Case study

Youth work specialist — Ellie White

Ellie studied for a BA in Youth and Community Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University). She currently works as a youth work specialist at the National Youth Agency (NYA)

Why did you decide on a career as a youth worker?

I was volunteering in a youth café as a young person myself, having had a couple of gap years and had returned to college to complete an Access Course. My college tutor suggested the course, as I like working with people and had worked abroad at summer camps.

Tell us more about the training involved to become a youth worker.

Firstly, I don't think you ever stop training as a youth worker, we work with young people in a fast-changing world and some of my greatest training has been from discussions with young people and other youth workers themselves.

However, I hugely enjoyed my experience at university. Alongside the theoretical aspects of the course there was a yearly placement. I completed these at an outdoor provision base, at a school, in a women's empowerment group in India and finally at a young persons drug and alcohol service, which also led to my first employed role.

What's a typical day like as a youth worker?

It depends on the setting. You could be working with young people on a one-to-one basis, setting up, preparing and delivering group sessions, leading a residential or doing detached work in the community in the evenings. You could also be project managing, supporting staff, risk assessing or responding to incidents such as safeguarding.

I am now in more of a behind the scenes role and spend time training other youth workers and hearing about all the great work they do.  

What qualities are important for a career in youth work?

Being open-minded, reflective and non-judgemental. I think it is also important to be your own authentic self; a friendly approach and sense of humour will go a long way too. On a practical level, being able to adapt and respond to change.  

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Hearing how interactions with young people have had a significant impact on either that young person as an individual or in the wider community. Young people don't always have the best representation in the media but there are plenty of incredible young people, from all backgrounds, being inspirational in their own way.  

What are the challenges?

There can be limited resource available and behind working directly with young people comes report writing, data collection and targets to meet.

Describe your job in three words.

  • rewarding
  • diverse
  • challenging (in a good way).

What are your career ambitions?

Youth workers and young people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. I would like to be a part of making the bigger decisions that are sometimes detached from those on the ground - whatever that looks like.

Tell us about three issues facing youth work today.

  • Not having adequate resources - but this tends to make youth workers quite resourceful.
  • Keeping up with contemporary technologies such as social media - there is so much information out there, which can be very positive but it can also have a detrimental impact on young people.
  • A decrease in other services - meaning youth workers can no longer signpost young people to these services.  

What advice would you give to others thinking about a career in the field?

Be prepared for and open to change, because change happens regularly. Youth work is incredibly rewarding and you'll find inspiration from the young people you meet and colleagues you work with.

If you're unsure whether this is the field for you, I suggest looking at volunteering opportunities in your local area to gain experience.

Additionally, there is so much to being a youth worker - encouraging and supporting young people, advocating, working with communities, managing projects, applying for funding and working with other agencies - youth work opens up so many opportunities and is such a diverse field.

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