Do you have what it takes to work on a remote community? Before you swap your lattes for long distances you should use our 9-point checklist to find out.
The heat can be deadly, the isolation daunting, the bugs numerous and the challenges enormous … but, if you’re keen, this will help you to decide if it’s right for you.
Increasing numbers of highly skilled professionals are looking for their next challenge and believe they’ll find it through working in remote locations or with indigenous communities—or a combination of both.
At Matrix on Board Consulting, we often carry out CEO or Senior Manager recruitment for clients located well outside regional centres and often in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. As we field questions, we hear why applicants are interested in these roles, like …
‘I’ve been in the same job for 10 years here in Melbourne and, while I’m quite good at it, I don’t feel challenged anymore.’
‘I’ve been working in a senior role in local government on the east coast and have been made redundant, and I’m finding it hard to get a job here.’
It’s true that the rewards of working in a remote area can be great, but some challenges you’ll face will be confronting. Go in with your eyes open and make sure you want to be stretched!
Be honest: Why are you considering this career option? Are you running away from a job or relationship issue? Will the issue be resolved by living 3,000 kilometres away? Or will its resolution just be delayed until later? Motivation can have a considerable impact on what you bring to your new job and the relationships you form.
Are you going into an indigenous community because you think you can ‘help’? Most communities don’t need your help. They need your professional skills working alongside them to achieve the goals they have set. If you think you’re going to ‘help’ you may well be disappointed and disillusioned as your idea of helping may be another person’s idea of disempowerment and domination.
While there are some very large and sophisticated organisations working remotely, most non-profits in these areas will not have the staff support most senior managers are used to. It’s worth asking: Who does the bookkeeping data entry? Who pays the invoices? Who pays the wages and PAYG tax? Do all staff come to work every day? Who will review the monthly Profit and Loss report?
You may well be great at strategic thinking and working with large-scale budgets—but you’ve probably always had other staff to carry out your instructions. In a senior role in a remote community you may be expected to move between high-level planning, strategic thinking and ground-level activities like building Excel spreadsheets. You might also be expected to change tyres, facilitate staff conflict resolution and even make cups of tea! Are you ready for this?
It’s unlikely that living and working remotely will resolve any demons in your life (like drug and drinking problems or bad relationships). It is more likely that the reasons these demons exist will become more dominant—as there are fewer day-to-day chances for emotional escapism. If you’re going to a place with limited or no internet access or no easy transport for family and friends to visit, the isolation can exacerbate unresolved emotional or relationship difficulties. Can you handle this?
Many remote settings are stunningly beautiful places and working in them can give you entree to parts of Australia and to people that most Australians will never see or meet. However, it’s likely you’ll be working ten or more hours a day (including weekends) so it will be hard to make time to do the fun stuff. It’s a skill to be open and flexible enough to see the beauty and enjoy the fun while you’re working. Do you have it? Before accepting the job, you should do as much ‘grounded’ research as possible. Understanding where you’re going will help balance any ‘exotic’ expectations fuelled by TV documentaries or through other people’s unrealistic views of the remote areas of our country and their challenges.
You could well be working five or ten hours away from any kind of township. Such remoteness means you’ll probably be going to your new job without a partner and may well spend a lot of weekends on your own. You should ask yourself, ‘How self-reliant am I? How resilient? How do I solve problems? If I’ve a bad day do I know how to deal with it when I’m away from my comfort zone?’
On the flipside, you might well be might be working and living with your partner 24-hours-a-day in a small donga (re-locatable tin building) in a remote community. In this case, you’ll almost certainly need to negotiate time away from your partner. Do you have the strength of relationship to organise this?
If you’re employed on a cattle station, at a remote roadhouse, in an Aboriginal community or remote township or in any other remote community, it will be important not to participate in gossip. You should also be mindful of the repercussions of your romantic liaisons and ensure you do not get involved in other people’s personal problems.
Many remote organisations welcome skilled professionals as volunteers and some have formalised volunteer programs. Drive or fly to the kind of community you’d like to work in and get a sense of travel distances. Stay in community accommodation, see what the store is like and meet the people who are doing the work you’d like to be involved in and that will utilise your skills. Remember, there is no substitute for seeing the community firsthand and talking to people that already work in it.
Are you ready now?
Once you’ve run through our checklist you should have a much better idea of whether working in a remote community is right for you. It may not be. It’s great to realise this before you’re trapped in a one-room donga for a wet season with the roads closed! If it’s a good fit, a remotely located job can be life changing—and you will get to work alongside some amazing people that your city job would never enable you to meet.
– Sally Clifford, General Manager, Northern Australia
Before joining Matrix on Board, Sally moved from Brisbane to a remote community in the Kimberley, where she lived and worked for seven years. With Matrix she is still privileged to work in remote locations in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and the APY Lands in South Australia.