As outlined in section 6, training in Wales (as in Ireland) is both professionally endorsed by ETS Wales and academically validated and accredited, providing some confidence in its quality. Youth work training is considered effective for youth workers in traditional roles (e.g. centre-based youth work), but is less effective for youth workers taking on new roles in different settings, like youth justice. The 2018 Estyn report Youth Support Services in Wales – valuing youth work, is positive about the impact of the requirement for degree level training and the registration of youth workers with the Education Workforce Council.  Estyn states that this:

…has led to a noticeable improvement in the quality of the management and delivery of youth work since the last young people’s partnership inspections in 2012.  The youth workers observed and interviewed for this report demonstrate a high quality of work with young people and are dedicated, pragmatic, and practical.  They are self-reflective about their performance and fully aware of the societal influences and the policy and financial constraints to delivery (Estyn, 2018, p. 26). 

However, Estyn also highlights concerns with current training for youth workers.  The report lists a range of knowledge and skills that modern day youth workers need to enable them to deal with young people’s personal issues and national concerns, such as:  

…identifying human trafficking and addressing radicalisation through the Prevent agenda[1] as well as supporting young people through other important issues such as health and lifestyle choices, accessing education and employment, and securing housing.  Youth workers operate in environments that range from the controlled institution of a school, to the rough living on city streets, to isolated rural areas.  The role of the youth worker, besides providing open-access facilities, now includes teaching citizenship, personal and social education and literacy and numeracy in schools, and working at street level with young people who have severe mental health issues, are homeless or are sex workers (Estyn, 2018, p. 18). 

Estyn concluded therefore that “the training does not fully equip youth workers to meet the challenges of supporting young people with complex needs in twenty first century society and prepare them for the wide variety of settings where youth work takes place” (Estyn, 2018).

In addition, interviews suggested that youth workers’ ethos and confidence in empowering young people, and their appearance and demeanour does not easily fit into more hierarchical, regulated and controlled settings. Therefore, there is a need to re-think training, to ensure it equips youth workers with the skills to work in different settings, if youth work is to exert the influence it should.

Moreover, interviews suggest that the training lacks a strong enough theoretical focus on the sociology of youth and the psychology of adolescence and it often fails to equip the youth workers with an adequate knowledge and understanding of national and European political and policy environment.

The experience of Wales suggests that youth worker training needs to have three core elements:

  • theoretical focus on the sociology of youth and the psychology of adolescence, to help ensure that youth workers are “experts” on youth (but which is often not adequately covered by youth worker courses); 
  • an understanding of the national and European political and policy environment in which young people are growing up (which again is often not adequately covered by youth worker courses; for example, most youth work students in Wales have no idea how many countries are in the EU, have never heard of the Council of Europe, and have no idea who the first Minister of the Welsh Government is, or the Police and Crime Commissioners, or have not even heard of Extending Entitlement).
  • knowledge and skills, and their application, in practical work with young people; building relationships, developing projects, conducting residentials, and much, much more, including the infrastructure to conduct such work, including composing funding bids, accounting for expenditure and producing evaluation reports. The knowledge and skills of qualified youth workers are normally pretty good, within limits, but sometimes not.

Matching demand and supply

In the past, the number of youth workers trained in Wales was around double the number of youth workers recruited each year. This may be considered inefficient, but is also likely to have meant that youth workers took their skills to other fields like housing and youth justice. Currently the number of training places has been reduced in England and Wales (where qualifications are transferable) but recruitment has largely stood up in Wales. This is attributed in part to regulation of the sector by the EWC, and requirement for full time youth workers employed by local authorities and those working in schools and formal education settings to have recognised qualifications and be registered with the EWC (Jeffs, et al, 2019).

[1] The Prevent Strategy is a cross-Government policy that forms one of the four strands of the strategy for counter terrorism. It includes the anti-radicalisation of vulnerable adults and children.