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“Around 85% of young people’s time is spent outside of formal education” Westminster Education Select Committee report into Services for Young People (June 2011).

“Non-formal education (NFE) and its recognition are an essential component in the building of lifelong learning societies. As one of the main providers of non-formal education, youth organisations contribute to the holistic development of young people, from their development both as individuals as well as active members of their society, to their inclusion as active members of social and professional life” Study on the Impact of Non-formal Education in Youth Organisations on young people’s employability, University of Bath (2012)

Tim Opie photo1Youth work is a unique and specific provision available to young people aged between 11-25 years regardless of their background or ability. With its core purpose of personal and social education, it is a key contributor to the sustainable development and prosperity of future generations in Wales and ought to be recognised as such in being central to service provision with appropriate emphasis, support and resources.

Youth work changes lives for the better and indeed saves lives. Though this article is not the time or place to make lengthy statements in this regard, the skills required in being a good youth worker are at least as demanding as those for other professions. Given the voluntary nature of the work, coupled with the fact that, by definition, youth work often takes place in unstructured, less formal environments e.g. in communities and on the streets, engaging with some of our least advantaged and most challenging young people and often across numerous areas of policy (dependent on the current needs of the young person/people), can be more demanding. Whilst much of the work is spontaneous (often generating the best results), youth workers are also trained to plan, monitor and evaluate their engagement/sessions with young people.

In the debate since Welsh Government proposed an expansion of the Education Workforce Council, which would also have youth work in its scope, there does not appear to have been the polarisation of views in Wales that other parts of the country have seen in relation to whether youth workers should be registered with an appropriate regulatory body. As reflected in the recent Welsh Government consultation Proposed Registration of Youth Workers, whilst “...some respondents suggested that voluntary youth workers should not be subject to compulsory registration...”, most respondents to the 2012 consultation on ‘proposals to amend the requirement for registration of the education workforce in Wales’ were in favour of registration. This being the case, the task now is for all stakeholders to come together to ensure that appropriate coverage and recognition is afforded to the sector in its continued efforts and role in joint agendas such as education improvement via empowering our young people to break down barriers to formal learning and by encouraging participation in the non-formal (as well as formal) learning opportunities available.

Youth work has its own suite of National Occupational Standards, qualifications framework, Education and Training Standards committee (ensuring that programmes of training are of suitably high quality, on behalf of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Youth & Community Workers (JNC) and, in Wales, is further supported and defined by Youth Work in Wales: Principles & Purposes. Although, given ongoing changes in the sector, the future of the JNC (established in 1961) is uncertain, the registration of youth workers in Wales provides some optimism that not only will the quality and professionalism of youth workers be maintained and improved but that the status of the profession will be given its due recognition as a state recognised occupation. Wider benefits also include access to the professional learning passport (PLP) and the WG’s New Deal for the Education Workforce.

So, why do more youth workers not go on to positions of greater influence and responsibility? It may be somewhat glib (even if an accurate representation) to answer this by saying that people become youth workers not to make money (certainly not to become rich) but rather to work with and improve the lives of young people and that this is their passion but, by moving into ‘positions of greater responsibility and influence’, the chances are that opportunities to engage with young people become far fewer. This consequence of fewer figureheads promoting the profession (in comparison to other sectors) can be damaging but this should not negatively affect what is a well-respected role and (for many young people) life changing and/or life-saving intervention.

Youth work has been presented with an opportunity and platform to not only work closer with and learn from other educators and for other educators to learn from youth work but to also promote its contribution to improving outcomes for young people and therefore communities and society generally.

Whilst taking care not to create a two (or even three) tier workforce, the proposal for the registration of youth workers in local authorities and voluntary sector qualified at Level 6 and above and those at Level 2 and 3 (Youth Support Worker) provides an opportunity to continue dialogue and potentially include other youth workers later on. If youth work is to be as effective as it can be, it needs excellent leadership and a highly qualified and skilled workforce.

Tim Opie
Lifelong Learning Policy Officer (Youth), Welsh Local Government Association

Tim Opie is employed by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), the organisation which represents the interests of local government and promotes local democracy in Wales. It represents the 22 local authorities in Wales and the 3 fire and rescue authorities and 3 national park authorities are associate members.

Tim is a member of the Lifelong Learning, Leisure & Information Directorate within the WLGA and is the Lifelong Learning Policy Officer (Youth), covering issues relating to young people aged 11-25 years. This includes a role as facilitator of and policy support for the Wales Principal Youth Officers’ Group (PYOG), the network of strategic leads for the Youth Service in the local authorities in Wales.

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