Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

Youth work workforce issues – it’s all happening!

graduationThis week, Gill Millar from Regional Youth Work Unit @ Learning South West explores issues surrounding our sector’s workforce and training.

Earlier this week I was at the National Youth Agency (NYA) Education & Training Sub-Committee (ETS for short), along with colleagues representing youth work training providers in higher education, awarding organisations, employers from local authorities and the voluntary sector, Regional Youth Work Units, JNC staff and employers sides and the wider field.

The purpose of ETS is to validate the qualifications for youth workers in England on behalf of JNC, and to maintain an overview of developments with implications for youth workers’ education and training. The NYA provides professional resources to enable ETS to carry out its functions effectively.

It’s an interesting time for youth work training and qualifications, as you can imagine, given the changes we are experiencing. After a dip when the higher student fees came into force, the universities are continuing to recruit reasonable numbers to youth work qualifications, though they are finding it harder to identify suitable placements for students as a result of enormous cuts in local authority spending on youth work.

Now, the youth work field is so much more fragmented, they are also challenged to find youth work employers with sufficient time and ability to advise them on the development of programmes, so it is harder to judge whether courses are meeting the changing needs of the field.

Meanwhile, work is starting on reviewing the Level 2 and 3 qualification courses in youth work. After a lengthy hiatus, during which youth work, along with other community learning and development areas, has been ‘orphaned’ (technical term meaning no Sector Skills Council or equivalent has been holding our National Occupational Standards (NOS) or qualifications strategy), the NYA and the Federation of Community Development Learning have been granted ‘parenthood’ of the standards for youth work and community development, so can apply for small amounts of money for the development of qualifications and apprenticeships.

NYA is working with the awarding organisations on a timescale for review of the Level 2/3 qualifications, and it is likely that the current qualifications will be extended for 2014, to ensure that development of their replacements is not rushed but can really take into account the views of employers and training providers. Regional Youth Work Units have a lot to offer here, especially those of us who host regional networks for youth work trainers and employers, and I expect us to be involved in the development process.

Institute for Youth Work

Alongside this, the Institute for Youth Work is up and running with several hundred members and scores of organisational supporters. ETS discussed the proposed governance arrangements for the Institute, as in its initial development (underwritten by the NYA), ETS is the accountable body.

The Network of Regioniywal Youth Work Units has thrown its weight and influence behind the Institute, believing it is important that youth workers themselves should have a clear voice in issues that affect it, including policies and strategic issues, professional development and clarity about an ethical framework for youth work. If your organisation is a member of any of the Network of Regional Youth Work Units: England, you can get 50% discount when you join the Institute – the more people who join, the stronger the voice of youth work will be!

New opportunities

ETS also discussed an interesting proposal from one of the youth work training providers, suggesting that there could be a role for a Level 4 qualification in youth work, as a bridging qualification between Level 3 and degree level qualifications. As with any proposition, there are pros and cons to this – on the plus side, it would give the sector an opportunity to develop ‘Higher Apprenticeships’ which could provide a way into youth work for 18-25 year olds, and it would enable people who complete one year of a university-led programme to gain some kind of transferable qualification.

However, it could potentially undermine the importance of the degree level professional qualifications if employers think that they can count people with Level 4 qualifications as ‘professionally qualified’. ETS agreed that a small group should look into the options in more detail and come back to a future meeting for a more in-depth discussion.

It’s all exciting stuff for those of us who are interested in how we maintain a skilled and professional workforce for a youth work environment where jobs are fewer but more complex, more specialised and more fragmented, and where well-trained volunteers are increasingly important in the overall workforce.

We need a workforce strategy in which training and skills development is accessible no matter where someone joins the workforce, with progression pathways that enable people to move easily from one organisation and setting to another. I’d also really like a strategy that enabled us to find more ways of employing young people as apprentices, enabling people to think about youth work as a first choice career, rather than something you fall into when your ‘real job’ gets boring.

Let us know what you think!

Gill Millar
Regional Youth Work Unit @ Learning South West

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