Qualifications and Training Guide: Youth work

Charlotte Goddard
Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Youth workers are increasingly taking roles outside traditional youth work settings, such as housing programmes, within the NHS, and in social care or youth justice-focused programmes. Youth work degrees are meeting the need for flexibility with modules covering social care, health, social enterprise and business development.

However, as local authorities cut back on traditional youth work, funding that used to support youth workers through qualifications and training is also drying up. Unison figures, published in 2016, show council youth services shed 3,652 jobs over the previous six years, while local authority data shows spending on youth services fell from £815m in 2012/13 to £489.5m in 2016/17.

At a local authority level, youth workers can be youth support workers, with Level 2 and 3 qualifications, and professional youth workers at Level 6 and above. The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) is the body that sets the national framework used to grade and pay youth work jobs, and local authority youth workers are paid according to its salary scale. In 2016, the employers' side of the JNC said they would continue to negotiate terms and conditions through the JNC at least until August 2018, although there has been a significant reduction in local authority JNC posts.

The JNC also endorses youth work qualifications. While it is possible to work with young people without a JNC-recognised qualification, the recognised training is a Level 2/3 qualification in Youth Work Practice for youth support workers. The qualifications have 35 optional modules. For professional youth workers, the standard training is a JNC-recognised professional youth work programme available at BA (Hons) or postgraduate level.

JNC qualifications are transferable across the UK and recognised by employers. However, latest figures from the National Youth Agency show the number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses fell in 2015/16, while the number of students enrolled fell 15 per cent.

Among those axing JNC-accredited youth work degrees is Manchester Metropolitan University, which plans to replace the course it has run for 40 years with a non-JNC-accredited community and education degree. However, other courses are still going strong - the University of Derby, for example, says 100 per cent of recent graduates from its BA (Hons) Working with Young People and Communities programme are in employment.

Meanwhile, some institutions are launching new qualifications. The University of Bolton has launched a degree with two learning pathways - the dual-accredited BA (Hons) Community Development and Youth Work, which requires 800 hours of placements, and the BA (Hons) in Community Development and Youth Studies, which requires 200 placement hours.

"Graduates no longer follow a well-trodden path to local authorities as professional youth workers and are as likely to be employed by the voluntary sector, or in a whole host of jobs where youth work skills are integral but don't appear in the job title," says Amanda Fearn, programme director at the National Youth Agency, who says there is a need for more research and a clearer understanding of new employment routes. The NYA and the Education Training Standards Committee are working with employers, unions, universities and others to establish flexible routes to qualification, including a trailblazer scheme to develop a youth work apprenticeship standard and degree-level apprenticeships.

One growing employer is government-backed youth scheme the National Citizen Service, delivered by nine different providers in England. However, much of the work is seasonal. The government has committed £1.26bn to fund the scheme between 2016 and 2020.

There is ongoing debate as to whether, like social workers and teachers, youth workers should have to achieve recognised qualifications to use the title "youth worker". The Institute for Youth Work is currently consulting members and investigating setting up a voluntary register of youth workers. It will publish a paper at the end of the year setting out options for a new License to Practice.

Read more from CYP Now's Children's Workforce Guide to Qualifications and Training

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