Youth work – Children's Workforce Guide to Qualifications and Training

Charlotte Goddard
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Youth workers have played a key role in supporting young people during the pandemic. In a report published in June 2020, the National Youth Agency (NYA) called for youth services to be classified as an essential service and youth workers given key worker status. The organisation also called for a Youth Service Guarantee to secure long-term funding and greatly increase the number of youth workers.

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 evolving to reflect this, with modules covering social care, health, social enterprise and business development. 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) – which comprises a staff side and an employer side – is the body that sets the national framework used to grade and pay youth work jobs. Local authority youth workers are paid according to its salary scale. Youth and community support workers receive between £18,117 and £28,017, while a professional youth worker earns between £24,636 and £41,575.

In April 2020, the JNC staff side called for a 10 per cent salary increase across all grades, as past pay rises have been outstripped by inflation. Other demands include mandatory compensatory leave in return for extra hours worked and two non-working days in every working week.

As local authorities cut back on traditional youth work, funding that used to support youth workers through qualifications and training is dwindling. A government-funded £500,000 Youth Worker Bursary Fund made 500 bursaries available for Level 2 and 3 courses in 2020, both online and face to face. Due to challenges in sourcing enough suitable assessors, some of the funding was repurposed to support the development of a network of assessors and quality assurance. There are no further bursaries available, but there are hopes that the government’s £500m Youth Investment Fund will include a further investment in youth work training.

The JNC endorses youth work qualifications via the NYA. 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 and a JNC-recognised professional youth work programme available at BA (Hons) or postgraduate level for professional youth workers.

In 2020, the NYA completed a review of the Level 2 and 3 qualifications in collaboration with awarding bodies and the sector. “The new, modernised suite of qualifications reflect the contemporary needs of young people, such as a unit related to trauma-informed practice, and another on gangs and youth violence,” says Abbee McLatchie, NYA director of youth work.

The Education Training Standards Committee – a sub-group of the NYA – is 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. Standards have been developed for youth workers at Levels 3 and 6, with the former having just been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships. “We are hopeful Level 6 will be approved by January 2021,” says McLatchie. The Education Training Standards Committee is also working to develop a Youth Workforce Strategy, which it hopes will dovetail with the government’s ongoing review into statutory guidance on services for young people.

The NYA’s Youth Work Academy is a digital platform bringing together a range of low-cost and free training courses categorised as either Skilled Practitioner or Effective Managers and Leaders. As well as the NYA’s own virtual and face-to-face training, the platform hosts a catalogue of courses from across the sector. A related app is set to launch in October, and youth workers can use the platform to create their own record of continuing professional development.

The NYA and UK Youth have also developed a website www.youthworksupport.co.uk with training and resources to support youth workers through Covid-19, including a digital course Introduction to Detached Youth Work During Covid-19.

The Institute for Youth Work, which links with other youth sector bodies to provide advocacy for its members at a national strategic level, continues to work on the development of a voluntary register for youth workers that is intended to support increased professional standards and recognition for youth work nationally.

“While work on a register has taken a long time, it is important to get it right,” says Adam Muirhead, Institute for Youth Work chair of trustees. “This tool could bring significant workforce benefits and needs to be supported by the entire sector.”

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