Starting Out In Youth Work

10 March 2008 — 44 Comments

UPDATE: Much of the information and links in this post have now become obsolete. For current information leave a comment or visit the NYA Workforce page here.

I’ve recently been writing an assignment on providing accredited training for youth work volunteers and have realised that I’ve not seen anywhere a simple explanation of the route to becoming a professionally qualified youth worker. There is lots of information available out there regarding youth work training, but none of it is laid out in simple and straightforward language on one page.

Therefore in this post, I’ll attempt to explain the basics to help you make sense of all the JNC, NVQ, VRQ, NYA, and DipHE’s! Most of the following has been adapted from the National Youth Agency (NYA) website and I’ve linked back to the appropriate pages.

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Basically, there are two types of youth work qualification approved by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). The JNC is the body that sets and guides national pay and conditions for youth and community workers, so their endorsement is essential. These qualifications are: Youth Support Worker and Professional Qualifications. We’ll look at each separately.


Youth Support Worker is a term recently introduced to describe workers who were known as part-time or locally qualified youth workers. A Youth Support Worker is typically a person in a youth centre, or youth work project, who is assisting the lead youth worker to deliver the work undertaken with young people. Many volunteers currently do this type of role and training is available through local authorities, Further Education Colleges and many voluntary youth services. Some of the training may be classroom based and some will be supported learning in the work place. The level of qualifications are:

NVQ or VRQ Level 2 (considered equivalent to a GCSE)

Level 2 qualifications provide a basic understanding of youth work concepts and enable you to undertake common youth work roles. They are most suitable for Assistant Youth Support Worker posts, and roles when you will rarely be expected to work without supervision, such as Apprentice Youth Worker positions and volunteers.

NVQ or VRQ Level 3 (considered equivalent to an A Level)

Level 3 qualifications provide more detailed knowledge and understanding of a wide range of youth work issues, and enable you to work with young people face-to-face with a reasonable amount of autonomy. They are suitable for Youth Support Worker posts, Workers in Charge of small teams of sessional staff, and those whose job involves developing a particular area of the youth work curriculum.

It doesn’t matter if you do an National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) or a Vocationally Related Qualification (VRQ) – they give the same level of qualification, but just have different approaches to how they are delivered and how you are assessed.

Local Authority and voluntary youth services will normally expect employed workers to gain level 3 NVQ, enabling you to create and implement your own work with young people with only minimal supervision. NVQs and VRQs are competence based. This means that there are no exams in NVQs and in only one part of a VRQ, and that you must provide evidence that you possess a range of skills and knowledge. The evidence will be produced in the course of your normal work.

For more information on Youth Support Workers, click here.


  1. Professional Qualifications


A degree or Diploma in Higher Education (Dip HE) are for those who want to make a career in youth work and may move into strategic management and development of projects and services at a later date. These qualifications provide knowledge and understanding of theoretical concepts and the policy context for youth work, while also testing a student’s ability to undertake youth work at a sophisticated and challenging level. The different levels of professional qualification are:

Foundation Degree or Dip HE

Both these courses are two years full time or have a part time equivalent (such as three years). The Degree is mainly employment based while the Dip HE involves more taught materials.

BA (Hons)

This qualification is three years full time or has a part time equivalent. If you have previous qualifications such as a Dip HE, you can usually study for one year full time to gain the BA (Hons).

PG Cert / PG Dip

Both the Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma are one year full time or part time equivalent for those who wish to continue beyond an honours degree.


The Masters is a one year full time or part time equivalent of higher credit than a PG Cert or PG Dip, for those who wish to continue beyond an honours degree.

Because Youth and Community workers work in a wide range of settings, Higher Education qualifications reflect different occupational needs, and often have a range of titles, including youth and community, community and youth studies, childhood and youth studies, and informal and community education.

Warning: Not all available courses are professionally validated by the NYA and will therefore not be recognised by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for youth work. Without professional recognition from the JNC, a course will not qualify a student as a professional youth worker!

