Youth Work intersects with many other allied professions – but there is a need for better investment in professional development to make it fit for the future, argues Kevin Jones, Director of Workforce

Young people, families, and their communities all benefit from youth work. By investing in the skills of the workforce the National Youth Agency (NYA) aims to raise standards and in particular, ensure that there are sufficient youth workers with the specialist skills to meet the needs of young people today.  

NYA’s Vision for Youth Work sets a baseline for what an acceptable level of Youth Work provision looks like; broadly, this comprises teams of Youth Workers, (professionally qualified, in training and volunteers), supported by workers with specialisms appropriate to local needs, operating in every locality in England. Our Workforce Strategy outlines the steps we need to take to get there, and the structures and support which need to be in place to enable that workforce to operate as effectively as they can, ensuring the best service for young people.

What does exemplary youth work look like?

The Youth Worker role has several characteristics which are of benefit not only to young people, but also to the other services which intervene in and affect their lives – here’s a few of them:

  • The relationship is a product of negotiation between Youth Workers and young people. From the side of the young people, this means that it takes place at times and in places they are comfortable and that the work moves at a pace they are happy with. It can involve them as part of a peer group and also on a one-to-one basis. The activities provided are fun, relevant, and engaging. From the Youth Worker’s perspective there are clear professional boundaries; an expectation that the young people will learn and grow and that the Youth Worker will be able to offer a bit of challenge to help young people develop their life skills and grow as individuals who are a valued member of their community
  • The relationship is built on trust: the young people must be able to trust that the Youth Worker is positively motivated and will keep them safe, both physically and emotionally.
  • The relationship is holistic, in that it can support all aspects of the young people’s lives encompassing health and wellbeing; supporting the needs of the family; raising aspirations for learning, training, or moving into the world of work; providing diversionary activities as well as providing recreational and leisure activities. The flexibility to work across so many areas reflects the basic premise of Youth Work – that it is negotiated with young people; influenced by their needs and what matters in their lives, and always with a view to helping the young people gain more information, power, and autonomy to make decisions for themselves.

Working in this way means young people allow youth workers the privilege of witnessing their social reality. They do this because they trust their Youth Workers, because they have fun with them, and because Youth Workers have the flexibility to support them in the areas they need the most support. In turn, this means Youth Workers have the responsibility of ensuring that they do their best for them in possession of this privilege.

The NYA’s Workforce Strategy reflects this responsibility in a range of ways:

  • Through attempting to ensure that wherever they are in their career, Youth Workers have access to appropriate training and support to improve their knowledge and skills.
  • Through supporting training organisations to be able to learn from the Youth Work sector to ensure the training they deliver responds to meet the needs of young people in an ever-changing society.
  • Through engaging with allied sectors to help them understand how Youth Work can support them and ensuring Youth Workers have the new skills needed to work more effectively with them.

We know that youth work changes lives and transforms communities. By building the skills and capacity of the workforce, celebrating youth work as a profession and banging the drum for greater investment, we strive to make that opportunity more widely available to young people and communities that need it the most. 

Please join us for an online discussion on Thursday 10th November (10.30am) about how we can help build a highly skilled, diverse and inclusive workforce. Come and tell us what areas of knowledge and training you and/or your local workforce would like to access. The online interactive event forms part of a programme of discussions as part of our Youth Work Week celebrations.

You can take a look at the NYA National Workforce Strategy here –

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