Youth workers guide and support young people in their personal, social and educational development to help them reach their full potential
As a youth worker, you'll set, organise and run community programmes aimed at young people aged between 11 and 25. Through these programmes, you'll help them to explore and understand their ideas, values and beliefs, building their confidence and life skills so that they can make a successful transition to adulthood.
You'll work in a variety of settings, such as:
- faith-based groups
- youth centres.
You may also deliver targeted street work to engage with high-risk young people.
Youth work relies on voluntary engagement with young people, so you'll need to build relationships based on trust in order to support and empower them.
As a youth worker, you'll need to:
- assess the needs of young people to correctly plan and deliver programmes related to areas such as health, fitness, smoking, drugs, gangs, violence, relationships and bullying
- set up and run arts-based activities, community/environmental projects, residential activities, outdoor education and sporting activities
- develop a relationship with young people based on respect and trust, ensuring they have a safe place to develop their identity and place in society
- establish boundaries and challenge inappropriate behaviour
- support young people in different settings, including outreach work
- mentor, coach and support individuals, encouraging greater social inclusion
- set targets for progression and regularly monitor and review the quality of the local youth work provision
- work in partnership with families and other key people in the young person's life, as well as with professionals from other organisations involved with young people such as social care, health, police, education, youth offending teams and local authorities, in order to build a strong support network
- attend and contribute to multi-agency meetings, bringing 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, manage budgets, write reports and make formal presentations to funding bodies.
- Youth support workers (those who are not fully qualified professional youth workers) can expect to earn between £19,308 and £28,787.
- Salaries rise incrementally for experienced professional youth workers with a recommended range of £25,313 to £42,718.
- 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 £40,000.
London area allowances are available.
Income data from the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for Youth and Community Workers. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Check the NYA for details of available youth work qualification bursaries.
Working hours are usually around 37 hours per week. You may need to work some evenings and weekends.
Many positions depend on the availability of funding and are temporary or fixed term.
What to expect
- Youth work services are largely dependent on government funding, which can make them vulnerable if cuts are made.
- 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). However, having a record does not mean you will necessarily be disqualified from being a youth worker.
- The work is demanding and may be stressful, especially if you work with high-risk and vulnerable young people, but it can also be rewarding.
- Travel during the working day can be frequent as you’ll need to visit locations where activities take place and for attending meetings with other agencies. Overnight absence from home is unusual, although you may be involved in residential activities and exchanges or group visits abroad.
The National Youth Agency (NYA) details the three most common routes into youth work on its website.
- taking an apprenticeship
- working as a youth support worker (completing a level 2 or 3 diploma)
- becoming a professional youth worker by completing a level 6- or 7-degree, graduate diploma, PGDip or MA.
Professional training is also available at postgraduate level if you have a degree in a subject other than youth work:
- Graduate Diploma - two years full time
- Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) - one year with full-time study or longer as a part-time equivalent
- Masters (MA) - one year or part-time equivalent.
Successful completion of an NYA validated and JNC recognised undergraduate or postgraduate course confers professional youth worker status.
Course titles vary, for example youth and community work, community development and youth work, and youth work and theology. Search the list of validated undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
You'll usually need two A-levels or equivalent and some relevant work experience to get a place on a course. Check with course providers to find out what type of experience they're looking for.
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.
Courses include substantial work placements with a range of organisations and agencies, where you'll apply your academic learning to real-life situations.
It's also possible to enter a career in youth work as a youth support worker. You'll need a level 2 or 3 qualification or a diploma in youth work practice. You can also take an apprenticeship, where you'll learn on the job and gain a level 2 or 3 qualification.
For information on youth work training in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, see:
You'll need to have:
- a strong commitment to young people and an understanding of the factors affecting their lives
- the ability to provide reliable support to young people and act with integrity in times of stress
- excellent interpersonal skills, with the ability to establish and maintain 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
- a second language - while not essential, this can be useful if you intend to work with a relevant ethnic group
- an interest in, or talent for, sport or performing arts - not essential but this can be helpful.
You'll need relevant work experience to get a place on a course. This demonstrates you understand the work that will be involved, and the knowledge, skills and attitude required.
The amount and type of experience varies between courses. Some courses ask for 100 hours of experience, but this may be more, or less, depending on the individual. You'll need experience of working with young people or in a youth work or community practice setting. This can be in areas such as advice and guidance, drug or alcohol misuse, mentoring, sport and youth justice.
You can gain experience through volunteering and it’s often possible to gain qualifications in youth work practice offered by awarding bodies.
For details of volunteering centres and opportunities in your area visit:
- Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland)
- Volunteer Scotland
- National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) (England)
- Volunteering Wales
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Youth workers are employed in the public sector through local authority provision or via public sector organisations and charities. The main 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) (England and Wales)
- social services
- the National Health Service (NHS).
Look for job vacancies at:
As a newly qualified youth worker, you'll train on the job, with the support of experienced colleagues. Employers often provide in-service short courses on specific areas of youth work.
The Institute for Youth Work (IYW) (England only) aims to improve quality and support in youth work and promotes a range of events, courses and resources encouraging continuing professional development (CPD). As a qualified youth worker, you can join as a certified member.
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:
It's also possible to take a Masters qualification in areas such as community education or counselling. PhDs are also available, looking at youth work issues in an academic context.
As you gain more experience as a youth worker, you may take on a more specialist role. For example, working in an area such as mental health or gang prevention, or working with specific vulnerable groups.
Although no formal qualification is 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 is no 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. Relocation may be necessary to secure promotion due to the small number of senior, principal area youth worker or development officer posts.
One future possibility is to use your experience to move into related jobs such as:
- community education
- outdoor education
- social work
- teaching advice work