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What Is a Youth Worker? Definition and How To Become One

May 12, 2021

Working as a youth worker is a rewarding career for people who care about helping young people overcome challenges and reach their potential. However, becoming a youth worker takes several years of education and training. Learning more about what a youth worker does and how to become one can help you decide whether it is the right job for you. In this article, we explain what a youth worker is, who employs them, the skills and qualities they need and the steps people take to become youth workers.

What does a youth worker do?

A youth worker is a community services professional who supports young people facing life challenges. Youth workers typically work with young people aged between 11 and 25 at youth centres, schools, community centres, residential care facilities, health clinics and private businesses. Youth workers are sometimes called youth officers and youth support workers. The key responsibilities of youth workers include:

Building supportive relationships

Youth workers build supportive relationships with young people. These relationships help them develop confidence, empathy and social skills. They also teach young people to believe in themselves and that they can make important contributions to society. When young people understand this, they may become more motivated to achieve their potential. This is vital for youth workers helping young people with serious life challenges such as alcohol and drug dependence, pregnancy, homelessness and abuse.

Being a role model

Youth workers are role models for their young people. They are responsible adults who demonstrate important qualities such as empathy and positivity. The example youth workers set can help young people develop into valuable members of their communities.

Advocating for young people

Youth workers advocate for their young people and make sure their needs are catered for. They identify resources that are required and arrange these essential services. They also connect with key figures in their young people's lives and advocate for their rights, independence and participation in their community.

The main tasks of a youth worker include:

  • Interviewing young people to assess their challenges and provide basic counselling
  • Referring complex cases to specialised counselling
  • Supervising young people and keeping them safe while in care
  • Arranging shelter placements for young people without safe housing
  • Providing food and clothing for young people without these essential resources
  • Helping a young person enrol in educational and training programs
  • Speaking to parents, teachers and police officers on their young person's behalf
  • Connecting young people to essential service providers including health professionals and social workers
  • Maintaining records detailing each young person's wellbeing and services
  • Organising and leading group activities, such as group counselling sessions and projects for building skills and confidence
  • Staying updated on industry regulations and ensuring they operate within legal guidelines

Related: Jobs That Involve Working With Children

Youth worker average salary

The average salary for a youth worker is $71,157 per year. Salaries vary depending on a youth worker's years of experience, location and employer.

What hours do youth workers work?

Full-time youth workers work an average of 42 hours per week. This is around the average for all professionals in the country. Around 63% of youth workers have full-time hours, with part-time and casual workers making up the rest of the working population.

Youth workers have flexible schedules which often include work outside regular business hours. Group projects and events often occur outside regular business hours. Many youth workers also receive calls from their young people on the weekends about their projects and upcoming events.

What are the job prospects for youth workers?

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows strong growth prospects for youth workers. In 2011, there were 11,100 youth workers employed around the country. By 2016, the time of the last census, there were 12,300 youth workers employed. The Australian Government's Job Outlook predicts strong growth for welfare support workers, including youth workers.

What key skills does a youth worker need?

Employers look for youth workers with a mix of the following hard and soft skills:

  • Written and verbal communication: Good communication skills, including active listening, helps youth workers understand what their young people need, support them and explain these needs to others who can help.
  • Interpersonal skills: These skills help youth workers form meaningful connections with their young people.
  • Cultural sensitivity: Understanding different cultures helps youth workers connect with people from other cultures, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and immigrants.
  • Industry-specific knowledge: Understanding confidentiality requirements and industry regulations helps youth workers behave legally and ethically at all times.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

What key qualities does a youth worker need?

The following qualities make people well-suited to employment as a youth worker:

  • Patience: This quality builds trust and helps youth workers continue working with challenging young people.
  • Acceptance: Youth workers must accept and care for all young people, without judging past or current behaviours or choices. They must also keep an open mind and be willing to listen to their young person's point of view, even if it differs from their own.
  • Sensitivity: Youth workers should be sensitive to young people's experiences and how these have affected the way they interact and move through life. This quality helps youth workers connect with their young people.
  • Maturity: As youth workers model responsible, adult behaviour for their young people, they should be mature.
  • Reliability: Employers and young people should know a youth worker is available when they need them and is a reliable source of support.
  • Integrity: A youth worker must always behave with integrity, maintaining confidentiality where appropriate and respecting their young people.
  • Resilience: Youth workers must be resilient enough to keep working and delivering the best service, even after difficult cases.

How to become a youth worker

Youth workers typically follow these steps to secure their roles:

1. Complete a Certificate IV in Youth Work

A Certificate IV in Youth Work (CHC40413) is the minimum educational requirement for youth workers. This certificate program teaches students basic information about community services and working with young people, such as:

  • Working with diverse people with mental health issues and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth
  • Assessing youth at risk
  • Effective communication practices
  • Child protection practices
  • Advocacy and empowerment
  • Planning group activities
  • Legal and ethical frameworks for youth work
  • Workplace safety and first aid procedures

You can study for a Certificate IV in Youth Work at TAFE and some registered training operators. The course usually takes 18 months or more, but you can complete it in less time through dedicated online study. Programs may involve a mix of classroom instruction, online study and practical work placements.

2. Get a Working with Children check or Working with Vulnerable People check

In most states and territories, you must obtain a Working with Children check before working as a youth worker. These checks show that you have a clean history of interacting with minors. They help people employing youth workers feel confident their employees are of good character. In some locations, you need a confirmed job offer before applying, while in others anyone planning on working with children can lodge their application. Apply for your Working with Children check directly through the organisation in your state or territory:

  • New South Wales: NSW Commission for Children and Young People
  • South Australia: Department of Human Services Screening SA
  • Northern Territory: Safe NT
  • Western Australia: Application forms provided by employers or Australia Post, for self-employed people
  • Victoria: Working with Children Check Unit of the Department of Justice and Regulation
  • Queensland: Blue Card Services

Some states and territories have a Working with Vulnerable People check instead. This check shows people can safely work with all people at risk, including children. If you live in one of these states or territories, apply for your Working with Vulnerable People check through the following organisations:

  • Tasmania: Department of Justice
  • Australian Capital Territory: Access Canberra

In most locations you must renew your check every two to five years, depending on your state or territory, to continue working as a youth worker.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Volunteer Experience

3. Broaden your employment prospects with further study and volunteering

While it is not essential, many youth workers get further qualifications and practical experience before accepting paid positions. Many aspiring youth workers volunteer for youth services organisations while pursuing further study. During this time, they can network while getting experience interacting with young people. Dedicated volunteers may also assume paid positions in time.

Many people increase their knowledge through a Diploma of Youth Work (CHC50413) or Diploma of Community Services (CHC52015). These 18-month courses, available through TAFE and registered training operators, offer more in-depth instruction about dealing with the challenges young people face. They also teach leadership skills. Gaining a diploma can prepare you for an advanced role, such as senior youth worker, youth services coordinator or youth work team leader.

Obtaining a first aid certificate can also help youth workers secure employment. A short one- or two-day first aid course can teach you how to respond to workplace health emergencies. Registered training operators and health care organisations, such as Red Cross Australia and St John Ambulance Australia, offer first aid certificates. Take a new course every three years to maintain your certification.

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