While many youth workers have a degree, relevant work experience and the desire to make a difference in the lives of young people are essential for this job

Youth workers guide and support young people in their personal, social and educational development to help them reach their full potential in society.

You'll generally work with young people aged between 11 and 25 in a variety of settings such as:

  • colleges;
  • faith-based groups;
  • schools;
  • youth centres.

Responsibilities

As a youth worker, you'll need to:

  • assess the needs of young people, and plan and deliver programmes related to areas such as health, fitness, smoking, drugs, gangs, violence, relationships and bullying;
  • regularly monitor and review the quality of the local youth work provision;
  • run arts-based activities, community/environmental projects, residential activities, outdoor education and sporting activities;
  • befriend and support young people in different settings, including outreach work;
  • mentor, coach and support individuals and encourage greater social inclusion;
  • work in partnership with professionals from other organisations that support young people such as social care, health, police, education, youth offending teams and local authorities;
  • attend and contribute to multi-agency meetings that bring together practitioners from different sectors as part of a 'team around the family' (TAF) approach;
  • attend regular training and development opportunities to maintain an up-to-date knowledge of safeguarding, health and safety and local policy developments;
  • recruit, train and manage staff, including volunteers;
  • undertake administrative tasks, maintain effective recording systems and respond to queries;
  • work with parents and community groups to win support for improved provision and act as an advocate for young people's interests;
  • identify and pursue sources of funding for projects to improve services and/or resources for young people;
  • draw up business plans, write reports and make formal presentations to funding bodies.

Salary

  • Youth support workers (e.g. those who are not fully qualified professional youth workers) can expect to earn between £14,597 and £26,398.
  • Salaries rise incrementally for experienced professional youth workers with a recommended range of £23,213 to £37,549.
  • 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 £37,000.

London area allowances are available.

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

Working hours are usually around 37 hours per week. It may be necessary to work some evenings and weekends. Part-time work is widely available. Self-employment is possible, especially relating to contract and sessional work, but this is not common.

What to expect

  • Local authorities have reduced funding to non-statutory services including youth support, due to central government cuts. 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.
  • 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 if you work 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.

Qualifications

The minimum qualification required to work as a professional youth worker is a BA (Hons) degree validated by the 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.

Search for postgraduate courses in youth work.

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;
  • Graduate Diploma - two years full time;
  • PG Dip - one year full time and part-time equivalent;
  • MA - one year and part-time equivalent.

All courses require you to have substantial field work placements. A few institutions also offer distance learning programmes.

Entry on to an undergraduate degree programme without formal qualifications may be possible if you have substantial relevant experience in youth work and the academic ability to complete the course.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • a strong commitment to young people and an understanding of the factors affecting their lives;
  • the ability to provide reliable support to young people in times of stress and act with integrity;
  • excellent 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;
  • the ability to treat young people's concerns with respect, tact and sensitivity, while being aware of the limits that are required by confidentiality and the boundaries that govern the youth/youth worker relationship;
  • a great deal of resilience.

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.

Work experience

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:

Employers

Youth workers are employed in the public sector through local authority provision or via public sector organisations and charities. The main employers are:

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Newly qualified youth workers train on the job, with the support of experienced colleagues. Employers often provide regular in-service short courses on particular areas of youth work.

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 (CPD). The IYW has a range of membership options but currently only operates in England.

Child protection and safeguarding training is mandatory for all youth workers and is often delivered by local authorities.

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.

Career prospects

As you gain more experience as a youth worker, you may take on a more specialist role working in an area such as mental health or gang prevention, or 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 denoting 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.

Many youth workers have used their experience to move into related jobs such as:

  • community education;
  • outdoor education;
  • social work;
  • teaching advice work;
  • training.