A learned career path
Written on the 7 April 2009
The 2009 recipient of the International Women’s Day Leadership award, Andrea Lee knows a thing or two about management. The chief executive of SCISCO Career Pathways believes in leading by example and has been responsible for growing the organisation’s team from one to 26.
By Cezanne Laidlaw
ANDREA Lee, who trained as a high school teacher, has been working for SCISCO for the past 13 years and says she landed the role with a ‘bit of luck.’
“I had a teaching degree and a business degree and putting them together got me to what I’m doing now,” says Lee.
While challenging at times, she says the role has given her time to work on her passion and perfect a leadership style, which has evidently been quite successful.
Lee attributes the success of the organisation to its consistent focus on a clear cut aim.
“The very first year of this job, it was just me on my own running the organisation,” she says.
“It started off with three schools wanting to attract some funding to employ someone to find work experience for their students. So then we created an organisation that supports young people in high school to prepare them for their careers. This has always been our aim.”
The organisation relies on funding from the federal government, which has been consistent thus far. When questioned about the impact of the financial crisis on the organisation, Lee takes a level headed rational view of the circumstances.
“In our situation we rely heavily on government grants so in that sense we are very lucky because we have been safe from any major effect,” she says.
“However, the current crisis does affect families and their children. If we’re going home after school to parents who are in distress that affects the young people we work with. But again we haven’t really seen that effect yet.”
Lee has also put the wheels in motion for a project that involves providing an alternative schooling system to children who are unable to attend or remain in the normal schooling system. Reasons such as sickness, disability, attitudinal and academic reasons remain a problem in schools with as many as 20 per cent of children at risk of leaving school.
“The types of young people who benefit from a completely alternative schooling would be the ones at the bottom of that 20 per cent. They benefit from a school setting that is very different from the normal school setting. We’re talking about individualised support, really small class sizes, lots of adult mentors and customised learning programs for them,” says Lee.
The demand for the system is strong, according to Lee. SCISCO expects to submit its application for funding in June. If successful they will begin their intake in January with 60 students to be placed at a location in Surfers Paradise and 60 students in Palm Beach.
The 43 year-old believes leading by example is the key to ensuring staff retention and motivation.
“If you ever walked into the office and you were negative and you were flat the entire team would be onto you in a second. I think trying to always be energetic and enthusiastic is a challenge because you know people are always looking up to you,” explains Lee.
“I am a very personable leader, I love to interact with my staff and I encourage them to do the same with their fellow staff members.”
In the not-for-profit sector, the challenges are different to other business people and Lee explains rewarding staff fiscally can be difficult.
“The challenge I face is that you sometimes can’t pay your staff as much as you want to. You’re a little bit limited and we really value experience and all those attributes that usually attract high salaries. So sometimes it can be very frustrating because you know you want to pay them more but you have to be responsible with tax payers’ money,” she says.
“But we’ve been able to attract great staff not purely because of the money but also because it is very rewarding. We offer staff a variety of other benefits like a reduced working week, increased annual leave and little benefits like that. Things that don’t cost the company money but that are of a huge benefit for employees.”
As for winning the International Women’s Day Leadership award, she is most graciously modest.
“It is great to be acknowledged but it’s not really a personal thing. Lots of women won awards that night and it’s a great way to showcase Gold Coast business woman to the community,” she says.