A full and up-to-date list of courses that are recognised by the NYA and JNC can be accessed on the NYA website

To make things even more confusing, in September 2010 youth work is becoming a professionally recognised qualification. This is a good thing for the vocation but means that anyone qualifying on a professional youth work programme that starts any time after 1 September 2010 will need to achieve a minimum of an Honours Degree (BA Hons) in order to be considered professionally qualified within the JNC framework. If you are just starting out and plan to become professionally qualified, go for a BA (Hons). If you already have a current professional qualification lower than an honours degree, you should think about gaining one.

Hopefully that has helped clarify things a little bit. If you’re interested in finding our more about each of the qualifications including the awarding bodies, then follow the links to the NYA site and beyond.

Finally, if you just enjoy working with young people and are unsure about all this qualification business, you should still consider undertaking basic youth work training as this will help you to support the work of others in the team better. Personally, I would recommend getting as much training and education as you can get. There are many options out there. Maybe I’ll post some soon!


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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

44 responses to Starting Out In Youth Work

  1. Hi, thanks for all your advice, it was just what I was looking for. I am extremely confused as to what to do regarding qualifications. I have a degree already in the humanities but since then I have worked with homeless people and then young people as a support worker. I did a stint of volunteering which focused on people and the community and I now think I would like to get into Youth Work but I have no idea where to start and what qualificaiton I should do. I don’t really want to do a 3 year degree again, I just want maybe a one or two year course maximum to get me high enough up so I can get some kind of half decent job in something I enjoy. I am 25 now and I don’t really want to be getting a foundation in anything, I would like to go straight in to something fairly high up. I hope you have some ideas for me because I do not have anyone else to ask. Thanks, hope to hear from you soon.Kathryn x

  2. Hi Kathryn, thanks for your comment.

    I’ve been trying to find an answer to your question and found
    this page on the NYA site really helpful.

    Basically, to go into the youth work field long term you will need to get a JNC recognised qualification. Normally this will mean another degree course. However, if you already hold a relevant degree e.g. Social Work, Teaching, Sociology, Social Psychology, you can do a post-grad course. Generally these are one year full-time (or part-time equivalent) which enhance your existing qualification with skills, knowledge and understanding specifically relating to youth work.

    Many youth work employers will allow you to do this in work time and may even pay towards it as it will benefit their organisation. I imagine though that you’ll be classed as a youth worker in training until you complete the post-grad.

    I hope that helps a little. What was your original degree in and whereabouts are you based?

  3. Thank you Mr Jolly.

    It has been a great help to me reading your explanation on youth
    work training.

    Now i must get back to my boring supervision assignment.

    Why did i choose this module!

  4. Hey,

    Thanks this post was really useful!

    But do you know if there is anyway to get the qualification part time within a year? or 2 max.

    I work for a youth charity and most of our volunteers are uni students who would like to gain the qualification in their spare time. can you help?

  5. Hello,
    I was wondering if you can help. I have a BAhonours in Drama and English Literature, and have run various drama workshops for teenagers which I really enjoy. I would like to get into youth work. Since having my son who is now 3 it is the career path I have decided on. I don’t think I can afford (the time or money) to do another BA and feel I’m qualified to this level already Is there anyway of learning on the job and gaining qualifications this way? I really need to earn as I will have to pay child care for any time away… Can i work and study at the same time and if so where?? I’m in Kingston in Surrey and completely baffled by this process. The MA at the YMCA seems most likely but I am unsure if I can afford it! Please help!!

  6. Hi Nicola, thanks for the comment. I’m getting asked this question a lot at the moment from people with degrees in another field of study.

    I’m not totally sure about your situation, so I’ll go do some research and find out for you! I can highly recommend the YMCA course though 😉

  7. Hi Jon,

    Thank you so much for getting back to me. I have looked at my local borough website this morning and it seems that they may offer some training, I will investigate by phone later! I have done some work with young offenders and taught at a private school in a drama capacity so hopefully that might help! The Open University Foundation degree looks quite good do you know anything about it? Your site is very helpful by the way, and thanks again this is something I really want to do and appreciate the advice I’ve also heard only good things about the YMCA courses. 🙂


  8. Andrew Wilmshurst 30 September 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for the info here. great stuuf.

    I was just wondering though if you knew how I could find out where in London I could study for a NVQ Level 3 for a youth support worker? every web site says what it is, but no-where does it say where you can study to get it!



