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Preparing Yourself for Work in the Community

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I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable.

Dennis - Conversation Caravan

While workplace bullying and harassment is not acceptable, Dennis shares what he does to build rapport and maintain a calm environment in the face of anger and personal attack. For Dennis, leaving people professions isn’t an option, so he needed to find other ways to control the situation and adapt his style.

Dennis was born in Kenya and came to Australia as an international student. While he couldn’t find employment in his original field of study, he found employment as a disability support worker. This, coupled with experience from voluntary Sunday school and working as an educational support person, opened up his eyes and doors to working with people.

In addition to working as an educational support person, Dennis works as a conversation facilitator with Conversation Caravan. He enjoys both experiences because of the interaction with people and the difference he can make. Dennis speaks to us about why he loves doing what he does:

Professions come in all shapes and sizes

I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable. When one works in a field like that long enough, however, a tough reality hits home eventually; human beings aren’t always nice.

I have had a few instances where insults, belittling comments and physical abuse were no longer the stories of my colleagues, but they became my reality. In Australia, 22% of workers have attested to getting insulted or harassed by clients. It’s not to say that the jobs with people are less rewarding, however one experience like this has the potential to not only ruin your whole day, or even a night, but it can have the potential to damage your self-esteem.

I enjoy working with people and the more I work in the field the more I’ve learnt to adapt. My training is in the field of statistics. I crunched numbers, letters and equations for four years during my undergraduate study. I did a couple of internships in the statistical field. However, outside of school, most of my jobs were people-oriented.

Having now found theses professions with people, I am not about to give up. Here are my tips (particularly for anyone that is not from Australia) to prepare yourself for a career with people.

Set your own personal boundaries:

One thing that I’ve grappled with is the amount of freedom students in Australia get to express themselves. In my country, the teacher was king. Everyone jumped at their command. Even parents rarely questioned their direction. In Australia, most students know there are rules to follow. However, teachers are much more relatable compared to mine in my country. As a result, students will talk to them like they’re friends. In higher needs schools the freedom also extended to rudeness and physical assault.

Boundaries are not a call to be rigid with people. They’re what stopped me from being a doormat. I’ve found people to be more inclined to respect boundaries that I set and I don’t have to suffer avoidable uncomfortable situations at work. Consider what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable to you. Make sure you express this when working with people and tell them respectfully when/if they cross one of your boundaries. Consistency with boundaries, I’ve found, works well.

Don’t rely on your good looks or charm:

When I started my job as an educational support, I (wrongly) assumed that personality was all that was needed to work with people. However just like statistics, there’s a lot to learn and a lot of variation. After a particularly bad day at school, I needed to learn how to calm down an enraged student; and learn how to motivate students to do their school work. This experience taught me to respect the skills and experience needed to work with people. Now, rather than relying on my personality, I ensure I have a full understanding of the situation, shadow other experienced staff, ask lots of questions and do lots of research in my own time.

Take time to meet the people and assess the situation:

In statistics there’s no such thing as too much data. When I go to schools, teachers regularly have class notes for casual staff that I use to orient myself with the class. I also ask the students I am working with how they would like to work with me, within the allowable constraints. Taking the time to get to know people will make your life smoother. It also makes them feel valued and helps to build relations with them.

Be a lifelong learner:

I’m always looking for opportunities to learn and I’ll be happy to receive any other useful tips. I enjoy reading blogs, watching other people’s styles and learning through on-the-job training. Learning is about more than just reading books. It’s about getting out there and giving it your best shot. It’s not always a smooth day, but working with people can be very rewarding. With the right attitude and preparation, it’s almost like getting paid to have a hobby.

Conversation Caravan pop up discussing climate change

Engagement Summary – CoM Climate Change Mitigation Strategy

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Conversation Caravan worked with the City of Melbourne to consult with community members living, working or visiting Melbourne on its draft Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to 2050.  The purpose of the project was to discuss how the City of Melbourne can better prepare for and mitigate Climate Change. Conversation Caravan spoke with 654 people across 11 locations, the discussions focused on four key themes:

  • Zero Emissions Buildings
  • 100% Renewable Energy
  • Zero Emissions Transport
  • Reduce Impact of Waste

Consultation on these four themes considered the proposed actions by the City of Melbourne as well as the individual actions and barriers experienced. Data collected from the community will be used by the project team to strengthen its Strategy and work in this area.

Analysis of the data demonstrated that participants in the engagement already take action to reduce their waste, recycle or make efforts to reuse. They prefer active and public transport, actively monitor their energy use and try to source renewable energy. Participants face many obstacles in trying to mitigate their impact on climate change such as restrictions placed on renters and apartment owners by landlords and body corporates, when trying to modify the environmental performance of buildings; required financial investment to consider energy saving modifications; safety concerns and inconvenience around active transport; lack of understanding about recycling and renewable energy products; and a lack of organic waste infrastructure for household composting.

Many suggestions and insights were generated for Council’s consideration, among them:

  • Reviewing planning controls around design and operation of new buildings.
  • Incentivising renewable energy generation and energy saving measures.
  • Reducing the number of cars in the CBD.
  • Prioritising active and public transport.
  • Making improvements to collection of green waste and education around recycling.

Read the findings of these conversations in the Community Engagement Summary here.

The Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to 2050 is due to go to Council in the coming months. Keep an eye out for the this project here.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the project either at a pop up or online. Your feedback was invaluable to the project.



Conversation Caravan participants at Alfred Research Alliance holding their value postcards in an instagram cardboard cutout

What values resonate with you?

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Last Month, Conversation Caravan worked with the Alfred Research Alliance to engage onsite staff that work across the organisations of Monash, Deakin, Alfred, Baker, Burnett and Latrobe to find the qualities, characteristics and values that resonated with staff.

This project was aimed at raising awareness and excitement for the Alfred Research Alliance and encourage individuals to consider which of the brand values aligned with their work.

As a recommitment to continue to build collaboration and curiosity across the site the Alliance sought to understand how to support the partner agencies and their members better.

To increase connection to the values of the Alliance we invited staff to make, and takeaway a postcard as a reminder of what inspires them to do the amazing work they do in healthcare everyday. We know a few have their proudly displayed in their office!

Want to make your own postcard? You can!

Download the DYI Postcard here. 

(You’ll need Adobe Reader to use this Postcard)