I have been thinking a lot lately about the need for ongoing professional development and post-qualifying education for youth workers. for us to be the best, the Ultimate Youth Worker’s, we must continue to learn and develop as we progress through our career. However, in Australia there is no requirement for a person who works with young people to hold a qualification, let alone attend professional development!!!
In Australia there is currently no national professional association and very few states have fledgling professional associations for youth workers. Currently, these associations have limited memberships and do not require their membership to have ongoing professional development to maintain their membership. My wife is a psychologist and as such is required to meet a level of ongoing professional development to maintain her registration with her professional association. Some of my mates are social workers and they too have to meet a level of ongoing professional development for registration. Why not youth workers???
One of the main difficulties is pitching the professional development to a sector that has such a wide range of qualifications. In Victoria over %50 of “Youth Workers” hold a Certificate IV (a one year TAFE qualification) or less. There is a smaller percentage who hold a Diploma (2 years) and an even smaller percentage who hold a degree (3 years) and an almost unmentionable number who hold post-graduate qualifications. What often happens is that training groups pitch their training at the lowest common denominator or bastardise their training to meet the needs of a select few… meeting the needs of only a small proportion of workers. In effect most professional development courses rehash knowledge from TAFE level courses which does not bode well for CONTINUING professional development.
Another reason is that it is easier to rehash old course material than to think outside the box and develop good ongoing training. There is a train of thought which states that if you have done your course and passed then you are competent and therefore do not need to learn other techniques and ideologies. The problem with this is that the profession stagnates. Imagine if doctors did that??? We would still be curing infection by chopping limbs off and alienating people with skin conditions like leprosy. We need fresh ideas thrown into the mix for the profession to grow and flourish. We need them for workers to gain a clear foundation for their practice.
But what would this continuing professional development look like???
First of all it means a minimum level of education for all Youth Workers. This is a contentious subject in Victoria as what would the minimum level be??? Many want a degree level qualification to be the minimum. However, those with TAFE qualifications are livid about the prospect of being excluded. However the idea of being professionals means stating that there is a group of people who can do a certain job and a group that can not. (see Jethro Sercombe Part 1 & Part 2).
Second, it means that Post-Qualifying education and continuing professional development must be more than rehashing old course material. We need researchers devoting themselves to the future of youth work. We need academics looking for the newest best practice theories to guide our practitioners. We need practitioners brave enough to challenge the status quo and say that we need to be better for the sake of our young people.
Finally, we need to develop a culture of excellence in the face of mounting Neo-Liberalism. When governments say it is better to have more people who are less qualified than having the best qualified workforce we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When employers skimp on professional development because their budgets are shrinking we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When our colleagues say to us that they won’t go to training because they don’t need it we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When professional development groups put forward substandard training at top dollar we need to say ‘Not good enough’. Expect more of our profession, our colleagues and ourselves! Do not settle for mediocre, it is not why you got into this work. Be the best you can be and expect it from others.
Youth work is an honourable profession. It requires passion and skills to be balanced for the best outcomes of our young people. I know you have passion, it is why you began the journey. Lets gain skills that will take youth work into the next century as a leading force in social services and community welfare.