YWN Article: Drop this profession obsession

9 June 2010 — 16 Comments

The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week.

Drop this profession obsession
I’m getting fed up with the different schemes proposed to develop youth work and create a new professional status for workers.

First the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) is piloting its youth professional status. If successful, this would be a new award for any graduate working within young people’s services – not just youth workers. To gain the award, candidates would need to demonstrate their understanding of the CWDC’s skills development framework.

Confusingly, this professional status is not considered a qualification or a new role, but “a symbol of an individual’s management potential.” It simply shows workers can adhere to the CWDC Framework – already contested as a watered-down set of values.

Then there is the rebranding of qualified youth workers as “youth work professionals” as proposed by the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services (Chyps). This is a new title for any full-time youth worker with a Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) recognised qualification. A lot of workers like myself would automatically inherit this title because of our training.

The idea here is to distinguish youth work professionals from other professionals working with young people. Chyps are also supporting the youth professional status, so we could potentially end up with youth work professionals who have youth professional status.

Despite the jargon, I do understand the temptation for the change. It’s currently difficult to know which workers are trained to which level, and what that training entitles them to do (or not to do). David Wright, chief executive of Chyps is right in saying that: ” To the outside world, ‘youth worker’ is a generic term. But within the sector there is a variety of different disciplines.”

I quite like the idea of being classed as a “professional” rather than simply a worker. The title appeals to my ego a bit and might hold some weight with other agencies and organisations.

The problem is there are many, many voluntary organisations with unqualified workers doing an amazing job with limited resources. I’m a big advocate of training and education, but many agencies simply cannot afford to train their workers. This does not make them less professional.

One of the best workers I ever met was an elderly gentleman who volunteered at a youth club. He has little understanding of integrated services, nor was he ever likely to gain a JNC validated qualification, but he held the respect of those young people in a way I can only hope for. He was in every aspect professional.

So while I agree that we do need some clarification in youth work training and qualification, lets drop this obsession with being “professional”. If we concentrate on actually working with young people and doing the best for them, then maybe we can earn the right to be called professional.

You can view all my Youth Work Now articles here.


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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.

16 responses to YWN Article: Drop this profession obsession

  1. I would never deny there are some volunteers who do absolutely fantastic work with young people, however are they doing it as a job? If they don't claim to be doing it as a job/vocation then they probably wouldn't claim to be professionals!

    People who are working with young people as their job 'deserve' to be called professionals if that is what they are… They have to work with social work, police, teachers, health professionals, parents, carers, why should they not also be recognised as being professional too? As a parent I want to know that people working with my daughters are professional whilst also recognising the fantastic work volunteers do, but that are not doing it as a job.

    Yes I am biased – I teach on a professional youth work course, but even before I was a 'professional' I thought exactly the same as I do now!

  2. Jon, while like you I like my ego to be stroked I can also be critical enough to know that there is a difference between knowing how to work with young people and knowing how to deal with the vast array of issues that youth workers have increasingly been given — more than ever we're expected to fill any space between schools and social work. Actually, the more social workers I talk the more their job seems to be about risk management and the actual working with people is being passed onto youth workers. In fact, when talking with people who have knowledge of social work in other countries, they would suggest that much of what we do is social work.

    Surely within this context there's a need for a professional status, where there is a need for an understanding of integrated services.

    Typing without thinking: maybe the reason people are getting so upset about this new role / professional status thing is not because they're wanting to isolate voluntary staff but because they do not want to fill these gaps, instead being able to work the sector's ideals rather than all this targeted work? I don't know?

  3. Hi Dot, thanks for the comment and I appreciate the distinction
    between paid and unpaid workers – a good definition of professional!

    I think the question for me is about the paid workers who are
    unqualified. There are many full time workers who do not hold a
    relevant JNC validated qualification, but are still “professionals”.
    These are the people in danger of losing out in these new proposals.

    I would however always advocate professional youth work training
    wherever possible… Especially on your course! 😉

  4. Hi Roger,

    I take your point about the wider scope of multi-agency integrated services. It certainly is beyond the remit and training of many youth workers. I'm not actually against training that develops these skills in the workforce.

