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

Charlotte Goddard
Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A UK Youth survey published in February found 66 per cent of youth organisations reported a rise in demand for services but 83 per cent have seen their income fall.

In its Ten Year Vision for Youth Work, published in December 2020, the National Youth Agency (NYA) called for a £1.2bn investment in the youth sector. It wants to see at least two qualified youth workers and four youth support workers in each secondary school catchment area; recruitment and training of 10,000 qualified youth workers and a bursary programme for entry-level training for 20,000 youth support workers. The National Youth Advisory Board, which represents all parts of the youth sector, is working on a strategy to achieve this vision, which it hopes to publish in 2021.

The Conservative Party promised a £500m Youth Investment Fund (YIF) in its 2019 general election manifesto to boost open access provision but most of the money has yet to be released. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is leading a Youth Review which is considering the next steps for the fund and other issues such as the future of the National Citizen Service programme. It is not expected to report until after the autumn spending review.

“We’re told there is still a government commitment to the YIF but know it will be delayed,” says NYA director of youth work Abbee McLatchie. “That brings challenges because young people and the sector need that support now.”


In the past, youth work was mainly delivered by local authorities but today is delivered by a range of organisations such as housing programmes, voluntary organisations, within the NHS, and in social care or youth justice-focused programmes. The NYA is carrying out a census of the youth sector to get a clearer picture of current youth provision. In September 2020 the NYA published a Youth Work Curriculum to boost understanding of youth work practice and provide an educational framework.


At a local authority level, youth workers can be youth support workers, with Level 2 and 3 qualifications or professional youth workers at Level 6 and above. The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) – which comprises a staff side and an employer side – 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 £19,308 and £28,787 while a professional youth worker earns between £25,513 and £42,718. In June, the JNC staff side called for a 10 per cent salary increase across all grades.


The JNC endorses youth work qualifications via the NYA. Only youth workers holding an NYA-recognised qualification were classed as keyworkers during the pandemic. Level 2 and 3 qualifications, such as a Level 3 Diploma in Youth Work Practice, are available from a range of awarding bodies. In 2020, a government-funded NYA Youth Bursary Fund provided 450 bursaries for Level 2 and 3 courses. An additional 400 are available this year.

A Level 3 Youth Support Worker apprenticeship was approved in December 2020. “There has been a lot of interest from local authorities and others,” says McLatchie. A Level 6 apprenticeship is being developed and should be approved by the end of the summer.

Youth work degree courses must be JNC-recognised to confer the status of qualified youth worker. Degrees are evolving to reflect roles outside traditional youth work settings with modules covering social care, health and business development.

In 2020, the NYA updated Level 2 and 3 qualifications in collaboration with awarding bodies and the sector, and is continuing to develop new optional units, including one on work with Gypsy and Roma young people. The NYA has also received government funding to design and deliver a media literacy training module to help youth workers discuss online safety with young people.


In its 2018/19 Annual Monitoring Report, published in October 2020, the NYA found the number of higher education institutions offering youth work degrees, and the number of degrees, were at a record low. While four new courses started in 2020 most regions have experienced a reduction in undergraduate courses with none on offer in the east of England. Student numbers continued to fall, with just under 300 recruited in 2018/19. Degree numbers for 2019/20 were down slightly overall but up for students starting in October 2020. “There are also substantial increases in those doing training at Level 2 and 3,” says McLatchie.

The pandemic has driven interest in youth work as a career. “The profile of youth work was raised as youth workers were given keyworker status and referenced in Covid legislation,” says McLatchie.


The NYA’s Youth Work Academy is a digital platform bringing together low-cost and free training courses and webinars. During the pandemic, the NYA developed monthly online Youth Work Tea Breaks, enabling practitioners to come together and explore common themes. The NYA and UK Youth developed a website featuring training and resources to help youth workers through Covid-19.

In 2020 the NYA received £300,000 National Lottery funding to deliver the Routes to Success project, which included free webinars for youth workers and intensive training and consultancy for 20 small-to-medium youth work organisations. It is developing a similar project – Equal Equity – for youth workers from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Youth Work Register

Work on a voluntary register for youth workers has passed from the Institute of Youth Work to the NYA. The institute is concentrating on providing support and networking opportunities. Membership is free to practitioners working with young people in an informal space. “We’re working with national partners to develop the sector and be the voice of youth work practitioners,” says new chair Jaffer Ali Hussain.

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