How do I become a youth worker: Start here.

Become a youth workerI want to become a youth worker

Over the years I have had hundreds of people speak to me, email me, message me on Facebook even get their parents to reach out with the basic intent of asking the best way to become a youth worker. Honestly I get asked this question so much that I have decided to put it into a post for prosperity sake… and so I had somewhere to point people when they ask. I say this so often it has become a bit of a spiel so stay with me and by the end you will have a clear guide on how to become a great youth worker.

Its a process to become a youth worker, whether your just dipping your toe in the water to see if you want to take it up as a career or you have applied for your first job these steps will help you to make the best go of a long career in youth work. If you are able to address all of these steps then you will be in a fantastic position to land a job and last the distance. One of the main reasons there is such a high turnover in the youth sector is that people do not go into it with their eyes wide open. They are passionate and excited, but passion and excitement will only take you so far. You need a solid foundation from which to begin or as the statement goes ‘your house will get washed away’.

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Why do you want to become a youth worker?

The first and probably most important question you need to be able to answer is why you want to become a youth worker. This question is the first I ask when interviewing people for youth work positions. A version of it was the first I asked when getting volunteers. It is the most discerning question for a long future in youth work. If you do not have an answer as to why you want to be a youth worker STOP right now and work on it. Before you do anything else towards becoming a youth worker get this right in your head.

Here are a few answers to steer away from.

  • “I just really love kids”.
  • “I have had a lot of trouble in my own life”
  • “I have coached kids and I think I can do this easily”
  • “Those kids just need someone to guide them”
  • “I can keep them on the straight and narrow”
  • “I’m a parent of teens, so I understand young people”

If your answer to the youth work question is something along these lines you need to do a lot of work on yourself first. Whenever I hear one of these answers my skin literally crawls. for one reason or another broken people who look for closure to their own inadequacies seem to drift towards youth work. People who haven’t dealt with their own demons before wanting to work with young people are always dangerous. The other side to this is people who think anyone can do youth work. Its not that hard. I coach a team two hours a week. I have a teenager who I see for a few hours a day. Surely its not that hard to do youth work.

These people show a few inadequacies that lead myself and others to point them away. Firstly, they lack a depth of personal insight. Secondly, their view of working with young people is severely limited. Finally, their focus is on themselves not on the young people they seemingly want to serve. If you truly want to be a youth worker it is a path of walking along side young people. It is not a time for your own issues to haunt you. It is about providing the support young people need to reach their goals.

If your answer to the youth work question is that you want to see young people supported by people who care and are well trained. If you want to see young people reach their potential. See a world where young people are seen and dealt with justly. Then you might have what it takes to become a youth worker.

Understand your values

What makes you tick? What gets under your skin? What makes you get up out of bed on a dreary day when you feel awful? Having a solid understanding of your values is core to how you will function as a youth worker. There will be days as a youth worker that will stretch you to your limits. Days when your young people disappoint, when funding bodies take your program funds, when suicide visits your doorstep and when the worst of humanity is all around. What will you do then?

You need to understand from the outset that the mountaintop experiences are rare. Youth work is hard work. You need to know what will tip you over the edge. You also need to know what will keep you going in those tough times. Your vales are what anchor you to your mission. If that mission is to support young people you need to be fully aware of your values and how they will bring you down and build you up.

If you need a prompt try the Core Values Audit.

Core Values Audit

What type of youth work do you want to do?

Youth work is one of the most amazingly diverse professions. Anywhere and everywhere you can imagine a young person there is a subsequent role for a youth worker. From sports and recreation to street outreach to education there are roles galore. They may have differing names but the overall role has similar points of focus. Do you want to become a youth worker in the justice system or with homeless young people? What about young people with drug issues or mental health concerns? For local government or a not for profit? Perhaps you would even work in a religious organisation.

The types of roles available need to fit your values and your reason for entering the sector. If you want to work with homeless young people think of the roles where you will come across young homeless people e.g. housing, health, drug and alcohol, family counselling or perhaps even street outreach. It is worth taking your time and searching the job boards to see what is out there before you become a youth worker.

