What’s the future of youth work?

The need for youth work skills is everywhere says National Youth Agency director of programmes Amanda Fearn.


The employment landscape for youth workers is undergoing considerable change. Just a few years ago the majority of youth and community work graduates found employment in a council run youth service. But with the huge reductions in local services these routes have dried up – now it’s the destination of less than 10% of graduates, a plummet of twice that from the year before.


Instead data indicates that youth workers are using their skills in a whole range of different sectors. From housing, schools, health agencies to youth offending services and voluntary community work. These jobs utilise key youth work skills but roles are broader or are focused on specific outcomes, such as supporting children in care.


There is another growing group of organisations unfamiliar with youth work but who need their employees to understand the needs of young people and work constructively with them. These include training and learning organisations, charities and businesses delivering front line support services.


Some of the sectors that have welcomed youth work skills have surprised. National Youth Agency (NYA) has delivered youth work training to a host of Premiership football clubs. To find that the likes of Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal can see the benefit of youth work skills is refreshing. In an environment like football where most things can be reduced to monetary value, it is heartening that understanding and communicating effectively with their young players is prized.


The need for youth work skills is everywhere. Right now young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are in need of adults who are on their side. With more families raising children in poverty, education fraught with stress and young people finding transitions to employment confusing and unclear as well as hard to find, young people are being challenged. Organisations working with them can see they are in need of increased support.


Youth work skills allow disadvantaged young people to maximise their opportunities – a crucial part of the Prime Minister’s meritocratic vision. The expansion of social action programmes like NCS mean that disadvantaged young people, usually under-represented amongst graduates, will have a renewed focus amongst the new Pathfinder projects. These young people will require the additional support of youth work skills to ensure they feel able to step up to the challenge.


This growing trend is a double edged sword. To a profession which has felt battered and bruised by years of being undervalued by national and local government, it is hugely positive to see youth work respected in this way.


Yet the role of youth work in these jobs can go unrecognised. If the job does not employ the term and there is no acknowledgement of youth work skills, then it fails to contribute to a better understanding by the public of what youth work can achieve. In fact youth work as a phrase is so little understood it has been increasingly dropped by the youth sector too, something which could have long term repercussions for the future of the profession.


Even if nationally youth work is rarely mentioned, maybe there are signs of a come-back at a local level. Surrey County Council recently held a Youth Work Commission concluding that Surrey should continue to invest in youth work. We hope this is the start of the tidal turn, flowing youth work back to the heart of communities.


National Youth Agency is one of nine youth organisations partnering to deliver Creative Collisions 2017.

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