Youth workers promote the personal, educational and social development of young people aged between 13 and 19, although in some cases they may extend this to those aged 11 to 13 and 19 to 25. Programmes aim to engage young people, redress inequalities, value opinions and empower individuals to take action on issues affecting their lives, including health, education, unemployment and the environment, by developing positive skills and attitudes.
Youth workers respond to the needs and interests of young people and work in a range of environments: youth centres, schools, colleges, faith-based groups and Youth Offending Teams (see the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales ). Methods include supporting recreational activities, providing advice and counselling, sometimes in an outreach setting.
Youth workers' roles vary greatly, but typical activities involve:
Outreach workers engage with young people in pubs and cafés and on the street to make contact with alienated and 'at risk' groups who reject formal activities.
Salary data from the National Youth Agency (NYA) and Community and Youth Workers in Unite - Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for Youth and Community Workers pay scales. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Since September 2010, the minimum qualification required to work as a professional youth worker has been a BA (Hons degree) validated by the National Youth Agency (NYA) .
Professional training is also available at postgraduate level for those with a degree in a subject other than youth work. Visit the NYA website for a list of validated undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for Youth and Community Workers endorses youth and community workers’ qualifications that have been professionally approved by the NYA. Successful completion of a validated undergraduate or postgraduate course confers professional youth worker status. JNC qualifications are often requested by employers and the JNC also sets the pay scales and conditions for youth workers.
Courses vary in length and are available for both part-time and full-time study as follows:
All courses require the completion of substantial field work placements. A few institutions also offer distance learning programmes. Course titles vary to reflect the diverse role of a youth worker and can include youth and community, childhood and youth studies, community and youth studies, and information and community education.
Entry on to an undergraduate degree programme for those without formal qualifications may be possible with substantial relevant experience in youth work and the intellectual ability to complete the course. Contact individual institutions for full details of entry requirements.
In 2011, revised youth support worker qualifications came in to replace the previous NVQ/VRQ levels 2 and 3. These new courses on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) are still at levels 2 and 3, and are aimed at those already employed in youth work and who have an assisting or supporting role.
To find out about professional validation of courses in Scotland, contact the Standards Council for Community Learning and Development (CLD) for Scotland ; for Wales, contact the ETS Wales at the Welsh Government ; and for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, contact the Youth Council for Northern Ireland (YCNI) .
Substantial youth and community work experience (either paid or voluntary) is vital for entry to professional training. Most entrants gain experience by volunteering, often gaining an initial certificate via local training provision.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
Having an interest in or talent for sport or performing arts can be helpful. A second language can be useful, particularly if you intend to work with a relevant ethnic group.
Contact your local youth service (local authority in Scotland) or voluntary bodies to arrange voluntary or part-time sessional work. See the Volunteering England website for details of volunteer bureaux in your area, or visit the Volunteer Scotland , Volunteering Wales or Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland) websites.
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Newly qualified youth workers train on the job, supported by experienced colleagues. Child protection training is mandatory for all youth workers. Continuing professional development (CPD) options, whether voluntary or required, are usually negotiable with the employer. Employers often provide regular in-service short courses on particular areas of youth work.
For information on relevant training courses available see the following websites:
Short courses are also available in areas such as report writing, managing people and teams.
Additional qualifications are offered in community education or counselling. Postgraduate MA courses in community education are also available. All applicants for such courses are expected to have some previous experience of working in a community setting in either a paid or voluntary capacity. It may also be possible to take a postgraduate course in related areas such as counselling. PhDs are also available, looking at youth work issues in an academic context.
Youth workers in the public sector often start in a school or youth centre environment, which is relatively safe. With experience, it is possible to move on to mentoring and counselling work, or more detached roles. It may be necessary to relocate for promotion to the small number of senior, principal area youth worker or development officer posts.
Although there is no formal qualification required for entry into youth work management, employers usually expect at least five years’ experience as a full-time youth worker, including experience of leading a team of staff. They may also look for an area of specialism.
The contribution of the voluntary sector is becoming more clearly recognised, so much so that the current government’s Big Society project for England is aimed at handing over responsibility for certain public services to local groups in the voluntary sector. At the same time, spending cuts in grants from the UK government to local councils across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are forcing funding for local voluntary and community groups to be reduced, which is affecting the provision of services for young people and causing redundancies. Despite this, some grants are available and funding is being provided for certain projects and charities around the different regions.
The range of job roles includes project work, such as targeting young people at risk of exclusion from school, and close liaison with other agencies, such as the police and educational welfare bodies. The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) has examples of roles in voluntary youth work and information on getting involved.
Some workers are involved in the juvenile justice system, providing community-based sentencing in liaison with social workers. Youth workers may be seconded for two years to the inter-agency Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) (see the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales ).
Youth workers are also employed by other services, such as social services and the health service, and there are strong links with the Connexions service, which provides personal advice and mentoring to young people. Many workers use their experience to move into related jobs such as personal adviser within Connexions, community education, outdoor education, social work, advice work or training.
Since the coalition government came in, changes have been made to how careers advice is delivered in England. An all age National Careers Service that caters for adults and young people has been launched, and schools have now been given the responsibility for providing careers guidance to their students. The decision as to what happens to the other services covered by Connexions is being taken at a local level, with the result that some local councils are keeping their Connexions services and others are not. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not affected by these changes as they already have their own separate all age provision for careers and authorities looking after youth service provision.
Youth workers are employed in the public sector through local authority provision or via public sector organisations and charities. The principal employers are:
Despite government spending cuts, there is still a demand for trained youth workers across the country as a result of government policies covered under the Positive For Youth paper, aimed at helping young people improve local services which in turn will give them more opportunities and better support. The youth service itself, however, is not a statutory agency, and all participation by young people is voluntary.
To find voluntary opportunities in youth work, see the Volunteering England , Volunteer Scotland , Volunteering Wales or Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland) websites. The Voluntary Agencies Directory also has contact details for over 2,000 voluntary and community sector organisations in the UK.
Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
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