Volunteer first

colourful-volunteer-vectorOnce you have the above sorted out its time to volunteer. Volunteering provides youth opportunity to understand the area you want to work in and see if it is really for you. Get to know the policies and procedures. Start building a network. Get some runs on the board. Begin to work with young people under supervision.

Many youth services have a set process for recruiting volunteers that is coordinated by a volunteer manager. You may be asked to send a letter and your resume or to fill in an application form, then be asked to attend an informal interview.  Some youth services run information sessions at set times during the year as first step for new volunteers. These organisations will also check your backgrounds by conducting a reference check, working with children checks and police checks.

Your volunteerism will always look good when you seek to get educated in youth work, when you seek placements and ultimately when you seek a career.

Read something

Every year more and more quality youth work texts are being published. Journal articles published by reputable academics and front line practitioners are available online. Blogging has brought the best and brightest to the masses. There is no excuse for not reading about youth work. It is at the core of all great youth workers that they read with passion. They read everything they can on the topic.

If you need a starting point read “Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire” Advancing Youth Work edited by Dana Fusco” and “Youth work ethics by Howard Sercombe”. These three books will give you a good beginning to think about the current and future opportunities within the youth services sector. Read a journal article or two or more. Read the Journal “Youth and Policy” as a great starting point. Read a blog. Just read about youth work. It will all help to frame your future.

Get some training

On your journey to become a youth worker you need to look at some training. You need to get your first aid certificate. Youth mental health first aid is also a really important piece of training to have. Go to everything you possibly can that will provide you with some knowledge on how to work with young people. Get on every mailing list that will provide you with up to date training. Your peak bodies are a good start. Make sure it is reputable training and is well respected in the sector.

Here are a list of the first trainings we believe all youth workers need to have:

  • First aid
  • Youth Mental Health First Aid
  • Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)
  • Introduction to drug and alcohol
  • DISC

Network

One of the main differences between a good youth worker and a great youth worker is their ability to get things done in a timely manner for the young people they support. Whether it is helping them find work, get a medical check up, enter a rehab facility or any other thing we do being able to refer them on to other agencies and have them picked up by those agencies is key to great youth work. To do this you need an exceptional network. You need to know all the key youth workers in your local area as well as those in your area of practice.
Peak bodies are a great place to build this network. Through attending training and meetings you will start to build the wide network that will help you in years to come. If you stay in the sector long enough you will get to know many of they key players… Theres not that many. Also, if you are not on Linkedin.com you need to be. It is the most used professional networking tool available. If you need somewhere to start add me on LinkedIn.

Get an education

Youth work education is ever growing and developing. From one year Certificates and Diplomas to three year Bachelor degrees and even higher still Masters and PhDs. As youth work becomes more professional so to is it more important to gain qualifications. At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that all youth workers should aspire to be highly qualified. In Australia this means looking to three year Degree programs instead of one year Diplomas. Start with the short courses if you must but aspire to more.

A good education program teaches you not only how to do youth work but asks you to think about why you do it. They will make you reflect critically on how and why we serve young people. They will stretch you through reading and challenge you through assessment and in the end you will have knowledge and wisdom to use it. Check out who the lecturers are before you sign up to see if they have experience and if they have been published.

Make the most of your placements

When you finally start studying youth work you will have to embark on some sort of placement activity. It is often a harrowing experience and one which will stretch you significantly. Make the most out of it. If you can choose an area you are interested in. If not try to get something that aligns with where you see yourself working. In my experience well over 50% of students gain work from their placements. Treat it as the most extended job interview you will ever do. Ask heaps of questions, be a sponge. Take the initiative and try your best. Most of all gain as much knowledge of the practice area as you can.

Never stop learning

This should be self explanatory. If you think you know it all it is time to leave the sector. Read every week. Attend events and conferences. Study and attend training. Never stop learning. I have been a youth worker for 15 years. I know a fair bit, I impart that knowledge here and when I lecture. I still take every opportunity to meet with colleagues and learn something new. It is the only way to stay current and relevant in a sector which changes so frequently.


