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.

Where have all of the Youth Workers gone?


This weeks blog post comes from Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West where Gill Millar wonders what has happened to former youth workers after the cuts.

In the South West of England thousands of youth workers have been made redundant as a consequence of central and local government cuts and the ending of other funding streams. There are rarely any jobs advertised in the field: Children and Young People Now is half the size it was back in 2010 as there are no job adverts to fill the back half. So you would think that on those occasions when jobs are advertised, there would be no shortage of qualified and experienced workers ready to step in and take them up.

But you’d be wrong. Filling youth work jobs is as hard now as it was in those long-gone days of 2003 when we hit ‘peak youth work’ after Resourcing Excellent Youth Services and before Every Child Matters. At that stage, demand outstripped supply and employers had to get creative in training and supporting local people to get them on the road to youth work careers. Youth work skills were in demand, not just from traditional open access youth work settings, but also from targeted youth support and information and advice providers. We saw an expansion of professional qualification routes for youth workers around that time, to meet the demand for more youth workers.

Now, however, in spite of the scarcity of paid jobs in youth work, employers (both local authorities and voluntary organisations) report that they find it very difficult to fill youth work vacancies, and I wonder why? Where have all the recently redundant youth workers gone?

In conversations with youth sector colleagues in recent days, we think there could be several factors preventing people applying for traditional youth work roles. Firstly, those who have been made redundant once may not wish to go through it again with another similar employer: they’ve seen how youth work has become disposable and want to avoid the pain of starting a new youth work job only to find it changes again a few months later.

Secondly, we wonder if youth workers have found other roles that use their skills in building relationships with young people – in schools, pupil referral units and specialist support agencies – that don’t require them to work such regular unsociable hours. Maybe some time away from the 4 nights a week plus weekends cycle of youth work has made them realise they can have a social life and/or spend time with their family, and perhaps that makes them less enthusiastic about returning to the fray?

We also know that many ex-youth workers have moved out of work with young people all together, and have gone to use their relationship building skills in commercial environments – selling cars, groceries or financial products to name but a few. For some, it turns out that selling stuff to people who want to buy it is as enjoyable as selling social action programmes to young people who’d rather talk to their mates.

I completely understand why youth workers might not want to come back into the field after an enforced break from it. It is a shame though, that so many skills and such a lot of experience is lost to young people and youth organisations. Once again, youth sector employers will need to get creative about training and developing new youth workers. Previous generations of professional youth workers tended to have worked in a different profession such as teaching before they got involved in youth work. Maybe this time the opportunities will be for younger people to get into youth work through apprenticeships and progression routes from volunteering, so they can develop their skills, have some great years in youth work then move onto something else?

Any thoughts out there?


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This entry was posted on February 27, 2015 by in Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West and tagged , .
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