To celebrate Youth Work Week 2017 we’re taking a look at how you can have a career helping others. #YWW17 is a chance for youth organisations, youth workers and young people to give themselves a pat on the back and celebrate the impact of their work. It’s also a chance for us to show you how varied a career as a youth worker can be and hear from people who have done it.

You might think that being a youth worker is all about running youth clubs to keep unruly teenagers off the street and coming up with ways to keep young people interested enough to come back every week. The reality though, is that that’s not the only type of youth work out there and it can be a really varied and rewarding career. We spoke to Rebekah Leedham from the National Youth Agency (NYA) and Craig Smith, who did a youth work apprenticeship at O2 Think Big, to find out more about life as a youth worker and how you can go about getting into a career where you’ll be helping young people on a daily basis.

“I started volunteering with young people while I was at college,” Craig says. “I saw the impact of working with young people who might not have had the same privileges that I did, and it was so rewarding. That’s what made me want to do my apprenticeship.”

With his youth work apprenticeship, Craig worked as part of a team to encourage young people to run social action projects across the country. “It was great to see a young person come to us who might be quite shy, then they started their project and you started working with them, they finished that project and moved on to get more funding and continued to grow. They totally changed and totally developed,” he explains.

He admits that at times it was tough working with young people, especially when they didn’t respond or react to his help the way he expected. “Sometimes you can help young people and point them in the right direction but they might not necessarily respond to you, and you almost feel a little bit like you’ve failed because they’re not responding. But quite often they need a bit more time or it’s just that your approach hasn’t worked. It can be frustrating seeing their potential but them not fulfilling that.”

But at the end of the day, what Craig said is the most important thing is to see how young people do develop through the work he does with them, to help make their social action projects the best that they can be.

Becky from the NYA noted the changes that youth work has faced in recent years – particularly with government funding cuts. “I think the key thing is that youth workers can be found in lots of different environments now; schools, hospitals or police stations. A lot of people think that youth work has changed because of that, but it hasn’t.”

If you’re interested in going into youth work, it’s definitely worth checking out the range of qualifications that you can do – but Becky recommended making sure that you do a JNC recognised course. That means the course has been professionally validated and approved by the NYA, so you know that you’re being trained properly and also so that employers know you have been. There’s a range of different qualifications you could do – from level two apprenticeships, right up to Masters degrees. Check out the NYA website for more on qualifying as a youth worker.

As well as getting a piece of paper that says you’re a good youth worker, it’s important to develop a range of skills and build up some experience. Skills Becky says are particularly good to work on are: confidence, empathy, understanding, and organisation – “there’s a lot more admin involved in youth work than people realise.”

It’s also a really good idea to get involved in some volunteering with young people. Not only will this help you when you’re actually applying for youth work jobs or qualifications, but it’ll also give you a good insight into whether you actually enjoy working with young people! There are a few great places that you can look for youth work volunteering opportunities – Becky recommends trying your local council and finding out if you have a regional youth work unit operating in your area (a quick Google should help with this).

And if you’re looking for opportunities to volunteer your spare time, start your own project and help people (inc other young people!) in your community, then head over here to apply for project funding. We’re excited to offer up to £500 for your social action project, aimed at individuals who want to inspire others to unlock their potential. It could be a great way to start your journey to a career in youth work!

For more about working in jobs that make a difference, have a look at…