Youth worker education: The time for change is nigh.

A while ago we wrote on what post-qualifying education might look like for the youth sector. We had a number of people agree and disagree with our thoughts but the one thing that we kept coming back to was the current state of youth worker education. Our sticking point in these discussions was the lack of practical placement in current education.
In a recent survey of its members the Youth Workers Association in Victoria came to the belief that no more than 30% of a youth work course should be undertaken “on the job”. The reality of the average youth work degree is that it is more like 15%. The issue that we see is that youth worker education is becoming an almost purely theoretical endeavour. When the core of our work is developing relationships can this truly be taught through theory alone???
Recently I was chatting with a friend who is completing a degree in tourism and marketing and he was surprised to hear that we did not need to complete an industry year. In his course they complete two years of study, then an industry year, and return to complete their final year. This not only leads students to gain a practical understanding of their field, but also provides links to employment.
As a teacher in the field education of youth workers and a former employer I have noticed a severe lack of industry knowledge and practical skills in students and graduates of youth work courses. In our attempt to make youth work a theoretically sound profession we are losing much of the practice skill development. We are turning out a great number of theoretical practitioners but rare is the great practitioner.
We don’t need less practical placement in youth work education, we need more! You can’t learn youth work from a book…it must be learnt through doing it. Sixty-five days of placement in a couple of youth services is not nearly enough for students to gain a depth of understanding in youth work practice. We believe that the model of an industry year is a good starting point however to make it a worthwhile learning experience there must be opportunities to critically reflect for both student and organisation. Mentoring of new students is a possible answer to this conundrum. Perhaps universities could provide regular seminars on new research as a link between industry and academia.
The point is students need to have a stronger link to industry before they graduate.



Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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