Bureaucracy is a brick wall to recruitment

Howard Williamson
Monday, September 27, 2010

I got a text message the other day that is worth repeating almost in full: "Hi h how's you doin, hope your well. I was thinking of probation work or youth work. would you be able to point me in the right direction. the plastering has gone really bad nothing at all. and im getting very stressed out. If you can that would be fab. much love Nathan. take care x"

I knew immediately who the text was from and calculated the individual must now be around 37 years old.

When I called him later that day, it transpired that I was bang on. We had known each other for 24 years - Nathan had first shown up at the youth club at the age of 13. We had always had a good relationship (better than the one I had with his brother, I noted on the phone) and, over the years, he had been an active participant in the club, on trips away, as well as calling on me quite frequently for personal advice and guidance, though he certainly never called it that.

But I hadn't heard from him directly for at least six or seven years. I knew quite a lot about his occupational trajectory to that point. He had left school at 16 with few qualifications, and gone into manual work. At around 18, he had changed tack and worked as a carer for people with severe disabilities until that came to an end following some malevolent and unproven allegations that nearly destroyed him.

The last time I saw him face-to-face, he was working for a social services department in residential child care. Later, however, with a young family himself, I heard he had given up shift work in children's homes for the more flexible hours of a self-employed plasterer.

He acknowledged it was not a good time to try to find work in the public sector but believed he had what it takes to be a youth worker, "like you used to be down the club". I told him that, perhaps regrettably, youth work was very different today from what he had experienced with me.

While I knew he would be great with young people, I also knew he would not have the stomach for all the recording and reporting that is now required. And when I told him about the relatively new bureaucratic pressures for delivering accredited outcomes, he quickly said that it wasn't what he had imagined: "not for me, mate". Another quality candidate lost to the service, for sure.

Howard Williamson is professor of European youth policy at the University of Glamorgan

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