Youth workers help facilitate personal, social and educational growth in young people to help them reach their full potential in society.
At its core, youth work is about the relationship and conversations built up between a youth worker and a young person.
Youth workers generally support the 11 to 25 age group and work with young people in a variety of settings such as:
- youth centres;
- faith-based groups.
Work could also be street based due to its outreach nature.
Youth workers' roles vary greatly, but in addition to working with young people face-to-face, typical activities involve:
- managing and administering youth and community projects and resources;
- assessing the needs of young people, and planning and delivering programmes related to areas such as health, fitness, smoking, drugs, gangs, violence, relationships and bullying;
- regularly monitoring and reviewing the quality of the local youth work provision;
- running arts-based activities, community/environmental projects, residential activities, outdoor education and sporting activities;
- befriending and supporting individuals in various settings, including outreach work;
- mentoring, coaching and supporting individuals to facilitate personal, social and educational growth in young people as well as encouraging greater social inclusion;
- working in partnership with professionals from other organisations that support young people such as social care, health, police, education, youth offending teams and local authorities;
- attending and contributing to multi-agency meetings that bring together practitioners from different sectors as part of a team around the family (TAF) approach;
- attending regular training and development opportunities to maintain an up-to-date knowledge of safeguarding, health and safety and local policy developments;
- recruiting, training and managing staff, including volunteers;
- undertaking administrative tasks, maintaining effective recording systems and responding to queries;
- working with parents and community groups to win support for improved provision and acting as an advocate for young people's interests;
- identifying and pursuing sources of funding for projects to improve services and/or resources for young people;
- drawing up business plans, writing reports and making formal presentations to funding bodies.
- Salaries for professional youth workers start at £20,796.
- Salaries rise incrementally for experienced professional staff with a recommended salary range of £21,741 to £36,741. It is up to employers to decide what they pay their staff and how they use the recommended salary scales.
- Youth support workers (a title incorporating those who are not fully qualified professional youth workers) can expect a salary range of between £14,283 to £19,833.
- These pay levels apply to youth workers employed across all settings, not just those employed by local authorities.
- Salaries for local authority youth service managers vary according to the size of the authority and responsibility of the post but are usually in excess of £35,000.
- London area allowances are available.
- Sessional work with zero hours contracts are common with hourly rates depending on qualifications and experience; they typically range from £9.00 to £13.00 per hour.
Income 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.
Working hours vary, with occasional weekend and evening duties required. This is not a typical nine-to-five job.
What to expect
- Local authorities have made significant reductions in funding to non-statutory services including youth support, due to spending cuts imposed by central government. In most local authorities this has seen a reduction in youth worker positions, although there are still some local councils recruiting for these roles.
- A large number of youth workers work in voluntary youth organisations where many positions are fixed term and may depend on external funding.
- Self-employed status is possible, especially relating to contract and sessional work but this is the exception rather than the rule.
- Jobs are available in most parts of the UK.
- The full time workforce is evenly split between male and female workers, although female workers make up 60% of the part time workforce according to Community and Youth Workers in Unite (CYWU).
- Youth work positions are subject to an enhanced criminal record disclosure by the Disclosure and Barring Service in England and Wales, and Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG) in Scotland (run by Disclosure Scotland). Northern Ireland is covered by Access Northern Ireland (AccessNI).
- The work is demanding and may be stressful, especially for those working with disaffected youngsters.
- Travel during the working day is often needed to visit locations where activities take place and for meetings with other agencies. Overnight absence from home is not usual, although you may be involved in residential activities and exchanges or group visits abroad.
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:
- BA (Hons) - three years full-time and part-time equivalent;
- PG Cert/PG Dip - one year full-time and part-time equivalent;
- MA - one year and part-time equivalent.
Search for postgraduate courses in youth work.
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;
- 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 or volunteering in youth work and who have an assisting or supporting role.
There are different awarding bodies for these courses, which are endorsed by the JNC, to make sure they meet the requirements for conferring occupational competence within the JNC framework for Youth Support Work roles. Further information can be found at the National Youth Agency Getting qualified page. The qualifications on offer are detailed below.