So that’s it. How easy is it to become a youth worker. All you have to do is:

  1. How do I become a youth worker?Why do you want to become a youth worker?
  2. Understand your values
  3. Know what type of youth work you want to do
  4. Volunteer
  5. Read
  6. Go to training
  7. Network
  8. Get an education
  9. Make the most of placement opportunities
  10. and never ever stop learning.

Take this list and work through all the tips and we guarantee you will become an awesome youth worker. It is a process. You need to take little steps in the right direction. Do you think we missed anything??? Let us know what we need to add by emailing us.

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BREXIT and youth work

Brexit text with British and Eu flags illustration

Brexit has come

So last week saw Britain vote to leave the European Union. The Brexit referendum saw an unprecedented youth voice get quashed by the roar of the elderly seeking a return to a Great Britain of old and Baby Boomers who are worried that their pensions are being sent oversees. Throughout the campaigns the fear mongering was phenomenal. From concerns about refugees and financial performance to the beliefs of politicians every opportunity has been taken to spread fear in the Empire.  The most concerning issue from this whole ordeal was how easily this happened.

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32CB754C00000578-0-The_polling_data_showed_big_differences_between_how_different_ag-m-11_1459672827371Almost half of the population of the United Kingdom either didn’t vote or were unable to vote in the referendum. Many of those who were unable to vote were young people and refugees. The very people that the Brexit vote will affect the most. Of those who did vote, a significant proportion of of those who wanted to remain in the European Union were young people. This begs questions for youth workers, not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world… When will we listen to young people? What does this mean for youth support services? What opportunities will avail themselves to young people and what will they lose? These questions among many others have been the focus of discussion by many of recent days.

A few thoughts from an Aussie whose family was banished to this great south land from the cold and dreary shores of England:

  • A country which has built itself on a nationalist framework will always struggle to let it go and play well with others. It was inevitable that Britain would leave the EU. Sadly until the voice of those who remember the height of British nationalism are silenced the generations will be stuck in the past.
  • The push of Neoliberalism will always seek to see splintered economies where some will prosper and most will eek out a meager existence. The mere existence of a Union is an afront to those seeking freedom in trade.
  • Young people have always been pawns to the will of the old. Young people are not listened to and do not have a strong enough platform from which to change this. As youth workers we spend our careers trying to amend this.
  • We live in a society which looks at the here and now. The future is of little consequence. Climate change, Economics, social breakdown and corruption all come from wanting a better now rather than a better future. We have more food than ever before and yet more poverty. We have more medical technology and yet die from preventable disease. Our now is more important too us.
  • Young people will always have to deal with the rubbish left by the old until there is a revolution. When power is held by one group over another there will never be freedom. Power must be distributed equally amongst all. Young people are under the power of those who are older, but that will only last until young people feel slighted enough to rise up. Better to share than be over ruled.

The future is now uncertain for Britain and more widely the European Union. Both sides of the debate believe they know what will happen and both will be certain in a few years. But one thing is certain, Young people believe their voice is not being heard. Brexit just proved it.

 

 

 

Why you should support external supervision

Over a career spanning 15 years I have seen some abysmal youth work management. For the most part it is a pure lack of training and support rather than some misguided sense of grandiosity which leads to this management. When times get tough a manager in this situation turns to their base behavioural types rather than working to understand their staff behavioural types. This crisis mentality leads to a crisis driven service which then creates a cycle of  pain and heartache for employees. In a crisis driven situation when your are struggling to keep your head above water you are probably doing more harm than good if you are providing internal supervision.

Unfortunately, due to funding constraints and government key performance indicators crisis has become the norm. Most internal supervisors arent trained to provide supervision and rarely have time to provide good supervision. (If you are an internal supervisor here are a few ideas that might help address this). If you are feeling the pinch as most managers are, then one area that can help you and your staff is getting good supervision. Supervision that looks out for more than just the tasks you have to complete to meet your KPI’s. Having an external supervisor supporting you and your staff is a great way to show neutrality and transparency.

External Supervision

External supervisors should have a solid record as a practitioner before they become supervisors and be known and respected in the youth services field. They should meet all eight criteria for external supervisors. Most of all they should understand your organisation. External supervisors cost a bit of money but the benefits they provide far outweigh the regular payments. They bring latest knowledge, morale and support to your staff and help your organisation retain their employees. External supervision is essential to staff retention and development.

