Promoting the professionalisation of youth work


(Youth Work in the Commonwealth: A Growth Profession, Published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, 2017, Pages: 275, ISBN (e-book): 978-1-84859-965-9)

Around the world youth work has now become a growth profession. It is rapidly evolving and changing, just like young people. Young people have the endless potential which makes them the most important and productive guiding force of any nation. Hence, youth work distinctly benefits not only young people, but all of society. The profession has demonstrated great value in providing young people with support to figure out the means of their social, political, cultural, ethical, intellectual and physical development. Youth work, when adequately funded and resourced, and when comprehensive training is provided to practitioners, is shown to have greatly contributed to shaping a productive and equitable workforce, enhancing employability skills, and responding sensitively to radicalisation and extreme behaviour – ultimately leading to equitable development outcomes and social cohesion for all. Where mainstream education has faced challenges addressing young people’s personal and social development, youth work has met those challenges.

The Commonwealth publication “Youth Work in the Commonwealth: A Growth Profession” establishes a baseline to inform the planning and implementation of initiatives to professionalise youth work in Commonwealth member countries. The study was conducted in 35 countries in the Africa, Asia, the Caribbean/Americas, Europe and Pacific regions. It catalogues the extent to which the youth work profession is formally recognised in these countries and examines the qualities and rights-based ethos of the various forms of youth work promoted and practiced in the Commonwealth. The report has a distinct focus on professionalisation of youth work. While it is difficult to provide quantitative evidence of where youth work is explicitly recognised as a profession, youth work exists in many forms and shapes across the Commonwealth, and benefits the lives of young people in multiple ways. Data presented in this report shows that out of the 35 countries in the sample, 12 countries (34 per cent) had taken significant steps to professionalise the youth work sector. Only 11 (31 per cent) countries had distinct national-level policies that recognised youth work. Twelve countries (34 per cent) had youth workers’ associations that help safeguard the integrity and quality of the profession, and 25 (71 per cent) could claim at least a diploma-level qualification for youth work professionals. In Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, many of the advances have also been directly and indirectly attributed to the Commonwealth’s efforts.

The study highlights the varied nature of youth work and its existence in diverse contexts through State and non-State delivery. Youth workers are situated in the governmental, non-governmental, private and voluntary sectors and work with young people in a range of situations including centre-based contexts (youth clubs, schools, hubs and associations) and in detached settings (sometimes understood as ‘outreach’, or ‘street work’) that can take place where young people freely congregate (street corners, parks, bus shelters and so on) of their own choice. Youth work can also take place in hospitals, prisons and other institutions with which young people have contact. Findings indicate that it is not always State legislation or policy that drives dynamic youth work. Systematic, guided and supervised asset-based youth work is often supported by practice networks, youth workers’ associations and education and training institutes. So, by extension, where effective youth work exists, a State’s policy commitments can clearly spread and amplify the quality and impact of this good work.

The research strongly indicates that youth work in the Commonwealth region is a diverse and multifaceted practice. As highlighted in this report, the Commonwealth has achieved much in the advancement of youth work, but it is clear that a few fundamental steps might need to be taken. This Commonwealth publication concludes with a few valuable recommendations in order to ensure professional youth work: 1) Building a collaborative vision for youth work – Build a national vision for professional youth work based on the foundations of a strong, competent cadre of youth workers with attitudes, knowledge and capabilities of professional judgment. 2) Formalising youth work education and training in qualifications frameworks – Ensure that youth work training and qualifications are registered onto the National Qualifications Authority Framework or by a relevant recognized qualifications authority to formalise education and training for youth work. 3) Obtaining professional recognition for the youth work profession – Ensure that Public Service Commissions recognise youth work as a profession in the public sector. Formal recognition of the profession would obtain value and recognition for the profession. 4) Making youth work delivery accessible and safe – This suggests the necessity to have proficient, trusted practitioners, who are ready and able to engage with young people and foster positive life outcomes. 5) Establishing rights-based ethical standards – Develop and ensure the implementation and monitoring of ethical standards for youth work practice in a participatory manner involving practitioners and young people. 6) Investing in youth work and developing budget lines specific to expenditure relevant to professionalising youth work – Youth work needs investment. Public spending considerations for youth work are vital and at the same time, well-executed plans for funding strategies ranging from equitable and rights-based public-private partnerships, bilateral and multilateral partnerships and crowd funding need to be encouraged. 7) Making youth work fun as well as a learning experience – Young people might look to youth work to be ‘fun’ and that would seem reasonable to most people. As much as youth work is made to be fun, parents and governments may also believe it should offer opportunities for young people to learn. If learning is to be fun it is going to be related to things one wants to learn.

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail:

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