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.
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.
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!