  9. In response to Nicola’s enquiry, I asked Mark Smith from YMCA George Williams College about getting into youth work with a qualification from another field. This was his response:

    “The main route is through post graduate qualification – and there are a few programmes around. We are looking at doing one here [at YMCA]– but it is a few years off.

    Some people have been able to accredit their learning on their degree and come in at a later stage in our degree – but that is dependent upon them being able to demonstrate some sort of supervised practice.”

    So it seems most people will have to do further training at Post Grad level to become a professionally qualified youth worker. But as I said above, many employers will pay for this development if they believe you are a good candidate for employment.

  10. Hi Andrew,

    I’ve been trying to track down some part-time Youth Support Worker training in the London area. As you said, it seems to be hard to come by the information online. Usually the local youth service will provide this training for volunteers or part-time workers so you should try getting in touch with your borough first.

    I did however find a list of courses here. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it may help!

    Good luck!

  11. Thanks ever so much Jon,

    Your very kind, I have contacted my local authority and had quite a good response so have filled in a long applicationand am awaiting a reply!
    Thanks for your time 🙂

  12. Hi there,

    Just wondering if anyone could offer me some advice. I'm wanting to get into youth work but do not know what courses I should be looking at, where is good etc. I don't really want to commit to 3 years as am undertaking a degree in psych externally currently. I have previous experience in the substance misuse field. Any suggestions?



  13. Hi Ella,

    Welcome and thanks for the comment. Generally speaking, the best place
    to start with any youth work is through volunteering! Most voluntary
    groups and statutory agencies are looking for volunteers and
    experience counts for a lot.

    If you have a good relationship with an agency, they are likely to
    offer you some basic training usually as a Youth Support Worker. As
    stated above, this is generally a part-time NVQ or VRQ. If you want to
    pursue youth work as a career, you can go on to do a Dip HE,
    Foundation Degree or in some circumstances build on your existing
    degree with a Post Grad.

    In every case though, practical hands-on work with young people is
    essential and therefore volunteering is a good route to go. There is a
    good piece on voluntary youth work here:
    Depending on where you are based, you can access volunteering
    opportunities from your local Citizen's Advice Bureau, Local Authority
    Youth Service or search the database.

    I hope that helps.

  14. Hi there,

    Firstly can I thank you for putting together such an informative sight. I have been going crazy trying to work out what to do to get into the youth justice field and found this very useful.

    I am currently studying a Bsc Hons in Social Sciences with the Open University. Although now I realise this is a bit open I hope to specialise in a post grad caourse. On the way I have acquired a diploma in social policy and criminology and next year will be studying psychology – my last one. What other qualifications will I need and how can I get them. I am based in Petersfield, Hampshire but am a single mum of 2 so not sure how I can get through uni and still fund the family.

    I am currently in touch with Rainer – restorative justice – and ready to start volunteering. They will give me some training but will that be in the form of a professional qualification since it's only 2 weekends? What should be next step?

    I look forward to hearing from you,

  15. Hi Alison,

    It sounds like you have a really good grounding in youth justice which
    will be a huge advantage in any youth related work you do. I suspect
    the Rainer training will be an uncredited in-house course as it's only
    2 weekends (although it could be Open College Network accredited which
    you could build on later).

    Depending on your preferred field of work, a professional youth work
    qualification may not be applicable. Work with the Youth Offending
    Teams for example do not currently require a youth work degree – your
    Social Sciences and volunteering experience are likely to land you a

    If you do want some form of youth work training, check out the new
    Working With Young People foundation and honours degrees at the Open
    It may be that you could add on a module from the course to your
    existing degree. If not, Chichester run a Youth & Community Degree
    which you may be able to dip into:

    I hope these are helpful!

  16. Hi Kathryn
    I was in your position and having a BScHons didn't want anything lower so did the PGDip/MA course with JNC by distance learning with De Montfort Univ in Leicester. A good course but self-disciplin needed to crack on with the studying after a day at work!
    Hope this helps

  17. Thanks Mark, that's really useful advice! What work do you do now? Did
    the course enable you to get into more work with young people?

