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How to Become a Youth Worker

Responsibilities, working hours, what to expect and qualifications needed

Career guides » How to Become a Youth Worker

What does a youth worker do?

A youth worker is sometimes also known as a young person worker or youth mentor. They work with young people between 11 and 25 years old and provide them with guidance and support. They organise various activities and community programmes and provide services to help young people achieve their full potential.

Youth workers will work with young people with various issues, from teenage pregnancy to behavioural difficulties. They can also specialise in specific areas, such as mental health and vulnerable groups. Therefore, what youth workers do will depend on the type of young people they work with and their specialisms.

A youth worker’s main aim is to improve the lives of young people by helping them with their social, educational and personal development in informal settings. The goal is to increase young people’s confidence, build life skills, expose them to new experiences and help them to become valuable members of society as they move into adulthood.

Youth workers will carry out many tasks, including assessing needs, building relationships, supporting and advising, mentoring and coaching, organising activities and events, running projects, working with other teams, recruiting and managing staff, etc. The role may also involve administrative and computer work, e.g. keeping confidential records, budgeting, report writing and completing funding applications.

Youth workers can work in various settings, such as schools, colleges, youth centres and faith-based groups. They will work with many people, including managers, other youth workers, volunteers and support staff. They will also liaise with external stakeholders, such as young people, parents, guardians, carers, police, probation officers, schools, social care and health teams, local authorities, youth offending teams, community groups, etc.

Youth workers can work in various private, public and charitable sectors. They can be employed by numerous organisations, including local authorities, drugs and alcohol services, housing associations, schools and colleges, the NHS, churches and faith groups, community groups, the Armed Forces, etc. There are also options for youth workers to be self-employed or work freelance.

Responsibilities

A youth worker’s responsibilities will depend on the young people they work with, where they work and their specialisms.

Some examples of common duties for youth workers can include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Assessing young people’s needs to identify the programmes and interventions required.
  • Building relationships with young people.
  • Encouraging young people to participate and making them feel included.
  • Establishing boundaries and challenging inappropriate behaviour.
  • Supporting, advising, mentoring, coaching and counselling young people.
  • Planning, organising and managing activities and events for young people, e.g. educational, sports, art-based and environmental.
  • Setting up and running projects and programmes on various issues, e.g. drugs, crime, health issues and bullying.
  • Liaising and working with families, police, teachers, social workers, probation officers and other teams and community groups.
  • Recruiting, training, managing and supervising staff and volunteers.
  • Attending necessary meetings and training and undertaking development opportunities.
  • Keeping records, producing reports, creating business plans, managing budgets and completing funding applications.

Working hours

Youth workers can expect to work around 37–39 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on where they work and their specialisms. They will typically work Monday–Friday, but they may have to work occasional evenings and weekends on a rota.

Jobs tend to be full-time, but some employers may offer flexible options, such as part-time, work-from-home, hybrid, remote or job share. Many roles are temporary or fixed-contract, as they are reliant on funding.

Youth workers usually travel to meetings and activities, which can lengthen their working day. Overnight stays and overseas travel are not common but may be a requirement for some roles.

What to expect

Being a youth worker is not easy, but it is a rewarding career choice. Youth workers provide vital support and guidance for young people and help them to reach their full potential. Seeing a young person’s confidence increase and helping them to develop can be fulfilling. Youth workers can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made a difference to young people and their families. It also creates a positive society as successful young people transition into adulthood.

Boredom will never be a problem for youth workers, and no two days will be the same. They will see many young people with various needs and issues, and they will participate in different activities and events. Youth workers will also travel frequently. Therefore, they will see various places and meet many people each day.

Even though most youth worker roles are reliant on funding, the skills and knowledge that individuals will gain are transferrable. Therefore, if their jobs are not permanent, they will likely find work in other areas working with young people, especially if they do further qualifications, e.g. social work, counselling or teaching.

This career choice offers many different options. There are various areas in which youth workers can specialise, such as mental health. Employers may also offer flexible hours so individuals can fit their careers around their personal lives. Youth workers also receive regular training, development opportunities and practical learning, which can boost their CV and career prospects.

There are opportunities to be self-employed or freelance. Being self-employed and being your own boss can be attractive, as it can give individuals the independence to take charge of their career progression and day-to-day tasks.

Even though there are positives to being a youth worker, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:

  • Mental demands – being a youth worker is mentally and emotionally demanding. Young people can be challenging, but youth workers will work with those with various issues, some of which are vulnerable or high risk. There can be a risk of verbal and even physical abuse, and there can be upsetting and distressing situations, which can be stressful. The role can also be frustrating, especially if it is hard to build trust with a young person.
  • Physical demands – being a youth worker can also be physically demanding, and individuals need to be physically fit. They will often have to participate in various events and activities, some of which may be outside in all weather. They will also travel frequently and may be on their feet for long periods, which can be tiring.
  • Roles are reliant on funding – most youth worker roles are government funded, which means they are vulnerable to cuts. Many roles are temporary or fixed-term contracts, so they are not always the most secure job roles.

 

Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable role. It is physically and mentally demanding, and most jobs are government funded. However, there are many positives too. Individuals who become youth workers love helping young people and their families and making a positive difference to their lives.

