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Training Youth Workers for the Future

In this week’s blog, Gill Millar explores what potential changes to youth work qualifications could look like and looks forward to a new youth policy announcement.

After a year when most of the news has been pretty dreadful, one positive story from 2016 was that JNC Employers’ Side moved away from their proposal to end the Joint Negotiating Committee for Youth and Community Workers, and expressed their willingness to retain professional recognition for youth work qualifications.

Following on from Patrick Ambrose of Yorkshire and the Humber Youth Work Unit’s blog in January, it’s true to say that the basis of youth work remains the same – but the settings in which youth workers use their skills and approaches have changed a great deal over time – and in many cases the jobs they are doing don’t carry the title of youth worker. But that doesn’t stop trained and experienced youth workers from working with young people in ways that they know will help them develop, grow and confront the challenges that they and others face.

This is a critical time for youth work, and Rob Wilson, the Government Minister with responsibility for youth policy is now starting a process of consultation leading to producing an updated set of policy guidance for work with young people. There will be opportunities for the sector to give its views through a series of regional events and an online consultation – expected to begin in March this year. Although expectations of a reverse in the decline in funding for the youth sector are low, it is a chance to make sure that Government is aware of the benefits to young people and society of youth work as a profession, and the importance of ensuring the continuation of a skilled professional workforce in years to come.

The body that is charged with providing guidance and approving new youth work qualifications in England is the National Youth Agency’s Education Training Standards Committee (ETS), which consists of representatives from key groups in the youth sector including employers, unions, Institute for Youth Work, training agencies and Regional Youth Work Units. ETS is currently exploring career pathways for youth work, and a review of current qualifications to make sure that we have clear pathways for people to come into youth work from other areas of work, and to enable people to have their youth work skills recognised in a wider range of settings.

There are many reasons for considering the future directions of youth work training now, including:

  • A more fragmented workforce with fewer youth workers in local authorities and a growing proportion in small voluntary organisations and agencies whose primary purpose is not youth work.

  • Challenges to existing courses as a result of a harsher financial climate in Higher Education.

  • New job roles in targeted youth support, youth justice and related sectors which value youth work skills but don’t have clear qualification pathways.

  • Government focus on apprenticeships as a key route into skilled employment.

  • Opportunities to provide qualifications that lead to roles which require similar skills and knowledge, such as play and community development.

There are a lot of elements to consider if we are to rethink our youth work qualifications framework: Have we got the right qualifications at the right levels? Can we increase the scope of the job roles included without losing the special features of youth work? Are our degree programmes offering a similar level of experience and placement hours to those of teaching, social work and other professions? Can training agencies and the qualifications framework respond to the changing needs of a wider range of employers? Will different qualifications attract different learners with different learning needs?

ETS will be exploring these issues with key partners in the next few months and aims to develop options for consultation by Summer 2017. In the meantime, we should use the forthcoming consultation on youth policy to highlight the importance of a professional workforce, and how that can be enhanced and developed by relatively small amounts of funding from public sources to support a framework of professional development.

Gill Millar, February 2017

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