Keeping motivation in youth work

Life is tough, and so is youth work. Keeping motivation can be difficult. From the outside most people only see the coffees, conversations and if everything goes well a young person who appears to be well rounded. What they don’t see is the hours of paperwork, the phone calls, the parent meetings, the heartache and tears. When all of this gets mixed together with the trauma our young people experience and the lack of structured support from our organisations we come up against vicarious trauma. When this happens it is really hard to stay motivated.

This content is for Ultimate Youth Worker Network (Monthly Membership) and Ultimate Youth Worker Network (Yearly membership) members only.
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Youth work and politics

Politics is great

One of my favourite questions for youth work students is how much they love politics. It asks them if one wall is ‘I hate politics with a fiery passion’ and the opposite wall is ‘I love everything about politics’ where do you stand on the continuum? Most students herd themselves down the ‘I hate politics end’, I have even had a few leave the room completely. Every now and then a few likely souls brave the tides and step towards their love. They show their comrades that politics is not to be feared or despaired over but embraced fully.

politics and youth workThe fact of the matter is that all youth work is political. Whether you are supporting an individual young person through an education program or you are advocating for hundreds at a symposium, all youth work is from a political framework, in the political system and funded because of political ideals. As youth workers we must have a strong understanding of the political sphere and the process that helps bring the decisions to the fore. We need to know the players and their political bent. We need to understand how to influence these decision makers and help them hear the voice of our young people.

Our profession is motivated to provide a world that listens to and embraces young people as equal citizens. This is a very political statement. It puts a flag in the ground that we will not give up. Sometimes it puts us politically against those in power. Sometimes our vision aligns. Either way our employment and our future is intrinsically linked to politics. Whether your a liberal leaning lefty or a right as rain conservative if you are a youth worker your work is politically challenging. You are more like a lobbyist than you think.

Whats your take on political youth work?

Youth work and your family

Family comes first

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the pressures youth workers face because of the job. We have high rates of psychological distress, we deal daily with vicarious trauma, our jobs are often at the mercy of government whim and to top it of we work long crazy hours. This takes a massive toll on us as youth workers, unfortunately it also has ripple effects around us.

youth work family lifeI have seen a number of memes lately that have really got on my nerves. Mainly because they hit the bullseye. As youth workers and indeed human services workers in general we can become so focussed on the people we serve that we forget about the ones we love. Our partners, spouses and children forget what we look like as we spend every night out at meetings, running centres and programs. Our kids in particular feel the burden.

I have met many young people over my career who had parents who were youth workers. most turned out pretty ok. A number of them however had fallen off the rails. This detour through trouble often came because they felt abandoned by their parent for other young people. Often hearing about how the more troubled kids need their parents attention at the moment.

As a youth worker I have not been immune to this either. Studying, working weird and wonderful hours and being out at nights and weekends has been a part of my life for well over a decade. The final semester of my Masters degree I was working 80+ hours a week and was lucky if I saw my wife and children on a week night or more than a couple of hours on the weekend. As a family we knew this was only going to be for a season, yet the strain was clear.

A few weeks ago my family grew by two. Beautiful identical twin girls. This has made me slow down and reevaluate. Some things have taken a hiatus, some have been cut fully. One thing has been a clear reminder to me in this time, My family is the most important people in my life. When it comes to balance my family wins every time. If we put others young people before the needs of our own children what message does that convey to them. I know there will be times where for the short term we have to put our work first, but if our own children continue to lose out then they will become the clients of other youth workers down the track.

It is a cycle I intend to break. Being a professional means having thing work at home and at work. Will you join me? Put family time first n your calendar. Your family comes first.a

Recruit great youth workers

7 tips for recruiting Ultimate Youth Workers

Recruit great youth workersRecruit great youth workersRecruiting Ultimate Youth Workers…

Recruiting is one of the most important jobs a youth service manager will ever have. Managers are responsible for two major tasks: results and retention. You can never get great results if you have mediocre people and you will never retain people if they don’t believe in what you are doing. So the answer is simple… recruiting the right people in the first place solves 90% of your issues.

