Day in the life of a charity youth worker

Jemma Smith, Editor
August, 2018

Thomas Truman studied for a degree in youth work at Coventry University and has spent the past eight years working for the YMCA - the oldest and largest youth charity in the world

Getting into youth work

I obtained a first class honours degree in youth work, recognised by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), from Coventry University. To become a youth worker you must be educated to degree level in a relevant subject.

I initially built my youth work experience by volunteering in my local church as a youth worker. I then worked with young people in a variety of different settings for local authorities and charities and built up experience of delivering training to staff.

These experiences and qualifications have enabled me to lead a team and deliver open access youth work projects within the city of Coventry to support young people’s development and help them transition into adulthood.

I've worked for the YMCA for the past eight years in a variety of roles and I’m now the Interim Youth Work Manager at the YMCA Coventry and Warwickshire branch. It’s a very challenging, but incredibly rewarding role.

Working for a youth charity

Every year, across England and Wales, the YMCA helps to support 228,000 young people with issues surrounding accommodation, education and training, health and well being and family matters. We also provide support and advice on mental health, sexual health, crime prevention, housing, drugs and alcohol and welfare and benefits.

As the interim youth work manager for my area a normal working day for me combines meetings with my team to make sure they are receiving the support that they need to effectively support their young people, administration tasks, project planning, and when I’m lucky, face-to-face work with young people.

A lot of my time is also dedicated to making sure that our work is sustainable. At times this can mean that my work may also include bid writing and fundraising to make sure that we can continue to support young people in Coventry.

Youth work is not a nine-to-five job, and even though it sounds like a cliché, every day is different. For example, this week I have done everything from paintballing and shortlisting potential job candidates for interview, to attending partnership meetings in an attempt to enhance our youth work offer.

To deal with this heavy and varied workload I make a series of lists. I'm the type of person who likes to work down a list and mark of tasks as they're completed. To try to be a step ahead I often create a mental list of the tasks that need to be completed the next day. However, this methodical system sometimes changes due to the needs of the charity and more importantly our young people. Once in the office, I prioritise tasks based on immediate needs and forthcoming deadlines.

I absolutely love working at YMCA and I make no secret of my ambition to eventually become CEO of a YMCA branch in the future. Ultimately, I'll need to do a very good job in my current role to get near to achieving this goal.

Perks and challenges

There are plenty of perks to the job when working as a youth worker. I particularly gain great enjoyment from providing positive, engaging activities for young people to participate in and from continuing to create opportunities to explore, address and tackle the issues that affect young people. Everything I do helps young people to discover their potential. At YMCA our aim is to help young people live their lives to the full - mind, body and spirit.

My job has also taken me around the world, enabling me to see different countries and learn about different cultures. I have taken young people to Palestine to learn about the conflict and I also took a trip to New York to advocate for young people at the United Nations (UN). Youth work truly is the best job in the world for me. You never know what will happen.

However, that isn't to say that the job is without its challenges.

Every young person that enters one of our youth work programmes is different, which is fantastic, but it also brings difficulties. Some young people struggle with the pressures of exams, others struggle with body confidence - the list is endless. All young people benefit from a bit of extra support and guidance. Equally, all young people also have different learning styles; some learn through conversation, others learn through workshops.

As youth workers we have to make sure that there are a variety of options available to our service users to make sure that we are reaching the needs of young people though both our programme offerings and our delivery methods. This requires us to constantly search for funding and opportunities to make sure we have exciting and innovative programmes that work with a diverse group of young people. When we have a successful programme we also have to make sure that it's sustainable long term, as most funding for youth work is for a fixed period only.

Not enough people know about the impact and difference that youth work can have and how it can truly change lives of young people. One of the most frustrating things about this job is that I spend a lot of time wishing that more people recognised its value.

Advice for aspiring youth workers

Experience of working with young people is vital, so try where you can to gain experience by working in either a voluntary or paid capacity with children. Assisting at after-school clubs, sports teams, youth centres or the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides all count, as does giving your time to local charities.

Be open to learning - the needs of young people are ever changing and we, as youth workers, need to keep learning and updating our knowledge to understand those needs.

Lastly, the most important advice I can give is to always put the needs of young people first.

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