Personal experience drives professional passion in Working for Victoria recruit

Learn how a communications professional was placed in the frontline of getting crucial health information to non-English speaking communities

Thanh Do has a strong personal interest in the work he is doing to keep Victorians safe.

As the integrated communications advisor (CALD) at Manningham Council, Thanh helps share critical public health information with non-English speaking communities.

About 40 per cent of Manningham residents were born overseas and nearly 50,000 people speak a language other than English at home. Mandarin speakers make up the largest group, followed by Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Persian and Arabic.

Their proficiency in English varies widely, which means it can be hard for many of them to understand important health advice about coronavirus (COVID-19).

“I’m helping Manningham Council prepare a communications plan to reach this culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community,” Thanh said.

“Most of these people don’t read English very well and don’t speak or understand English as their primary language, so we are trying to engage with them through different pathways and through different types of content.”

As a Chinese-Australian born in Vietnam, Thanh speaks four languages – English, Cantonese, Mandarin and his native dialect, Teochew. His parents, who are first-generation immigrants, speak three Chinese languages, Vietnamese and Cambodian, but are not fluent in English.

“When they arrived in Melbourne my parents found jobs in places where they didn’t need to speak English, because that was all they could get, so they speak Teochew and their friends and relatives also all speak that or another Chinese dialect,” he said.

“It gives them access to a lot of people they can interact with without having to speak English. The Chinese-language newspapers they used to read have closed down so they’re going online, but all of the news they are getting comes from China, which is not relevant to what is happening here.”

Recently, Thanh was surprised to discover his parents did not understand Victoria’s coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.

“My sister and I have been calling them routinely to tell them when anything happens because their information is unreliable or sporadic at best,” he said.

“It’s not always easy to find translated information in Australia. If we can improve some of these CALD communications then we can avoid situations where people are getting blamed for not doing the right thing, when they don’t know what they’re doing is wrong.”

As the director of Crackling Media, a digital marketing and communications agency, Thanh has extensive experience in working to get a message through. But his business took a hit when the coronavirus pandemic impacted his clients, many of them in travel and hospitality.

Thanh sought other work, signing up for the Victorian Government’s $500 million Working for Victoria program, which matches Victorians displaced by coronavirus (COVID-19) with new jobs that support critical services and high-demand areas. He started with Manningham Council in June.

“When the council role came up it was something I really wanted to do,” he said. “It’s something I’m quite passionate about and want to improve since I know so many people who are in that space and the struggles they are feeling.”

Thanh hit the ground running, working with colleagues to improve communications with influential people in non-English language speaking communities, including business owners, religious leaders and educators.

“There aren’t a lot of advertising channels available in many languages so we need to find other ways to reach these people.”

This includes simple things, like letting people know interpreter services are free. Many won’t use them because they think they’ll have to pay. And helping to direct them to translated materials from official and trustworthy sources.

Thanh says the Working for Victoria role couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It was a huge relief. I had already come to the conclusion I would have to take a break from work for a few months and live off my savings, which is stressful with a mortgage. This has given me six months where I don’t have to worry as much.”

He has also been working hard to pivot his business.

“JobKeeper has allowed us to keep staff and we’re now working with clients in the health sector, with food and beverage companies because more people are cooking at home, and with retail businesses, who we are helping move to digital.”

Anyone legally allowed to work in Australia, including people who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus (COVID-19), can participate in Working for Victoria. Jobseekers, businesses seeking workers and people wishing to retrain for new roles can register at the Working for Victoria website.