Firstly I worked with young people in the voluntary sector from the age of 18, on a part time basis because I was studying science through a day release scheme and working in a laboratory. Gradually my enthusiasm for youth work took over: I worked on a full time basis and didn’t take my professional qualifications for another fifteen years. Looking back, I got so much out of my studies because I had that background in direct delivery.

Evidenced based portfolios compensated for fewer GCSEs and A levels

For the past twenty years or more I have focussed on enabling young people to progress through the same route, from full engagement in decision making, planning and delivery to young leaders, volunteers, sessional workers and then full time workers: some who demonstrated the aptitude for academic study became graduates and often their very varied and evidenced based portfolios compensated for fewer GCSEs and A levels.

Equal partners in a youth-led youth project

From 2001 onwards I was fortunate enough to be able to involve local young people in restructuring a local charity – a youth worker’s dream because we were equal partners in this process. Ten young people who were thirteen years old at that time secured a Children Fund Grant and they consulted their peers before developing a highly exciting youth led social inclusion project. Those young people really pushed the boundaries out in terms of innovation in youth work. The same progression route worked for them also and for the next thirteen years those young people nurtured the next two tranches of younger youth workers. This experience confirmed for me that young people have the capacity and the commitment to deliver high quality youth work providing they have access to training and good supervision.

Despite that fact that each of these young people lived in a deprived community and their school was placed in special measures, each one has achieved a good career and seven out of ten did graduate as teachers or in youth work-related fields.

Young people can and will change the face of youth work

I believe that young people can be highly skilled practitioners, providing the charity has one professionally qualified youth worker to ensure that their learning and personal development is of the highest possible standard. Initially that person should ensure the resources are available so that young youth workers can maximize their contact time with young people. As long as all young people have a progression route and they are respected and valued by more mature staff and trustees. Young people can and will change the face of youth work. However they must be paid a fair wage and have access to all in service training in localities: the real skill of the graduate worker has always been to facilitate and enable, so nothing new really.

We need both graduates and non-graduates

So, for exciting, responsive to local need and empathetic youth work delivery, give me young people any day: for vision, compassion and willingness to work evenings weekends and at peak holiday times, younger staff are very often the most likely to deliver. However there is still an important role for the graduate youth worker because monitoring, outcome measurement, evaluative reports and bid writing are needed to keep the charity functions and sustainable, so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.