First things First

You do not need someone so badly that you have to hire bad candidates. The absolute worst thing you could do is hire the wrong person because you feel the need to fill a spot. This will inevitably hurt your team and your ability to get the results you so desperately need to show. We all have stories of when the wrong person had a role and they tore a team apart. There is no time ever that you need to have a full complement of staff over recruiting the right person. No matter what anyone says you can take your time to get the best.


Tip 1 – Write a great position description: A great position description isn’t a fluffy document. Many HR departments have templates that have so much information and window dressing that you actually have no idea what you want a person to do, or even worse… you want them to do everything. Be clear and concise. The position description should include the duties you want the candidate to fulfill, the behaviours you want them to exhibit and the knowledge the must hold to do the role to which they are applying. If you feel like you are adding more than this it is simply window dressing. If you have the opportunity to have input into writing the position description make sure it is imperative that you make it fit your role perfectly.

Tip 2 – Initial cut down: You should ask for a resume, a cover letter and a response to your key selection criteria. Start with the cover letter. You are looking for an opportunity to weed out all those who wont fit your role. Many recruiter will spend less than 10 seconds scanning the cover letter. But, what should you look for??? Well here are a few ideas:

  • Is the document well formatted? Are there paragraphs? How are they justified (left or fully is the only way to go). Is it more than three or four paragraphs in length? Is it grammatically correct?
  • Are the candidates contact details on the document?
  • Has the candidate let you know where they heard about the role?
  • Have they addressed it to you or just used a ‘to whom it may concern’?

If a person makes it through the first round move on to their resume. Are the candidates contact details on the document? Do they have the qualifications and experience to fulfill the role? Is the document well formatted? Have they told you what they did in their roles or just put what they should have done from previous position descriptions? If they make it through these checks then you move on to the key selection criteria.

The key selection criteria should address your criteria within the position description. Have they answered your points with a clear PAR story. In a PAR story, they will describe:

  • Problem that existed
  • Actions they took to address the problem
  • Results they achieved solving the problem

If they make it this far they are OK. But, OK is not enough to fill your position. Its time for you to proceed to the next step.

Tip 3 – Phone screen interview: If you have other staff members on your team this is a good opportunity to get them to show some leadership, if not you can do it yourself. A phone screen interview is a short 30 minute interview that starts with the question ‘tell me about yourself?’ and ends with a behavioural interview question. You don’t tell the candidate your decision here (provide a good no letter if they didn’t make it). This is the most cost-effective and timely way of eliminating candidates who don’t stack up.

Recruiting to interview

Tip 4 – Interview those who are left: A day of interviews and testing and it’s what we use at Ultimate Youth Worker when we hire staff. But if your organisation can’t afford a day of interviewing then here are a few ideas for you:

  • Behavioural interviewing is a must. You need to see how a person will react to situations which will happen regularly in the role they are applying for.
  • If you aren’t getting your young people to help it’s not worth interviewing. The young people add a different dynamic that shows a lot about how the candidate works with young people.
  • An hour is not enough. Even the worst people can put on a good show for an hour. Try an hour of panel interviews, testing such as DISC profiling or a big 5 and finish with a half hour interview with the team. If you do this as a minimum you will be leaps ahead of your competition.

Tip 5 – It’s always better to have a bench: If you have a job opening and you already have a person who will fit the role you save yourself a lot of effort at the start. Most Government funding requirements expect transparent recruiting into roles, however if you have a person who will fit your role there is no rule that says you can’t get them to apply. Students who have done placements with you, former staff that you would have back in a heartbeat and casuals who are looking to expand their careers are all great people to have on your bench. If a role comes up that you think would fit a bench warmer then get them to apply. 

Tip 6 – References are not as useful as people think: If a person has put down a referee it is highly unlikely that person will have anything negative to say about your candidate. It is important to make sure they have all the credentials and qualifications they say they do. The best use of reference check is to qualify all the information the candidate has provided to you.

