Careers: Youth participation worker

Youth participation workers help young people make their voices heard, writes Charlotte Goddard.

What is participation work?

Youth participation is about giving young people the opportunity to get their voices heard and to help them make decisions for themselves. Some workers focus on helping young people in campaigning, research, training, or conflict resolution to enable them to voice their opinion politically or within their community. Others work within an organisation, helping young people get involved in matters such as recruitment.

What qualifications and skills do you need for the role?

Workers tend to take a general youth work qualification and then specialise. There is no need for a specific participation qualification; experience of working with young people whether through paid work or volunteering is more important. Organisations such as the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) offer training in participation work.

Workers need to be able to come up with creative ways of involving young people. They should be able to relate to young people from diverse backgrounds; be flexible, with good writing and listening skills. They also need to be able to liaise with other organisations, and have a commitment to young people's rights and be willing to work outside normal office hours. They must be CRB-checked and registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority's vetting and barring scheme.

What is the current policy context?

The Department for Education published a discussion paper on young people's involvement in decision making as part of its youth policy consultation, Positive for Youth.

It said: "Government departments and local authorities should do this as a matter of course."

Is there much funding available?

The coalition government says it is "committed to involving young people in England in public decision making, both locally and nationally". Last month it awarded the British Youth Council £850,000 - allocating £350,000 in 2011/12 and £500,000 in 2012/13 - to give advice to public agencies and organisations on how to increase youth participation, and to continue the work of the UK Youth Parliament.

BYC chair Liam Preston says: "This is an opportunity for young people to be positive for youth and for us to foster young leaders to take forward that agenda - to decision makers, to the communities and to the public." The funding came about through a consolidation of various funding streams.

However, participation work is not immune to cuts and the consolidation of funding streams can lead to withdrawal of funding from some areas as well as new funding in others. Organisations are tending to merge or work as consortia, which can lead to fewer jobs in the sector.

Bill Badham, co-director of Practical Participation, says: "Participation remains the cornerstone to improving any and every service for children and young people. Money is tight, but new doors are opening for participation workers to take their values, knowledge and skills to support young people's right to a voice and influence."

What types of young people do participation workers work with?

A diverse range of young people, including those with disabilities, young asylum seekers, young carers and looked-after young people. The focus for youth participation is generally 13- to 19-year-olds, although the government's discussion paper suggests younger and older age groups should not be excluded.

Is a lot of the work part-time or are there full-time posts as well?

There are both full-time and part-time jobs. Evening and weekend working is common, as are residential projects. NCVYS, in its careers advice sheet, says: "For at least some of the time, you have to be available when young people are, so evening or weekend working is quite common. Normally you will be able to take time off to compensate for this." There may be travel involved, depending on the job. Salaries vary widely but start at £19,000 to £25,000; however, NCVYS says that senior workers or managers can expect to earn "significantly more".



  • The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services website has a Youth Participation Worker Career Information Sheet
  • Participation Works is a partnership of six national children and young people's agencies. Its website includes resources, job ads, and information on training.
  • The Positive for Youth discussion papers are on the Department for Education website.
  • The National Youth Agency's website's Hear by Right section contains good practice case studies and a self-assessment toolkit for organisations to check their standards of participation

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