Building a Workforce for the Youth Sector
I have always found training and education especially exciting. When someone participates in a ‘learning experience’ – whether at a training session, through completing a qualification, reading a blog, or watching a webinar – not only are they creating space to invest in themselves and the development of their skills, but the young people, community, and/or environments in which they work also benefit. As practitioners, when we commit to furthering our own learning, it should always be about so much more than receiving a certificate at the end or just being ‘in the room’. The real value in training and education is the journey, one that builds on what we have learned but also considers what comes next, including how to cascade or embed knowledge into everyday practice.
To quote W.B. Yeats, ‘education is not the filling of a pot, but the lighting of a fire’. The same can be said for training and the continuous process of reflecting on and improving the quality of our practice. It is a mistake to only consider training and education as a responsive means to address an identified gap or paucity in skills, knowledge or practice. Sure, workshops and qualifications have a specific and important role in teaching learners new skills, or opening them up to new disciplines or schools of thought. But for experienced youth practitioners – that is, those already ‘doing the work’ within organisations, on the ground, or in our communities – training is an opportunity to continuously stretch ourselves further, to critically examine what we already ‘know’ and have experienced in order to elevate our practices and, in turn, strengthen the quality of offer for young people. In this sense, training and education is as much about reflection as it is about skill acquisition.
I entered the youth work workforce as a volunteer. Having the means and opportunities to access training, and to learn more about youth work, enabled me to pivot from an administrative role within an operational environment, to a professionally qualified youth worker, and then to managing a team of youth workers. I am an ardent advocate for training because I am an example of its possibilities. Young people who engage in provision come from all walks of life and often from very different backgrounds. It is vital that we build a workforce that reflects this, and investment in training (and the infrastructure that enables it) helps support this objective. It is especially important that those engaging in training and producing evidence of their learning within their provision are given the opportunity to achieve accredited learning outcomes or qualifications. These are important steps along the journey: extremely beneficial both to the individual, by providing career progression or even a new opportunity to study further, and to organisations, by widening pathways to build more diverse and experienced teams.
Having said that, a commitment to training shouldn’t just fall to practitioners. The most important asset for an organisation is its people. This includes staff, volunteers, and anyone who holds a relationship with the organisation. Continuous training enables organisations to ensure that their teams have the appropriate skills, tools, and knowledge to provide effective and impactful youth work and provision for young people. But to achieve this, organisations must create the space for practitioners to meaningfully engage in training and ongoing reflective practice. By making room for development, we enable teams to stay motivated, creative, and open up opportunities that staff and volunteers may never have considered, including promotion into positions of responsibility, such as team leaders, or even into roles that hold a different specialist focus.
This kind of development doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long-term and continuous process that should be part of a wider organisational strategy – and even a commitment between partners working together locally to create an offer for young people. To be effective, continuous training for staff requires planning and strategic direction, with a clear link to an organisation’s (or partnership’s) aims, activities, contexts, and desired outcomes. By aligning training opportunities with organisational needs, staff and volunteers can play a greater role in the design, problem-solving, and future-proofing of the organisations and initiatives they belong to, sharing their newly acquired skills in-house and developing the approaches and practices of colleagues and peers. Providing these opportunities enables and builds a motivated team, which in turn, propels the catalyst for change that young people need to grow and achieve within the environments in which they are engaged.
At this point, you might be thinking (and I very much hope you are) ‘this sounds great, sign me up!’. If so, I have great news for you. Since joining the College, I have had the fabulous opportunity to build on our great free to access Impact and Improvement training curriculum – designed for all those working with and for young people who want to engage in learning and training within youth practice. Alongside this, we have been developing our accredited learning offer, providing a longer-term learning environment and training opportunity for practitioners looking to document their skills through recognised qualifications. This new offer lands this autumn and we can’t wait to share it with you. If you’d like to be the first in the know, get in touch with us directly (email@example.com) to find out how we can support you or your team with our training support packages.
Kat Harris is the College’s Training and Accreditation Lead