More on degrees of learning and qualifications in youth work


I don’t think  I’m being weary in pursuing further the dialogue about degrees and qualifications in youth work. In doing so I’m drawing upon comments posted by Jean Spence, Mick O’Brien and Maureen Rodgers, the latter speaking from across the oceans in Australia.

Jean asks us to remember what is easily forgotten in the instrumental climate so dominant nowadays.

And of course there is always the point that the degree is not just about the particular qualification, not just about youth work, but also about the process of learning and becoming educated for which, hopefully, the achievement of the degree is not a full stop but a beginning.

Her profound point is supported by a contribution on Facebook only a few minutes ago.

I’m in my second year studying Youth and Community Work at the moment (or will be in September, I’m having to take a year out because of my mental health problems). I volunteer with my local youth service so I know how close we’re teetering on the edge of destruction right now. I don’t know if there will be a youth service here when I graduate and it’s scary and so disheartening. But I figure the skills I get through my degree and placements will be worthwhile regardless of what exact job role I end up in. I’m a completely different person from when I started studying; so much more confident and happier in myself. There are so many things I’ve learnt that I use in my entire life, not just in worth. It’s not only about getting a certificate, it’s about who it’s made me as a person. It’s about the process, not just the result (something we should know very well in youth work!) Whatever happens, I KNOW I won’t regret this degree.

Mick reflecting on the difficult situation facing youth work and youth workers argues powerfully for the importance of a degree.

A youth degree is also a standard . A professional standard . Which in my view will serve people well . Yes the process of getting it is a journey well worth taking and one that can and should be continued. We in Ireland are now on the process of establishing The Irish Youth Worker Association. A degree in youth work will be the standard for membership. There is no question, that the values and principles of youth work in Ireland have been eroded over the past number of years by savage funding cuts by the state . By the state wanting to control the outcomes of the work. By the increase in justice projects . By short term work contracts for workers.all this has happened without any real engagement of the youth work sector . It is our hope in IYWA to engage with the state around these issues. We need to professionalize we need to be seen as professionals . Youth workers need a professional standard . Youth workers need a degree .

His insistence on the necessity of professionalisation is echoed in Maureen’s concerns.

Amazing how we are struggling with the same issues! Youth Work is a unique, valuable and highy skilled profession, unlike any other. It’s often undermined and devalued by governments, other professions, some training institutions, policy writers and even some people who claim to do youth work without a professional framework.

But there’s hope. There are many of us who understand its profound positive impact on young people and our communities. Many passionate people advocating for the integrity and longevity of youth work into the future. People who understand that our integrity in underpinned by ethics, research, evidence and qualifications.

Whatever my faults I don’t think I can be accused of being anti-theoretical or anti-intellectual, of being against ‘forever thinking’, as Castoriadis put it. And yet I am cautious about the closed shop of a graduate profession. I won’t elaborate as I can always do that, if it’s useful, in the future. For now I’ll simply pose a few questions.

Given the diversity of those involved in youth work [volunteers, part-timers, full-timers with diplomas and NVQs, full-timers with degrees etc] does the creation of an elite workforce divide rather than strengthen?

Where is the evidence that the graduate professional’s practice is ‘better’ [whatever that might mean] than that of the non-graduate?

To what extent does the emergence of the Irish Youth Workers Association parallel the formation recently of the Institute of Youth Work in England? In England certainly a past history of professional associations was overtaken by the rise of trade union organisation e.g. from the Community and Youth Service Association to the Community and Youth Workers Union? Was the emphasis on our common bond as workers rather than professionals misguided?

Isn’t the apparent professionalisation of universal humanist values [social justice, equality, diversity and so on] and universally needed communication and relationship skills; the implication that these are the property of a unique profession, at the very least problematic? Is critical pedagogy the possession of particular professional groups or is it a way of understanding the world relevant to all walks of life?

I’ll shut up now and ask that you don’t necessarily jump to conclusions about what might be my answers. Looking forward to reactions both here and on Facebook. I don’t think this is navel-gazing.





  1. Tony

    I think this is all wonderful reading – I have followed the facebook discussions and will comment over the weekend – when I can create some spece for thought and reflection. Your posts on the In Defence Site are such a postitive step and a sure way to lead the facebookers who may not have found their way there – to the full site

    Go well Sue

  2. I am a second year undergraduate mature student studying youth and community development .
    I can understand the benefit of studying youth work degree.Working i. Youth work is becoming diverse the role appears huge from educator,family support,mentor and these roles just to name a few.Our service is like mortar between the bricks and in my opinion government should recognise our role as equally as those of teacher or socialworker.i feel very happy i chose youth and community as it proving to be a fantastic degree to study .

  3. Firstly thanks Tony for the development of this discussion.

    The age old argument should we professionalize or not . As Janet Basent said in her artical comparing the professionaliztion of youth work to The Loch Ness Monster as it appears from time to time followed by major discussion and then its gone .

    Nichols D in his book for youth work and youth workers asks the question , would you send your young person to an amateur Doctor or Dentist . The answer of course is no.

    The question in regard to creating an elite profession I think is a very valid one . This is the last thing we need to do as it is in complete contrast to our values . Why not have a profession which is inculcive , empowering ,and supportive . One where the idea of professional qualifications are supported and people are supported in the attainment of them .

    In many ways we are a profession already but more seen as a para profession . We have standards ,child protection, vetting , duty of care , first aid training , these are basic standards which are in place already .

    The issue is I feel that we are treated like amateurs . We are not consulted with and if we are it is tokenism . As Jean Spence has stated we are excellent communicators but have difficulty communicating to policy makers the value of youth work and of course how it’s done . In the absence of this communication the state have taken youth work and have put it in the blender and it now looks feels and tastes like service provision . If it looks feels and tastes in that manner then it maybe the case that state funded youth work in Ireland is indeed desired to be service provision.

    Should we profedsionalize , I think we have to . Should people do a degree , I think they have to. Should we engage and challenge the state. I tni k we have to .

  4. Mick – your thoughts once again much appreciated. Much I agree with, but I don’t think Doug’s question stands up to scrutiny. It falls at the first hurdle as the relationship between a dentist and patient is fundamentally different than that between a young person and youth worker. But if you’ll indulge me I’ll say a bit more in a new post using your comments and this one from Tracey Carson in Australia.

    I teach in the Youth Work Degree (ex practitioner) and wholeheartedly agree with the validity of obtaining a qualification in youth work. I have had the privilege of teaching practitioners throughout this time and found that for some (not all), whilst the skills were there, these skills needed to be anchored in theoretical foundations – human rights, social construction of young people, Code of Ethics, politics of young people etc. It provides role clarity and crystallizes the unique contributions that we make in young people’s lives.

    Best Wishes

  5. As someone taking over the programme lead at Bolton Uni for the Youth and Community work degree in the new year I would say ‘yes’ a degree course is a good idea! However, what motivates me is something that someone said to me in the early 1980’s. Peter Bainbridge of Community development fame said ” if you want to be a youth and community worker then you will be swimming upstream. Young people aren’t a popular section of society. Therefore you have to be twice as good, ethical, knowledgeable as ‘they are’; whoever ‘they’ are that stand against what you’re trying to do with young people.” The professional qualification and the degree may be the bonuses on top of the learning to be twice as good as ‘they ‘ are.

    I know that this is a naive and idealistic, however, I would argue that it’s worth having a degree because the courses still try to get people to be critical thinkers, to search out the hegemony and examine it, to consider the deeper aspects of the youth work project and it’s political context. It builds networks and, if it’s any good, keeps alive the notion that young people are an essential element of a community.

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