Is there really a secret to success? Some sort of secret formula that allows people to juggle work and life, while also advancing their careers and professional development? Probably not, but as a large employer with a diverse workforce, we certainly can make things easier if we offer our people the flexibility and support to achieve their goals. For some, this might be incorporating study into the work-life mix.
AGL’s Manager Sustainability Alex Fitzpatrick took a less-traditional pathway into the workforce and didn’t go to university directly out of high school. Nevertheless, higher education became a major life goal for her – both for the professional outcomes, and as the first person in her family to graduate from university. This is her story…
Growing up in Camden – a small country town on the outskirts of south-western Sydney, New South Wales – many of my friends chose not to pursue further study after we finished high school. Instead, they moved into trades such as hairdressing, carpentry and administration work.
I had an early interest in politics, and started started out running political campaigns. Later, I used the skills and relationships I developed to move into public relations consulting.
A few years into my career, I realised a university degree would expand my career prospects. I was lucky enough to be accepted into a Bachelor of Media in Public Relations & Advertising at the University of NSW, and I started the course in March 2015.
When I began working in the Government and Community Relations team at AGL in early 2017, I felt comfortable and supported balancing my work life with my study – but that didn’t mean for a second that it wasn’t challenging.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was always juggling university assignments and exams with work deadlines and meetings, as well as taking care of life admin like paying my rent and trying to take holidays where I could. Most of my courses required face-to-face learning, with minimal online engagement, and it was also uncommon for lectures and tutorials to be scheduled on the same day – which made it quite difficult at times to balance study with work.
Given my extensive work commitments, I could only ever study part time – which meant my undergrad experience differed greatly from the stereotypical college years of younger students. I didn’t frequent the uni bar, or take part in social clubs and sporting teams. I didn’t even stay back after class most of the time. My cohort changed every year, which made it difficult to maintain meaningful friendships and support networks.
There were often differences too in what we were being taught at university and how these things were playing out in the real world, which is something I had to reconcile in my application of new knowledge in both my university and work assignments.
But due to the inherent link between my work and studies, I’ve always been able to put what I was learning at university into practice straight away. My course often centred on social licence and making change across government, corporations and the not-for-profit sector, which is what I loved most. It was always exciting to learn how to use my skills in different ways to achieve better outcomes for the community.
My teams at AGL have been incredibly supportive of my studies and have always allowed me to work flexibly – which is something I will be eternally grateful for. When I first started with AGL, I had to attend uni for a few hours in the middle of the day, one day a week. To make this possible, my team allowed me to work a compressed work week, so I would come in early and leave later four days a week to maintain my full-time role.
I recently moved into a secondment with the Sustainability Team in Capital Markets, where I respond to investor surveys on environment, social and governance risk, and work with the team to deliver our Annual Report. With this team I’ve always tried to be honest, and if my university work was busy, my team would often take work off my plate if they could.
Thanks to my colleagues’ ongoing support, and the love and encouragement of my friends and family, I finally graduated with my bachelor’s degree in May 2019.
Graduating was one of the proudest moments of my life – I feel so proud that I am the first person in my family to graduate, and I also feel reassured that university can be possible for anyone if they put their mind to it.
Alex’s Graduation Ceremony from UNSW in May
I’m not sure what will happen next, or what the future holds for me. I love the work that I do at AGL, and I feel lucky to have been given the opportunities I have without obtaining a university degree until now.
I’m considering further study, but I’m also enjoying reading the books and essays that I have wanted to read for ages, and having some free time on the weekends to spend with my friends and family!