  18. Hi,
    I am interested in gaining a youth work qualification but I'm not sure what route I should take in order to do this.
    Unlike most of the people on this site I do not have a degree and would only be able to study on a part-time basis due to work committments. Please could you give me some advice on the best way to go about gaining a professional qualification?!


  19. Hi Geraldine,

    Firstly, sorry for the slow response! With regard to your question, I think you would represent the vast majority of people who want to get into youth work. As such, the simplest way to get involved is to volunteer at your local youth club or group!

    Most statutory youth services provide training for their volunteers and just by helping out each week, you are likely to be able to start studying on a Youth Support Worker qualification. Obviously this would mean some commitment to the youth club longer term, but if you have limited time this is the best way to get experience and training.

    If you are solely looking for training, you can enrole yourself on one of the many part-time Distance Learning courses out there. Just remember that any Part-Time training takes a long time – I studied for 5 years before I got my JNC qualification – but it gives you a great opportunity to build up experience.

    I hope that is helpful!

  20. Hi,
    I am interested in becoming a Youth Worker and I was finding it hard to understand the process until I came across your site any thanks for this. I am a 25 year old student with B.A Hons in Criminal Justice and currently finishing M.A in Criminology and like all students I am finding it hard to get a job in any field. At times I wonder if i made a mistake in studying in higher education and whether it was worth while in getting into debt. I want to go into a field where I will get a guaranteed job such as youth worker and was going to findout about volunteering first but after that i have no idea of where to go and what the process is? Would you be able to advice me further please many thanks

  21. sorry just to clarify my point, after i volunteer what options are open for me to become a qualified youth worker? will i need to do a M.A again? will help be provided by the volunteering agency? what is the process like?

  22. HI Jon

    I have just qualified on the Dip HE in Community Play and youth Studies with JNC professional qualification.

    I want to become a youth offending officer, is my JNC qualification enough to gain me a job in youth offending or will i have to do another accredited in Youth Justice.

    Thanks for getting back to me in advance

  23. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the comment. From what I understand, most employers will recognise your JNC Qualification and that should be enough to get you a job in Youth Justice. You may however have to do addition training, but this is usually provided by the employer. There’s some more info on Youth Justice Careers here.
    Looking at some of the jobs available on this site, many want YOT (Youth Offending Team) or YISP (Youth Inclusion Support Panel) Qualifications which are often youth work or social work based, while others just want experience in the field.

    It’s best to start looking at individual posts and seeing what they require. Good luck!

  24. Hello I have a sociology degree and have just started my voulntery with youth, I will be in that project for 3 months. I want to do the nvq level 2 but I fell that mabye i should go the opne university and do a year course? thanks

  25. thank you. i am Destiny from Nigeria. I do hope to be in touch.



  27. hi jon thank you very much for your post, i am 22 an have worked with homeless people and worked in a nurery full time while doin youth work park time volantry, an decided as i live alone i need to be gettin paid so i am over half way threw my nvq in childcare an have a full time job coming up in june, but i am still very intrsted in youth and cant choice which i prefer so would like to also get a qual in youth work, as i will be workin full time in the day which course would you recomend? do apologise for my bad spelling.

  28. Hi Stacy, thanks for the comment and don't worry about the spelling!

    It sounds like you have a lot of experience with children and young people across all the ages! There are obviously some different skills required in dealing with very young children and teenagers, and many people think the two are separate disciplines. However I have often found that due to their character, some people are just great at engaging with kids at a variety of ages and can work across these boundaries! It sounds like you're pretty comfortable with both.

    I would strongly advise that you finish the training you are on and get the Childcare NVQ as this will give you something to fall back on. If you do still want to develop your youth work skills, why not volunteer or get a Youth Support Worker job (usually a few hours a week) with a local youth club? You'll probably get some training (like a part-time NVQ Level 2) but can still work doing childcare in the daytime to support yourself.

    I hope that helps.


