If you’re interested in working to support and advocate with young people, then we say: good on you!
While we don’t offer youth work certification, placements or traineeships at YACVic, we can provide great advice for anyone looking to kickstart their career as a youth worker.
Hang on – what is 'youth work'?
Youth work is a career that involves working for and with young people in a variety of ways. The key thing that differentiates a youth worker from other community service workers is that young people are their primary focus. It’s about ensuring young people feel supported in developing the skills they need to make positive changes in their lives.
Youth work is holistic, which means it takes into account the whole individual and their experience, including their health and wellbeing, and acknowledges the social and cultural environments within which young people live.
It’s challenging and rewarding work that is vital to healthy, happy young people and communities.
The nationally agreed-upon definition of youth work, by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC):
“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.”
What does a youth worker do?
Youth workers are employed in a range of settings, from offices, schools, and residential care facilities to youth centres, health clinics and community centres. Some youth work is undertaken in a central location where young people are required to visit in order to access services. Youth workers also undertake outreach work, which involves engaging with young people in the places they like to occupy. In some roles, youth workers may be required to work outside of business hours.
Check out this great youthbeyondblue video to learn more about what youth workers do.
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
anti-oppressive practice: non-discrimination, equality and self-awareness
cooperation and collaboration
knowledge, skills and self-care.
You can read more about youth work principles and practice responsibilities in the Code of Ethical Practice for the Victorian Youth Sector.
Youth workers have legal obligations
As well as maintaining professional and ethical boundaries, youth workers have legal obligations to keep children and young people safe. This includes providing a duty of care, keeping young people’s private information secure, and reporting information about abuse or neglect. Check out Youthlaw’s ‘What do I do when?’ resource to learn more about the law when working with young people.
All organisations that work with children and young people aged under 18 years are expected to adhere to the Victorian Child Safe Standards.
These standards involve:
preventing the abuse of children and young people in organisations, by identifying risks early and removing and reducing these risks
taking all allegations and concerns about abuse very seriously and responding to them consistently, in line with organisational policies and procedures
complying with all legal requirements, including reporting suspicions of abuse to police and/or child protection.
All staff and volunteers of organisations are responsible for the care and protection of children and young people who participate in organisational activity. As part of Child Safe standards, organisations should require staff and volunteers over the age of 18 to hold valid Working with Children Checks and police checks (talk with your employer about these first as there may be fees associated).
For more information on Child Safe Standards, contact the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People.
You can read more about YACVic’s statement of commitment to child safety.
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 pay award. Salaries also vary within sectors based on the level of responsibilities, skills and experience.
While this makes it difficult to pin down the overall expected income for a youth worker, typical, entry-level, contracted rates are around $25 per hour, rising to $30 per hour with qualifications and experience. Casual employees are paid at higher rates, but don’t accrue leave or time in lieu. You can progress your career and salary by taking on more responsibility, such as managing teams or projects.
Awards to be aware of:
- Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award (SCHCADS)
- Victorian Local Authorities Award or Victorian Local Government Award 2015
Tip: Browse current employment vacancies
Taking a look at what jobs are out there can be a really useful way of getting a sense of the salary ranges to expect in the areas of youth work that interest you. It’s also a great way to see what kinds of qualifications, training and experience employers are looking for, which should give you an idea of where you might be headed. Try EthicalJobs and Pro Bono Australia as starting points. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter Announce to get new job vacancies sent to you.
Education and training
The level of qualification among youth workers varies. Qualifications include the Certificate III, Certificate IV or Diploma of youth work, all of which can all be studied at TAFE. At a university level, there are tertiary diplomas and bachelor’s degrees in youth work on offer, and beyond that, master’s level qualifications are also available.
For a full listing of youth work related courses offered in Victoria, visit the VTAC Course Search.
It may be possible to gain employment in the field of youth work without formal qualifications, particularly if you already have some relevant experience, like volunteering.
However, your ability, confidence and understanding of youth work will be strongly improved if you have qualifications. And, you’ll be better equipped to provide young people with meaningful, appropriate support.
Tip: Volunteer as a low risk way to check youth work is for you
Youth work can look and feel really different depending on the kinds of settings and organisations you work in. As a way of testing it out, we would encourage you to get involved with organisations and programs working with young people. Volunteering is a great way to do it – you can find opportunities through Volunteering Victoria’s Volunteer Now search, or contact your local council’s youth service team to see if you can volunteer with them.
Keeping up with the sector
As the peak body for young people and the youth sector, YACVic will always keep you updated about youth work issues.
Become a YACVic member
When you support YACVic as a member, you become part of a statewide network of individuals, key organisations and agencies within the youth sector. Membership starts from only $3 for people under the age of 25. Join us now!
Sign up to Announce and Signposts
Announce is YACVic’s fortnightly newsletter for keeping young people and the youth sector in Victoria up to speed on the latest news, events, training, jobs and other opportunities. With over 2,700 subscribers, Announce is among the best go-to's for youth sector professionals. Sign up now.
Signposts is the newsletter of YACVic Rural. It’s a great way to get updates on what’s going on in rural and regional Victoria – from our two rural offices in Great South Coast and Southern Mallee, and beyond. Sign up now.
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Special thanks to Paul Chalkley from ACU for his valuable contribution to this article.