Guide to Qualifications and Training: Youth Work

Joe Lepper
Friday, September 1, 2023

In the past, youth work was mainly delivered by local authorities but today is provided by a range of organisations such as housing programmes, voluntary organisations, within the NHS and in social care or youth justice.

A 2021 analysis by the YMCA found funding for youth services in England had been cut by almost three quarters over the past decade.

The 2022 youth sector census by the National Youth Agency (NYA) suggests charities and community groups are now “disproportionately providing” open-access, universal services and out-of-school activities.

Policy developments

Amid this shift in provision the government is reviewing councils' statutory duty to provide youth services, with an update due later in 2023. The NYA has developed a toolkit setting out standards and steps councils should consider when developing provision, which will be published when the government's update has launched.

In 2022, the government launched the National Youth Guarantee, to provide young people in England with access to activities, backed by a £300m Youth Investment Fund to build and refurbish new facilities by March 2025. After being heavily oversubscribed, applications closed in June 2023.

From this year, the National Citizen Service (NCS) shifted to a year-round offer that features community and online activities as well as residential stays. This coincides with funding cuts for NCS, from a peak of £180m annually to £171m over the next three years.

Salary levels

Grades and pay for youth work jobs are negotiated each year by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), which includes staff and employer representatives. Youth and community support worker annual salaries are between £21,571 to £31,216 while a professional youth worker earns between £27,681 and £45,391.


The JNC endorses youth work qualifications through the NYA. There are three common routes into youth work: apprentice, youth support worker, and professional youth worker.

Apprentices can gain a youth support worker Level 2 or 3 certificate in youth work practice while working in youth services.

Meanwhile, Level 2 and 3 qualifications or a diploma in youth work practice are available for youth support workers, who are typically volunteers or paid workers. The Level 2 is for those aged 16 and older, while Level 3 is aimed at the those aged 18 and older. Bursaries are set to be available in 2023/24, according to the NYA.

In autumn 2023, the NYA will launch an online Level 2 award in youth work practice through its online training platform, the NYA Youth Work Academy.

Professional youth workers can gain a three-year full-time or part-time equivalent BA Hons degree in youth work, a two-year full-time Level 6 graduate diploma, a one-year full-time Level 7 postgraduate diploma and a one-year full-time Level 7 master's degree.

A Level 6 integrated degree youth work apprenticeship, developed by NYA, universities and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, launches in September 2023. Five approved universities and training providers will offer the new apprenticeship. The NYA says two more providers are on track for a January 2024 start, with a further four universities expected to offer the course in 2024.

The NYA is working with NatWest to provide almost £3m of apprenticeship training for youth workers through the bank's apprenticeship levy transfer scheme by 2028. This will fund up to 60 apprenticeships in 2023.

A voluntary youth worker register, for those qualified at Levels 6 and 7, is available via the NYA's Youth Work One platform.

In July 2023, the NYA launched standards on safeguarding and youth work practice, outlining the minimum requirements of youth work.


The NYA's 2021/22 annual higher education monitoring survey shows an overall increase in the number of students on youth work courses, mainly due to a significant rise in those studying at postgraduate level. The survey shows there were 302 enrolments in professional youth work courses, up 32 on the previous year.

Undergraduates studying youth and community work tend to be considerably older than the national average for undergraduate courses. More than three quarters – 77 per cent – were aged 21 or older in 2020/21. Almost half – 47 per cent – of postgraduate students were aged 30 or older, up from 28 per cent the previous year.

Among students, 46 per cent are people of colour, while 20 per cent have a disability. Almost eight in 10 – 79 per cent – of students recruited are women.

Social prescribing

Social prescribing, where community activities are prescribed to improve health and wellbeing, is gaining momentum in youth services. The Social Prescribing Youth Network, set up by the charity StreetGames, would like all primary care networks in England to employ at least one social prescribing link worker dedicated to working with children and young people. The network, which is free to join, offers a range of tools, resources, networking and training opportunities.

Meet the practitioner

Tee Adams, youth worker based at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust

The positive impact of youth workers when she was growing up prompted Tee Adams to take up a career in youth services.

She has worked in youth centres, schools and prisons and is now directly employed by the NHS in Manchester, where she supports young people with long-term health conditions, specifically those with blood disorders. Her role includes helping young people with the transition from paediatric to adult health services, focusing on their wellbeing and being an advocate.

Her qualifications include a BA Hons in youth and community work with practical theology. She studied in Nottingham with the Institute for Children, Youth and Mission and completed a JNC qualification at the same time as her degree.

“I had fantastic lecturers who had plenty of hands-on experience as well as academic knowledge. I made friends for life. And ultimately it shaped me into the youth worker that I am today,” she says.

She advises those considering a career in youth work to “get good training and a mentor to learn the fundamentals of youth work”. She says “resilience and empathy” are important personal skills for a youth worker.

“In recent years I've been on a lot of training around mental health and low-level interventions. I would love the opportunity for further study, perhaps a master's degree.”

Read more in the Children's Workforce Guide to Qualifications and Training 2023/24

Read the full guide online

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