Tanya and her team found when COVID-19 arrived.
For stakeholders, being clear about the “why” and “how” were also key elements. Tanya noted that “in year 7 to High School, while many key stakeholders didn’t like the change, there was no ambiguity about what was happening and how it would happen – stakeholder engagement and clear communication really did ensure our success”.
What has kept your passion alive for working in the public sector?
Tanya shares the importance of connecting to the core vision and purpose of your work, and being open to new opportunities that will reignite your passion.
“After working with schools for so many years, I thought I’d be challenged to connect with purpose in infrastructure and transport, but in actual fact, it’s been even easier. Service SA, public transport, major roads projects and builds impact every single South Australian every single day – and that’s something I’m incredibly proud to be a part of”.
Having that sense of connection with purpose is vital in Tanya’s view, and is what continues to draw her to work in the public sector.
What are your thoughts on creating positive culture across departments and agencies as an HR practitioner?
Tanya is passionate about “demonstrating that HR is an enabler” instead of another organisational hurdle. She shares that positive change begins from the top down. In her latest role in Infrastructure and Transport, her team was responsible for leading, developing, and delivering the whole of Department and first (in a very long time) annual awards ceremony in March 2023. This event celebrated and recognised excellence in service, innovation, and stakeholder engagement, amongst other things. In Tanya’s view, it was an opportunity for HR to take a leading role in creating a culture that celebrated success and its valuable people.
On behalf of the IPAA SA Divisional Council, we thank Tanya for sharing her insights with the IPAA SA Community and for her many positive contributions and commitment to making a difference. If you want to be involved in a future IPAA SA Insight Article, you can nominate or suggest a topic here.