Youth work is a career involving working for and with young people in a variety of fun and rewarding ways. The key thing that differentiates youth workers from other community service workers is that young people are their primary concern. Youth work is holistic, which means it takes into account the whole person and acknowledges the social and cultural environments within which young people live.
The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) has created a nationally agreed-upon definition of youth work:
“Youth work is a practice that places young people and their interests first. Youth work is a relational practice, where the youth worker operates alongside the young person in their context. Youth work is an empowering practice that advocates for and facilitates a young person's independence, participation in society, connectedness and realisation of their rights.” Read more about AYAC’s definition of youth work.
There are eight guiding principles that underpin youth work practice in Victoria:
- the empowerment of all young people
- young people’s participation
- social justice for young people
- the safety of young people
- respect for young people’s human dignity and worth
- young people’s connectedness to important people in their lives, such as family and community
- positive health and wellbeing outcomes for young people
- the positive transitions and healthy development of young people
To work ethically with young people, youth workers in Victoria accept the following practice responsibilities:
- recognition of Indigenous peoples
- young people as the primary consideration
- duty of care
- privacy and confidentiality
- transparency, honesty and integrity
- social context
- anti-oppressive practice: non-discrimination, equity and self-awareness
- cooperation and collaboration
- knowledge, skills and self-care
You can read more about youth work principles and practice responsibilities in YACVic’s Code of Ethical Practice or download A guide to the Code of Ethical Practice for the Victorian Youth and handy factsheets.
What does a youth worker do?
Youth workers are employed in a range of settings including: offices, schools, residential care facilities, youth centres, health clinics and community centres. Some youth work is undertaken in a central location with young people required to visit a particular space in order to access services. Youth workers are also expected to undertake outreach work, which involves engaging with young people in the places they like to occupy. Youth Workers are often required to work outside of business hours.
What do you get paid as a youth worker?
Youth workers are employed across several sectors and, as a result, they are not all covered by the same award. Salaries also vary within sectors based on the level of responsibility and skill level required for the role. These factors make it difficult to provide a picture of the expected income of a youth worker. Two key awards to be aware of are:
Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award (SCHCADS). This award applies to youth workers employed in non-government and community organisations.
Victorian Local Authorities Award or Victorian Local Government Award 2015. These awards apply to youth workers employed in local government.
These awards outline the minimum wage you can expect based on the work undertaken.
Education and training
The level of qualification among youth workers varies greatly. Figure 1 provides some insight into the levels of educational attainment of people currently working in the welfare sector (including youth workers).
It may be possible to gain employment in the youth work field without formal qualifications, particularly if you already have some relevant experience (e.g. volunteering). However, your ability to become a youth worker will be strongly improved if you have qualifications (there is increasing demand from industry for a minimum of a Certificate IV qualification).
Qualifications include the Certificate III, Certificate IV or Diploma of Youth Work, all of which can all be studied at TAFE. A Bachelor of Youth Work is offered at university level, and after that, masters level qualifications are also available.
The following is designed to act as a guide to what can be expected from courses at each level. For a full listing of youth work related courses offered in Victoria, visit the VTAC Course Search or My Future website www.myfuture.edu.au
Figure 1. Educational attainment of welfare support workers
Keeping up to speed with the youth work sector
There are plenty of ways to learn more about the youth work sector and engage with professional youth sector organisations.
A great resource is the Youth Workers' Association website.
The Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic)
YACVic is the peak body for youth affairs in Victoria and a great place to access information about young people and the sector that supports them. There are a number of ways to see what YACVic is up to: via social media, by becoming a member, attending YACVic events or reading up on our policy work.
When you support YACVic as a member you become part of a state-wide network of individuals, key organisations and agencies within the youth sector. Membership costs only $3.00 for people under the age of 25. Become a member!
Sign up to Announce and Signposts
YACVic has a number of regular enewsletters you can sign up to stay up to date with the latest news, events, training, jobs and other opportunities in the youth sector.
Announce is YACVic’s fortnightly enewsletter and goes out to almost 2,500 recipients.
Signposts is the monthly enewsletter of YACVic Rural and focuses on is a great way to get updates on what’s going on in rural and regional locations around Victoria as well as our rural hubs in Warrnambool and Swan Hill.
Sign up to our enewsletters Announce and Signposts for news from the youth work space.
Please note that YACVic does not offer any certificates or traineeships.