  29. Hi Miriam, did you get anywhere with the NVQ? How about the Open University Course? Did you apply?

  30. Hi Shaz,

    My sincere apologies for missing your comment earlier – for some reason it didn't flag up and I therefore didn't reply.

    Changing careers after a significant investment is never easy, so I sympathise with your questions of whether it was all worth it. You mention about a guaranteed job in youth work – sadly that's never the case! It is possible to gain youth work roles without training, but experience with young people and a good track record is highly regarded. This is why volunteering is such a good route into the field. You can spend a bit of time in your evenings getting experience which then counts for a lot in getting training and employment.

    For training, you should simply look up the range of youth work courses available (some are listed on this page and in the comments). For voluntary opportunities in your area, you should contact the local council, or search here:

    Your route to a professional youth work qualification will largely depend on your personal experience. You may be able to add modules to your existing BA (Hons).

    Support from the volunteering agency will depend on how they are set-up. Smaller charities will greatly value your help, but may not be able to train you. It would be good to work with a branch of a larger organisation (Local Authority Youth Services, or YMCA, etc) as they are likely to have opportunities and systems in place to help you.

    With regard to the process, it usually involves meeting someone from the agency, filling out an application and Criminal Records Check, then having an induction into the club/agency.

    I hope that is all helpful!

  31. Hi Uloma, I'm glad this has been useful.

  32. Hi Kathryn
    You will probably have qualified and got that hoped for job by now but in response and as yet I have yet to make a move from the role I have worked in for the last 4+ yrs whilst doing my JNC which I'm pleased to say I completed last summer. I have since found some P/T youth work 2 evenings per week and by day am a co-ordinator of vocational learning at a local secondary school. I look forward to doing something else more relevant to my qualification before too long but in the build-up to the general election there does not appear to be the variety of posts on offer as previously with funding being frozen or discontinued.
    I hope you have managed to progress in your chosen career.
    Best wishes

  33. Hi Jon
    My partner has recently been made redundant from telecoms, he doesnt have a degree or anything but has worked voluntary with young people and has completed a mentoring course. can you tell me what would be the first step for him with regards to getting a formal qualification

  34. Hello Petra, sorry for the long delay in a response!

    With regard to your partner’s situation: Firstly, you don’t need a qualification to work with young people (particularly with voluntary agencies), but it is becoming more common and would certainly be useful. If he were willing to pay the fees, he could enrol in any part-time JNC validated course to get a Youth Support Worker qualification. A list of current courses can be found here:

    However it is experience that is most important and if your husband has already done some voluntary work, he may be able to gain a part-time role somewhere. Many local authorities provide training as part of their employment too.

    The National Youth Agency have recently redone their website and information is now a LOT easier to find! For more comprehensive advice, I suggest you visit this page and work through the information there:

    I hope that is useful.

  35. Hi,
    I’m currently a primary school teacher and am looking to leave teaching to get in to youth work. I’m not sure if I have the relevant qualifications and I don’t really know where to start. I have a degree in psychology where I studied child and young people’s development. I have a PGCE in primary education and have been teaching for three years and I have experience of working in a community drug team where I worked closely with young people. Would I be able to get into youth work with these qualifications or would I need more specific training? Any help would be appreciated.(I’m in the Manchester area)

  36. Hi

    Is it not the case that the JNC framework post 2003 stipulated that it is roles and duties of the post that determine salary and not qualifications per se.

    Even in 2010 when degrees became the minimum YW qualification to be JNC endorsed the above still remains – this is to give the occupation of YW some credence – respectability.

    Are you able to shed some light on this???

    For example I am a competent YW but without the JNC qualification – my employers choose to pick from JNC guidelines what suits them at my personal detriment – is this fair?

    • Hi Zed, it’s difficult to comment on your specific example.

      The JNC framework has been largely successful in setting pay and standards across the sector, but no-one enforces this. Your employers don’t have to stick to the JNC pay scales, but they should have some written documentation about how they’ve chosen to adopt it (e.g. what is their pay scale and when do they move someone up this scale). If you don’t have a JNC-validated qualification and your employers state a certain level of responsibility requires it, then it is fair not to promote you or give you that responsibility.