    You might also be right that workers are fighting the overwhelming tide of “social” work that has invaded their discipline. I can see that is true in many instances.

    I suppose my big gripe is the terminology and lack of clarity around these roles and status. If we're going to overhaul the sector to distinguish between qualified and unqualified, trained in integrated services or untrained, then lets do it properly and scrap the JNC to develop a scale that reflects these new developments!

  5. Hahahaha thanks re my course!!!

    Someone who I am privileged to be friends with in my diocese is one of the best youth workers I know, but because he hasn't got the piece of paper is going to struggle with getting a job now he has been made redundant from his last post.

    He has a local qualification but not the JNC and his ex employer always 'forgot' to fill in forms etc for him to be able to get funding to get the JNC on my course – so so angry about that for him.

    I think he will get a job but probably not in this country and it will be such a huge waste – in my opinion!

  6. Well yeah, that's probably right but if you thought the current suggestions were inflammatory…

    Also, I'm not sure which way round the tide went? Did youth workers have this work forced on them or did they rush in to fill the gap left by social work not having the capacity?

  7. This is really sad to hear, I could have found myself in a similar position — having originally trained via a faith based course not recognised by the JNC — if it were not for a colleague convincing me that self funding a degree on top of full time work. Hopeful worth it now, though I understand this isn't always a viable option for everyone.

  8. The argument about those doing it as a job being the professionals reminds me about the old distinction of sportsmen who were amateur or pro. Even in those days many of the so-called 'amateurs' were better by far than many of the 'pros'.

    I was also interested that Dot recognised a friend as 'one of the best youth workers I know, but because he hasn't got the piece of paper is going to struggle with getting a job'. I fully understand that as I am currently undertaking the degree despite years of being a volunteer and five years of being a paid youth worker for a church. There is a dependence on the degree being the only measure of professional status – experience and other evidence from pervious work do not count.

    I fully endorse the idea that any youth worker should be undertaking training, improving their skills, submit to peer review etc but is the JNC Degree the only measure that counts?

  9. Hi Chris,
    I totally agree with what you say about the JNC being the only measure of professionalism – surely professionalism is more about conduct and experience than qualification?

  10. Hi Dot, that example is both sad and familiar. This is becoming more of a problem. Hugely talented workers are being squeezed out of youth work because they don't have that piece of paper. This is why I feel the obsession with professsionalisation is flawed. There must be recognition of workers like your friend.

  11. In picking up Jon's point to Chris – there is a difference between being “professional” in the way we execute a piece of work, do a job (involving attitude / experience / skills) and being “A” professional (I have the piece of paper to prove it) . . . they are not the same thing. The youth work sector – including volunteers and extra timers – dwarfs just about every other job there is; at the point of delivery to a young person . . . can I ask, “what is the difference?” This needs to be a question that is not forgotten – put someone who is not a “qualified professional teacher” in a classroom . . . can the young people tell (probably) . . . put a “volunteer or salaried youth worker without the professional label” in a youth group setting . . . do the young people know, or care? Are they less safe? Whether they are or not is about the individual's approach (their character / attitude) this is not on a bit of paper . . .

  12. This has been a great read. I just left the UK 4 months ago to move to Colombia to join the leadership of a church plant and to setup some work with the children who are being used in the sex trade here in Bogota. I've committed to two years and i have to say that when i come back to the uk I'm a little worried about finding a job. I recently finished The foundation studies with YMCA before leaving but other then that i don't have qualification…. I guess tesco are always looking for new staff….

  13. LOL Shaun! But you'll have a Youth Support Worker qualification so will be able to gain part-time employment with statutory agencies (if they're still doing any youth work)…

  14. Great question Ali: “do the young people care about the professional status of the worker?”

    Of course there is more to it than this, and it's naive to think that training doesn't matter, but as I argued in Journeying Together (http://www.jonjolly.com/2010/02/24/local-youth-…) it's the character of the worker that enables their success in relating to young people.

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