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Youth workers prepare and deliver activities for young people which aid their personal and social development, help them learn new skills, improve their confidence and fulfil their potential in society.
Youth workers engage with young people aged 11–25 in a variety of settings, helping them face the challenges of life and to develop their personal and social skills through activities that are enjoyable, educational and fulfilling.
They work to empower young people, to help them value opinions and to take on issues relating to their health, education, attitudes and environment.
Some youth workers are employed by specific youth centres, faith-based groups or community organisations whilst others are ‘detached,’ undertaking outreach work within particular spaces that young people occupy. Some youth workers work with specific groups of people such as those with learning difficulties, young people of particular ethnic minorities or young offenders.
Through their role youth workers engage with young people in a variety of ways. This could include counselling, mentoring, recreational activity or outreach work.
Salaries vary depending on experience, level of qualification and the nature of the employer organisation. Youth support workers and inexperienced youth workers typically start on between £14,000 and £20,000 pa. With professional qualifications and experience salaries may rise to £25,000, although wages vary between organisations. Youth workers who take on a managerial, senior or specialist role can expect to earn between £27,000 and £32,000 a year. (Figures from the National Careers Service)
The day-to-day tasks of a youth worker are dependent on the young people and the nature of the employer organisation, but typical tasks include:
- Organising recreational activities to engage young people which could involve art, craft, drama, sport and music
- Befriending and helping individual young people
- Mentoring and nurturing young people through challenging situations in their lives
- Managing and administering youth resources
- Providing counselling for young people
- Preparing and delivering activities that tackle particular issues such as bullying, crime or drugs
- Taking young people on residential trips away
- Undertaking individual sessional work with young people
- Identifying sources of funding and writing funding applications to raise financial support for particular youth projects
- Meeting with police, social workers and other professionals working within the community
- Drawing up business plans
- Writing reports
- Undertaking administrative tasks
- Responding to enquiries by email or telephone
- Recruiting, training and managing volunteers and support workers
- Managing financial records and planning budgets
- Delivering activity geared towards specific young people who have particular disadvantages or vulnerabilities
- Referring young people to organisations such as the Connexions service for young people
To gain work as a professional youth worker, it’s necessary to have a qualification recognised by the National Youth Agency (NYA) or the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. Since 2010, it has been a requirement for all those wishing to qualify as a Youth Worker to be educated to Honour Degree level or higher.
It is possible to study for a relevant qualification through a variety of means including full or part-time study, work-based training and distance learning. Many youth workers begin as a youth support worker which doesn’t require any formal qualifications and then go on to complete a work-based qualification once they have gained skills and experience. If working with young people of a specific ethnicity a qualification in a second language may also be an advantage.
Being a youth worker comes with huge demands and responsibilities and requires particular skills and knowledge. These include:
- The ability to be empathetic and build trusting relationships with young people
- Excellent communication skills
- Active listening skills
- The ability to deal with unexpected problems
- Good organisational abilities
- A sensitive and tactful attitude
- The ability to stay calm in stressful situations
- The ability to relate to young people from a wide variety of backgrounds
- A patient, tolerant and compassionate approach
- Respect for equal opportunities
- Knowledge of health and safety procedures
- Energy and enthusiasm
- The ability to be self-motivated and work under initiative
- Commitment to the job and to young people
- A non-judgemental attitude
- An understanding of the key aspects which affect young people’s lives
- Good team-working abilities
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- The ability to work well with various types of professionals working within the community
- An adventurous approach to the job
- A knowledge of confidentiality and child protection issues
- A knowledge of the National Youth Association’s Ethical Demands in Youth Work policy
- An enthusiasm for arts or sports-related activities
Youth workers typically work a 35–37 hour week although there are lots of opportunities for part-time work. Whilst the majority of youth worker’s responsibilities happen during the day they are often required to work after-hours, which could involve leading evening youth clubs or conducting outreach work.
Youth workers usually follow a regular routine but it is also important they have a flexible approach to the job as they are often required to respond to unexpected situations. Being a youth worker can be incredibly rewarding but it can also be very stressful and it requires patience and the ability to keep calm regardless of the situation.
Experience is crucial to finding work as a youth worker as most jobs require one to two years of experience working with young people in either a paid or voluntary capacity. This may involve working as a youth support worker, volunteering at a youth organisation or volunteering to undertake individual sessional work with young people.
Experience of planning or delivering recreational activity will also be useful, as will experience of office administration and of working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Youth workers are commonly employed by local authorities, voluntary organisations, community or faith-based organisations, established youth clubs, Connexions centres, social services, schools and the NHS.
In rural areas youth workers may also be employed by mobile youth centres which move between villages where there may not typically be much youth work going on.
There is plenty of potential for career progression as a youth worker and there are lots of recognised short courses that can be undertaken on the job to continue developing particular skills. Further details of these can be found on the The National Youth Agency website.
With an NVQ level 3 (or equivalent) in a relevant subject, youth workers can progress to take on a team leader, managerial or project-management role. With experience, youth workers may also take on more specialist projects or begin to work in particularly challenging youth work roles.
Also known as…
- Youth Leader
- Youth and Community Worker
- Youth Support Worker
- Detached Youth Worker
What’s it really like?
Nathan Shipley is 25 and has been a youth worker in Cambridgeshire for almost two years. Here he gives us the inside story.
After graduating from university I worked as a teaching assistant for a while to gain experience working with young people until I got my current job as a youth worker. I am employed by a church in Burwell, a small village in Cambridgeshire, where I lead all the youth activities based at the church. I also go into local schools where I run assemblies, conduct R.E. lessons and lead lunchtime clubs.
Being a youth worker is pretty varied but a typical day includes running youth activities, preparing youth work sessions, reflecting on practice, undertaking office administration, going to staff meetings, going into schools and meeting up with individual young people.
I do the schools work, planning and administration during the day but two of my evenings are taken up running youth clubs. During the summer I also take some young people away on a summer camp which is very tiring but great fun!
Being a youth worker is a great job and I find it particularly rewarding to have a positive impact on young people at such an exciting and life-shaping time in their lives. On the down side, a lot of my time is spent planning and it can be frustrating not having enough face-to-face contact with the young people I work with.
In terms of career progression, I would definitely like to continue as a youth worker but in the future I envisage I will progress to a role with more supervisory responsibilities and a bit less administration.
To anyone intending to become a youth worker I would advise that it’s a hard slog but ultimately its very rewarding and exciting so go for it! An inside tip is that as from September 2010 all new professional qualifications in youth work will be at honours degree level or higher.