Tip 7 – If they aren’t excited they aren’t the right person: We don’t mean they have to be extroverts (we love introverts) but they do need to show enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for the organisation, the mission and the role. If the candidate doesn’t have a smile on their face and a spring in their step they are most likely the wrong person for your role. You should take excitement for the role over just about every other metric you use in hiring. Everything else you can teach or have it taught to the person who gets the job. Passion is something which can’t be given.


If you use these seven tips we guarantee you will get great candidates. These tips work for 90% of candidates 90% of the time. The rest comes down to your hard work and tenacity. If you want to take your organisation to the next level then you need to have the best staff. Recruiting Ultimate Youth Workers means setting the bar high and never settling except for the best.

 Once you’ve got the right person, don’t forget to keep them!

National Youth Week 2016

National Youth WeekNational Youth Week

Every year adults around the country set apart a week to celebrate the exciting time of life called youth! The arrogance of adults! That we would think young people deserve a week of focus and then pack it up for another year. That governments would put the measly scraps of funding towards running youth week is a telling symbol of their lack of care or respect for young people. The fact that the Federal Government still does not have a Minister for Youth is a clear indication of how inept government is at taking seriously the voice of young people.

The more adults try to placate young people the more we miss the amazing things they have to teach us. When we hear people say that “young people are becoming…” we need to remind them that young people are already fully human with all the rights that come with being so. What it felt like to not be listened too. What it felt like to be ignored except to be reprimanded. The older we get the more we forget our own youth.

[Tweet “The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth. Edmund Burke”]

As a society we pay young people less, simply because they are young.  We believe that young peoples opinions are lesser because they have less experience. We believe that one day young people will make great citizens, but not quite yet. As a society we must submit to be taught by our young people. They are not only the hope for the future, they are our hope now. If we continue with our arrogance of age the future looks bleak.

There has been some discussion in Australia over the last little while about lowering the voting age to 16. This would be a good start in showing young people how much we can learn from them. It would also go a lot further than a poorly funded week of placation.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

Training: The next evolution in Ultimate Youth Worker

Training for the future

Well the world turns and we are still kicking. Funding cuts hurt us as an organisation as you know. We decided that that was not ideal. We rely on fee for service work to keep going. We have most often focused on supervision sessions to meet our funding needs. Occasionally we would run a seminar or do some training but it was limited. Over the past few months we have invested into our own training and have decided that we will focus on providing training to youth workers for a little while.

Between now and the end of 2016 we will run four specific training programs:

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid
  • Introduction to Drug and Alcohol
  • Mandatory Reporting and Duty of Care
  • Intentional Self Care for Career Longevity

YMHFA TrainingThis is a new venture for us to undertake however we were very aware of the poor training that was available in the sector. We believe that if dedicated youth workers are paying good money they should get exceptional training. Our staff have been trained by Mental Health First Aid Australia to deliver the world renowned Youth Mental Health First Aid course. Two days of dedicated training for supporting young people experiencing mental health issues.

Our staff have also created three exceptional courses and seminars to support youth workers specifically. Introduction to Drug and Alcohol is a two day course design to help youth workers support young people who are experimenting with or abusing substances. Using best practice and the most recent data this course is designed by our Executive Director a former youth rehabilitation facility manager. Mandatory Reporting and Duty of Care is a half day seminar which supports youth workers to know their responsibilities under new legislation in Victoria. With public scrutiny at an all time high it is our responsibility to know our responsibilities for protecting young people to the highest standards. Intentional Self-Care for Career Longevity is a one day course which provides participants with the skills and knowledge to develop a self care plan and maintain their own self care and career development.

We will run these courses through a partnership with Eastern College Australia at their training facility in Mulgrave. We can also come to you and run any or all of these courses in your workplace.

To find out more about these courses or to register to attend click on the events tab above.

 If your in Melbourne download our Professional Development Calendar and put it up at work!!!

Returning to our social justice roots

Returning to our social justice roots is imperative As a young man I attended a youth centre in the suburbs of Melbourne that changed my life. The staff there had a mission to see me become the best I could be. They invested in my life through camps, day trips, courses and counsel. They supported…

This content is for Ultimate Youth Worker Network (Monthly Membership) and Ultimate Youth Worker Network (Yearly membership) members only.
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