      If I were in this position, I would also question my own practice and see if there were things I could be doing to improve my role and professional development that may help my employer recognise my skills.

      Is that what you were asking? I guess you should really sit down with your line manager and discuss the implications.

  37. Ok this time im going to do it right.Would you believe me if i said this is the 3rd time i have written this email out.First time i wrote it were it says ”NAME” and the second was were it says URL…that would be the blonde hair.Ok now to the point,i have been scanning this internet to try and find some kind of information on youth work and then i came across your very well written and carefully worded web page.Thank you for taking the time to help people like myself and others become what they want to be.Im 31 yrs old and from a small town called frinton on sea in essex.Since i was 16 i have been in care work,first with the elderly then with dementia,then young people with learning diffuculties and lastley i worked with people who had huntingtons disease (the most crawlest of them all)i found that work so so hard emotionly.I am also a registerd childminding assistant and have an nvq2 in care.Because of my childhood/upbringing i feel that youth work is really were my heart belongs.I would be really really grateful if you could take the time to help and guide me on the right path of becoming a youth worker as i really dont no how to go about it.On another note please ignore all my terrible spelling mistakes…english was never my strong point.Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and i really hope to hear from you soon .Good day to you sir.

    • Hi Lisa, I’m glad you finally managed to post this comment! 🙂

      It’s great you found this page helpful, although a lot of the detail is now out of date. Sadly much youth work has been stopped under the Government’s funding cuts. Youth work is not a statutory requirement so is an easy target when having to save money, even though it provides vital support for millions of young people – many of them vulnerable.

      It seems your experience in care work is vast and will certainly be helpful to draw on in any work you do with young people. The simple answer to your question is: there is no one route into youth work. Many people get involved through helping out at local clubs, groups or activities. I would give you the same advice I’ve given others in these comments, find somewhere to get stuck in volunteering. You could try your local volunteer bureau or council to see if they need any volunteers, or if you know someone who works with young people, ask if you can help. You’ll probably need to do a CRB check and induction first.

      Having said all of that, training can be very useful too. There are a number of places that do courses in youth work but you usually have to pay. However I’ve recently come across YouthForce who have some part-funded and even fully-funded places on level 2 and 3 youth work Diplomas. I know the timing is tight, so you might want to contact them quickly. Go here: http:/

      Any training will require you to do some level of face to face work with young people, so you will need to have paid or voluntary work lined up.

      I hope that helps. Feel free to get in contact again.

  38. Hi Jon

    I work for a local authority and yes they adhere fully to the JNC –

    I am on the professional range of the JNC scale – but have been situated on the same scale for a number of years –

    My professional development has been restricted due to family circumstances – however I am acknowledged amongst my peers/superiors as an experienced and competent worker…

    I have developed my skills through working/training on the job… and have a level 7 qualification in a non JNC endorsed area – that has aided me in being a competent youth worker

    In regards to my responsibilities – It is the equal to other youth workers who are placed on a higher scale than me simply because of their JNC – the difference being 5 points in some cases – and their experience is in some cases 10years less than me…

    Oh I have tried sitting with management – but in the current economic climate I am told to put up and shut up…

    • Sounds tough, and a little unfair! It seems they are firmly sticking with the JNC as the measure of pay and responsibilities. Sadly, even if you deserve a pay rise in this climate you’re unlikely to get one.

      If they value your work, will the LA help you gain the JNC instead? If your qualification is in a related area you could jump in at level 5 or 6 (I realise you said family circumstance was a factor here). Getting the qualification may not give you an immediate pay rise, but will certainly help long-term.

  39. Yes very unfair…

    Problem is they actually don’t understand the JNC – as the JNC protects me – little do they realise that – but they will

    Will keep you posted on how matters develop…

  40. Hi Jon
    I am unemployed at the moment I run a voluntary youth organisation and I am wanting to gain a youth work qualification so I can do this as a career but I have no clue where to start. I don’t have any qualifications eg GCSE and I am a little dyslexic so may find it a little difficult. I was just wondering if you could give me some advice on where to start please.

    Many thanks

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