When considering whether to be a youth worker, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.

Personal qualities needed to be a youth worker

Some of the personal qualities a youth worker requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • An interest in helping young people and their families.
  • Knowledge of psychology.
  • Knowledge of what affects young people and how to relate to them.
  • Knowledge of confidentiality and safeguarding.
  • Good physical fitness to participate in activities and events.
  • Caring, calm, compassionate, approachable, understanding, non-judgemental and empathetic.
  • Confident, assertive, enthusiastic, motivated, resilient and committed.
  • Honest, discrete, responsible and trustworthy.
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Interpersonal skills.
  • Customer service skills.
  • Counselling skills.
  • Active listening skills.
  • Conflict management skills.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Networking skills.
  • Organisational, planning and time management skills.
  • Presenting skills.
  • Administrative skills, e.g. report writing.
  • Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
  • The ability to work well with others and alone using own initiative.
  • The ability to work under pressure, be patient and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • The ability to build relationships based on trust and respect and maintain them.
  • The ability to establish boundaries and challenge inappropriate behaviour.
  • The ability to provide appropriate guidance, support and advice.
  • The ability to inspire and motivate young people.
  • The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • The ability to use IT and software packages.

 

For some jobs, individuals may need to speak a second language or have experience in certain activities and events.

Qualifications

There are many different routes to becoming a youth worker. Individuals could go to university, enrol on a college/private training course, apply for an apprenticeship or apply to companies directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role. Further information on getting fully qualified is on the National Youth Agency (NYA) website.

University

An individual does not need a degree to become a youth worker. However, having an undergraduate or postgraduate degree can help individuals stand out from the crowd. It is also a requirement if individuals want to become fully qualified youth workers.

Some examples of degrees are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):

  • BA (Hons) Youth Work and Communities.
  • BA (Hons) Professional Studies Childhood and Youth (Youth Work Pathway).
  • BA (Hons) Social Science, Community Development & Youth Work.
  • BA (Hons) in Practical Theology (Community Youth Work).
  • PG. Dip / MA Youth and Community Work.
  • MA Youth and Community Studies.

 

It is better if courses are recognised. The National Youth Agency (NYA) has a list of professional qualifications in youth work on its website.

The entry requirements will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying. They will typically need two/three good A Levels for an undergraduate degree or a certain number of UCAS points to get into university. Postgraduate degrees usually require a 2:1 or 2:2 in a relevant undergraduate degree or a degree in another subject and appropriate experience. Some institutions also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.

College/private training

Undertaking a Level 2 or 3 youth work diploma course can help individuals become youth workers. To work with 16- to 17-year-olds, individuals will need at least a Level 2 qualification. Those working with over 18s will need at least a Level 3. Individuals usually require four or five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent. Always check the entry requirements before applying.

Private training companies may also offer courses. It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short courses to see if a career as a youth worker is of interest. That way, if it is not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble. The NYA also have courses on their Youth Work Academy.

Individuals are not guaranteed success with courses and qualifications. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge.

Apprenticeships

There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become youth workers, e.g.:

 

Individuals will usually need the following:

  • Advanced apprenticeship – five GCSEs, grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths, or equivalent.
  • Higher or degree apprenticeship – four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A Levels, or equivalent.

 

Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed. The NYA also has information on apprenticeships on its website.

Applying directly

Some organisations may offer youth work trainee or internship roles for those with qualifications and experience working with young people or communities. They may train individuals on the job and pay for them to do professional youth work qualifications. It can be a good route for those struggling to pay for courses, as they can be expensive. Individuals will still need a good education and demonstrate a passion for working with young people and communities.

Most job sites advertise trainee roles, internships and graduate opportunities.

Volunteering with not for profit organisations

Work experience

Relevant work experience (paid or voluntary) can help individuals become youth workers. In some cases, employers and course providers will require at least one year’s experience. The length and type of work experience they will ask for will vary between employers and institutions. However, it is essential to undertake as much varied work experience as possible.

Individuals could apply for jobs as part-time youth support workers while working towards a Level 2/3 course or a degree. Alternatively, they could work as an assistant in advisory services or youth work and shadow people already in the role to get an idea of what it is like and if it is for them.

There may be volunteer opportunities where individuals could gain experience working with young people, especially in areas covering drug or alcohol misuse, mental health, peer support, etc. Individuals could apply for voluntary roles in charities, community schemes, not-for-profit organisations and drugs and alcohol services. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO, Volunteering Matters and Indeed.

Youth workers taking training courses

Training courses

Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.

Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career in youth work include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Safeguarding (mandatory for youth workers).
  • Mental health.
  • Equality and diversity.
  • LGBTQ+ awareness.
  • Disability awareness.
  • Autism awareness.
  • ADHD awareness.
  • Drug and alcohol awareness.
  • Substance misuse awareness.
  • Sexual exploitation.
  • Neglect.
  • Criminal exploitation and county lines.
  • Managing challenging behaviour.
  • Prevent and radicalisation.
  • Understanding bullying.
  • Work-related stress.
  • Workplace first aid.
  • Data protection and the GDPR.
  • Customer service skills.
  • Time management skills.

 

Professional bodies, charities, agencies, unions and associations, such as the National Youth Agency (NYA), UK Youth, Unite, the Institute for Youth Work (IYW), the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), Education Training Standards (ETS) Wales, YouthLink Scotland, YouthAction Northern Ireland, Specialist Youth Work and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become youth workers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.

The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs can be found on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, IYW jobs, LocalGov Jobs, LG Jobs, CYPNow Jobs, CharityJob.co.uk and local authority websites.

More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable as it is a legal requirement and keeps individuals’ knowledge and skills up to date.

Criminal records checks

Youth workers must undergo an enhanced background/criminal record check, as they will have contact with young and vulnerable people. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role. Having a record does not automatically mean being excluded from youth work.

The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:

Driving

Most youth workers will need a full driving licence (preferably with no points), as they will travel to different locations. Some roles will provide a company vehicle for this, but others may require individuals to use their own, which must have business insurance.

Youth worker working in housing association

Where do youth workers work?

Youth workers can work for different employers, including (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Voluntary organisations.
  • Charities.
  • Housing associations.
  • Local authorities.
  • Schools and colleges.
  • The NHS.
  • Social services.
  • Churches and faith-based groups.
  • Drug and alcohol services.
  • Youth offending teams.
  • The Ministry of Defence.

 

Youth workers can also be self-employed or do freelance work.

They can work in a variety of establishments, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Education premises, e.g. schools and colleges.
  • Religious buildings.
  • Community buildings.
  • Youth centres and clubs.
  • Learning centres.
  • Hospitals.
  • Hospices.
  • Health centres.
  • Mobile units.
  • Prisons.
  • Offices.
  • On the streets (high-risk young people).
  • From home (for some jobs).
  • MoD bases.
  • Supported accommodation.

 

They will also travel frequently and work outdoors during activities and events and in various locations in the community.

Youth worker encouraging sports activities

How much do youth workers earn?

The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) determines the pay for youth and community workers.

The salaries are on a pay scale system, and some examples are as follows (these figures are a guide only and are subject to change):

  • Youth and Community Support Worker Range (not fully qualified) – £19,646–£29,291 a year.
  • Professional Range (fully qualified and experienced) – £25,756–£43,466 a year.

 

There are also allowances for the London area and sleeping-in duties.

The latest pay scale figures can be found on Unite.

Youth workers will typically receive other benefits, in addition to their salary, such as a pension, sick pay, training and development, generous annual leave, maternity/paternity/adoption leave, etc.

As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.

Youth worker specialising in teen pregnancy

Types of youth working to specialise in

Youth workers work with young people aged between 11 and 25. However, there may be scope to specialise in working with those of a specific age or vulnerable groups, e.g. Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) or Emotional and Behavioural Disorders (EBD).

They may also be able to specialise in the following areas, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Mental health.
  • Teenage pregnancy.
  • Gang prevention.
  • Youth violence.
  • Drugs and alcohol (substance misuse).
  • Young offending.
  • Homelessness.
  • Exploitation.
  • Sexual health and relationships.
  • Behavioural issues.
  • Family breakdowns.
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (therapeutic youth work).
  • Refugees and migrants.
  • Detached youth work (working with young people in public areas, such as parks and shopping centres).

 

Some youth workers may also be able to specialise in delivering specific activities, such as:

  • Arts and crafts.
  • Performing arts and drama.
  • Music and instruments.
  • Climbing.
  • Multimedia.
  • Sports.
  • Boxing and martial arts.
  • Food and cookery.

 

There may also be opportunities to work in specific settings, such as schools.

All specialist youth worker roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some may need specific qualifications and additional training for specialised areas. All youth workers need to know how to build relationships and communicate effectively with young people. They must also be able to plan and organise various events and activities and liaise with multi-agency teams. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for (if employed) and the type of work a youth worker wants.

If youth workers do not carry out their roles effectively, safely and competently, it can result in young people not communicating or not actively participating in activities and events. If vulnerable young people are involved, people could also get injured or worse. Youth workers can also find themselves in trouble if they do not maintain boundaries and put safeguarding at the forefront of their job. Therefore, whatever the type of role, youth workers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.

Youth worker with knowledge of laws

Professional bodies

Standards, policies, processes, codes, laws and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, youth workers must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to ensure they carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives youth workers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers. Some training is also mandatory, e.g. safeguarding.

Joining a professional body, charity, agency, union or association, such as the National Youth Agency (NYA), UK Youth, Unite, the Institute for Youth Work (IYW), the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), Education Training Standards (ETS) Wales, YouthLink Scotland, YouthAction Northern Ireland, Specialist Youth Work and others, can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. They may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.

There is ample opportunity for career progression for youth workers. With more qualifications, training and experience, they could become senior youth workers or youth worker managers who look after a team. They could also specialise in specific areas, such as mental health. Alternatively, they could look after vulnerable groups or high-risk young people.

Knowledge, skills and experience in youth work can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a youth worker may want to complete additional qualifications and become a social worker, counsellor or teaching assistant. They may also work in advisory services, mental health or education, or move into different sectors.