Real Connections at the Coalface

Community Space trumps Work Place 

The last few weeks I have been immersed in a community.
It has been a radical change from my ‘day job’ of the last 15 odd years, where I have been in the privileged world of the professional, of the consultant.
I am working with a community of people with intellectual disability. They are old friends I have kept in touch with for 20 odd years.
The Trust had a management meltdown so I joined two others to help run the place, caring for 30 or so people in 8 houses.
Oh my goodness, people at the coalface of community in social services work hard. They work so very, very hard. And the astounding thing is that they are doing this for a mere pittance of what I earn in the commercial world.
The divide is unbelievable.
And what strikes me is how multi-skilled they are. Today government funders and agencies require piles and piles of paperwork. There are templates and forms for everything. The bookcases in the lounges of the community houses are packed with bulging folders of forms and templates. There are endless audits, quality assurance checks.
So the community workers become accountants, doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, home handymen and women, nutritionists, health and safety experts. All on a minimum wage.
Meanwhile tiers and tiers of ‘managers’ and policy analysts and others that form the government agencies that fund the service are required to have a far more narrow set of skills, and are paid four or five times or more the rate of those at the coal face.
There is something very wrong with this scenario. We have created and perpetuated it through our education systems. Having worked in tertiary education I have witnessed the machine that produces young people with salary expectations that have them end up in these tiers and tiers of ‘managers.’
It is rare to find a tertiary graduate willing to roll their sleeves up.
But for those that do, the rewards and fulfillment is huge.
We hear so much about the need today for connection and engagement in our work places. Spending time in the community at the coalface creates connection like nothing else.