There are currently two qualifications available at Level 2:
- Award in Youth Work Practice;
- Certificate in Youth Work Practice.
There are also three qualifications available at Level 3:
- Award in Youth Work Practice;
- Certificate in Youth Work Practice;
- Diploma in Youth Work Practice.
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.
For Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, contact the Youth Council for Northern Ireland (YCNI).
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- strong commitment to young people and an understanding of the factors affecting their lives;
- ability to provide reliable support to young people in times of stress and act with integrity;
- good organisational skills;
- an accepting and non-authoritarian approach;
- ability to work independently and as part of a team;
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills, with the ability to establish good relationships with young people;
- patience, tolerance and flexibility;
- a sense of adventure and a willingness to try new things;
- formal communication skills for presentations, report writing and funding applications;
- ability to treat young people's concerns with respect, tact and sensitivity, whilst always being aware of the limits that are required by confidentiality and the necessary boundaries that govern the youth/youth worker relationship;
- a great deal of resilience;
- an understanding of the NYA's Ethical Conduct in Youth Work and Guide to Youth Work in England documents;
- an understanding of the National Occupational Standards in Youth Work updated in 2012.
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.
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 qualifications in Youth Work Practice offered by awarding bodies.
For details of volunteering centres and opportunities in your area visit:
Youth workers are employed in the public sector through local authority provision or via public sector organisations and charities. The principal employers are:
- local authorities, including the Integrated Youth Support Services (IYSS);
- voluntary organisations such as the YMCA Barnardo's and National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO);
- schools and colleges;
- housing associations;
- churches and community or faith groups;
- drug and alcohol services;
- Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) (see the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales);
- social services;
- the National Health Service (NHS).
Despite government spending cuts, there are still vacancies being advertised for trained youth workers across the country.
The youth service itself, however, is not a statutory agency, and all participation by young people is voluntary.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Children & Young People Now Jobs
- Community Care
- Local Government Jobs
- TBI Jobs
- Third Sector Jobs
- Times Educational Supplement (TES)
- National press, e.g. Guardian Jobs.
For contact details for over 2,000 voluntary and community sector organisations in the UK see The Voluntary Agencies Directory.
Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
Newly qualified youth workers train on the job, supported by experienced colleagues.
Continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities also exist through:
- training courses;
- networking events
- professional observations.
Child protection and safeguarding training is mandatory for all youth workers and is often delivered by local authorities. 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:
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.
The Institute for Youth Work aims to improve quality and support in youth work and promotes a range of events, courses and resources encouraging continuing professional development.
The IYW has a range of membership options but currently only operates in England.
Youth workers in the public sector often start in a school or youth centre environment, but due to the diversity of settings, you can expect there to be plenty of variance.
In recent years there has been a move towards youth work being brought together with other services helping young people under the banner of integrated youth support.
This means a youth worker may find themselves in multi-agency teams working alongside professionals in specialist areas of work such as:
- youth offending;
- mental health;
- sexual health;
- gang prevention.
As a youth worker gets more experience they may find they take on a more specialist role working with particular vulnerable groups.
Although there is no formal qualification required for entry into youth work management, employers usually expect several years' experience as a full-time youth worker, including experience of leading a team of staff. They may also look for a specialist area.
There isn't a clearly defined progression structure above a youth worker role but more common titles demonstrating additional responsibilities include senior youth worker, youth work manager and youth work project coordinator.
It may be necessary to relocate for promotion due to the small number of senior, principal area youth worker or development officer posts.
Due to the recent lack of funding in local government, and the need to cut back on services, the availability of youth worker roles has diminished.
There is now an increasing reliance on voluntary sector youth support services to fill the gaps created by the reduction in funding to non-statutory youth support services. However, funding for local voluntary and community groups has also been reduced.
Youth workers are also employed by other services, such as social services and the health service, there were also strong links with the Connexions service, which has now been decommissioned with the loss of thousands of jobs.
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.
Many workers have used their experience to move into related jobs such as:
- community education;
- outdoor education;
- social work;
- teaching advice work;
Some workers are involved in the juvenile justice system, providing community-based sentencing in liaison with social workers. Youth workers may be seconded to the inter-agency Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) (see the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales).