Over the last few months I have been encouraged to imagine what youth work might look like in the future. This has been an exciting process, however it has also had a disheartening effect on me. You see when you look forward you inevitably return to the present and you may even glance to the past.
Youth work as a profession has had a very rocky few decades in Australia and particularly over the past couple of years has been at the centre of immense change in the social services sector. Amongst the youth work fraternity this change has come in the form of associations for youth workers being instigated in some states with the purpose of gaining a professional membership of qualified youth workers. it has also had an assault on its professionality by groups such as RMIT University who have tried to envelop the youth work course into the social science stream so as to generalise it rather than have it as a stand alone course.
As I look into the past I lament the neo-liberal focus on professionalisation as meaning only having qualifications. I also lament the removal of practice wisdom from our day to day work and the replacement with rules and regulations. I lament that we have been so divisive in how we have dealt with each other as youth workers instead of banding together. We have made progress but we have also spent a lot of the time LOST in the wilderness navigating from glimpses of someone else’s map.
In their inspiring book “practical wisdom” Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe believe that we need to re-imagine our work as neither rules based or incentive driven but as being driven by practical wisdom. They call for us to become ‘canny outlaws’ who buck the trend of standardisation and become more empathetic and learn from the collective wisdom of the sector. In their view we need to become wise through mentoring and practice development without the constrains of standardisation and rote learning.
As I gaze into the future of youth work I imagine a profession unlike any other. One where we mentor our new colleagues and share practice wisdom freely. One where gaining a qualification is inconsequential but where ongoing education is the benchmark. A profession where our work is so exceptional that we are envied by others and where it is so unique that it is not so easily quantifiable.. or dismissed as it is currently. I see a profession of diverse skills, qualifications and theories that work in harmony to support young people as a whole person. I see a bright future. To get there we must stop tearing ourselves apart and begin to develop our own professional identity free from the constraints of other professions and those that have been imposed on us by governments and the neo-liberal agenda.
Lets change the future!