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From climate change activist to disability support worker – Interchange’s Kim Nguyen shares the story of his career

People find amazing jobs on EthicalJobs.com.au every day. This is part of a series of blog posts that go behind the scenes to meet some of the people and organisations finding each other through EthicalJobs.com.au.

Today’s story is from Kim Nguyen, who found his role as a Disability Support Worker at Interchange Inner East, an organisation that offers family respite for children with a disability, through EthicalJobs.com.au.

Great to meet you, and congratulations for finding your job on EthicalJobs.com.au! First of all, can you tell us about your first ever paid job?

Sure! My first ever paid job was when I briefly set up a gardening business at about 8 or 9 years old. I raked one massive lawn for about five hours and got $5, so I realised the drawbacks outweighed the benefits and closed the business.

Tell us about your education – what did you study, and has it had a significant impact on your career so far?

I have a Bachelor of Social Work and two masters: one in journalism, the other in international development and environmental analysis.

They’ve had a real impact on my career! I worked as a social worker in child protection straight after I finished my bachelor, and continued to work in that field for several years afterwards.

My social work degree is also part of the reason I got my coordinator job at Interchange Inner East.

I completed my double masters program in 2013 and got a job with Manningham YMCA afterwards, running their youth leadership program and communications. I’ve also worked as a freelance journalist and filmmaker since then, including work in several developing countries.

And I ran a climate change action campaign full-time for a couple of years, and worked in a pub in Amsterdam for a year before returning to Australia where I got my job at Interchange Inner East.

Wow – that’s an incredibly varied career so far! So what first inspired you to get into disability work?

I was interested in the role at Interchange after working with many people with disabilities through my child protection work. My younger sister also has a number of disabilities, so I knew a bit about what it’s like for families that include people with disabilities.

The role was also really positive, focusing on recreation and respite with lots of face-to-face client contact, so it sounded like it could be fun.

The best thing about the job is the relationships. I get a lot of face-to-face contact, so I’ve had a chance to build lasting relationships that mean something. We have a lot of laughs and lots of fun, as most of my shifts involve taking a group out to do something fun around Melbourne. I do lots of things I wouldn’t normally do, and I really look forward to work – how great is that?!

So why do you think more people – particularly young people – don’t consider disability services as a career? And what would you say to anyone skeptical of this kind of work?

I guess people don’t know what it’s all about, and they’re not sure if they’ll be able to communicate with someone with a disability – plus it’s not exactly glamorous or high status. The reality is you can establish relationships – very often great relationships – with pretty much anyone. That’s whether their disability means they can’t speak or move, or they have a severe intellectual disability.

It’s not always easy – sometimes you have to manage challenging behaviours and sometimes it takes lots of time and trial and error to develop a communication strategy. But everyone can feel joy, and so much of that joy comes from contact with other people, and the joy is shared between the worker and the client.

Disability work will open your eyes and remove a lot of the prejudices and assumptions you might have not only about people with disabilities, but anyone who looks and seems different.

And everyone I work with feels pretty similar, so I think we’re all pretty lucky.

Can you tell us more about what Interchange does, and what first attracted you to the organisation when you saw the ad on EthicalJobs.com.au?

Interchange Inner East runs respite and recreation programs for people with disabilities and their families in inner-east Melbourne.

You might go into someone’s house and provide personal care for someone with a disability, or take them out in the community. Or you might take a whole group out to somewhere like Fed Square to go to a festival.

There are more programs starting now, like after-school programs for school-aged children with disabilities, an outdoor cinema for the whole family and a Christmas festival.

I was attracted to the job because of the focus on positive activities and because I’ve always enjoyed working with people with disabilities, from when I volunteered on a YMCA disability program when I was a teenager.

So what’s in store for Interchange in the coming year?

I guess it’s the new programs, plus the implementation of the NDIS – that’s changing the operating model of virtually every disability service provider. But it seems to be mainly a good thing, giving people with disabilities greater choice and making sure service providers do what clients want.

I just hope it doesn’t involve cutting corners to push prices down, as providers will be competing with each other.

Many people who work for community organisations know they could probably earn more in the public or private sector. What has motivated you to continue working in the not-for-profit sector?

Fulfilment. Happiness. I do something I enjoy that I think is important – that I’d do for free if I didn’t need to earn something. Most of the jobs I know of that would pay more wouldn’t give me all that.

Finally, what advice would you give to the many ethical jobseekers who dream of a landing a job like yours?

I’d say volunteer at a disability organisation if you can, if you haven’t worked at one before. That’ll give you a good feel for what the work involves, plus it’ll give you a much greater chance of landing a job.

Nowadays, disability organisations want everyone to be qualified, so get some relevant training through TAFE or uni.

It’s rewarding, fulfilling work and I’m already looking forward to my next shift!

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Kim!

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