Become more than you are right now: A youth work specialist

As a parent I want to see my children have more opportunities than I did as a child. I want to see them become more than I became. I want to see them reach their fullest potential. As a youth worker I want to see the young people I work with reach their fullest potential as well. Becoming more than the sum of their parts. As a youth worker though, there was a time I was happy just to have finished my degree and been in a job I enjoyed. I did not want to grow, be challenged or reach for anything. I just wanted to sit still and ponder on reaching the top.


What I realised rather quickly was that you can never reach the top. Government policies change the landscape of practice. Our own yearnings lead us in new and undiscovered directions. Jobs that were around 10 years ago for youth workers do not exist now. We can not stop to long to smell the roses because the world will pass us by.
I have heard over the last year or so a number of youth workers express their satisfaction with where they are in their career journey. I must confess it worries me. It worries me to see 40 year old veterans still on the front with no leadership or mentoring responsibilities. It worries me to see people content to be generalist youth workers in a world of complexities. It worries to see degree qualified youth workers thinking they have reached the Utopian heights of education. In short I am worried about our profession.
Recently, the Victorian state government has stated that it will require minimum qualifications for youth workers in child protection. I think the idea of qualifications is great. What I do not like is the idea of minimums. They set the bar so low. It is an epidemic in the youth sector. Government, organisations and youth workers seem to set the bar extremely low. As a profession we rarely use words like excellence, outstanding or superior to describe our outlook. Imagine if a job advertisement asked for outstanding behaviour or superior qualifications, wouldn’t you be interested in looking a bit further???
I was speaking to a really passionate youth worker recently who was explaining that her work with young people experiencing issues with mental health was so rewarding but that sometimes the issues they were facing seemed to go beyond her skills. I asked if she had considered doing some more study like a grad cert in young people’s mental health or a bachelor of social work to gain some new skills. She bluntly replied that she was a youth worker and those courses would not be of help. It was if I had asked her to stop being a youth worker and become a monster instead. I often hear of youth workers who are counselling young people say that it is beyond them. Many of the youth work course that I know of have but one subject around counselling if at all. Yet when I ask if they would be willing to do a course or attend a few training sessions they can’t find the time. I once even heard a youth worker say that they would not do supervision with a social worker because they would not understand his practice.


In a world that is blurring the boundaries more and more we need to be fresh and up to the job at hand. We need more than a generalist youth work degree to get through the issues we are faced with. If we work in a clinical environment learn about it. If you work in the community, develop your understanding of community development. Do you counsel young people? Read something on narrative therapy or do a short course. We must become specialists in this new world of youth work. It is all well and good to do basic training, but you need your specialist skill sets to make it through the battle. We should all be generalists. But we should never stay that way.
What is it that your situation needs right now??? Counselling skills, supervision skills or maybe even community building skills. What does your next career step need? Management skills, financial skills perhaps even people development skills. When you think about the next 3 years of your career do you see yourself moving forward or do you see yourself doing the same thing? If you answered the same thing perhaps you need to think about it harder. Because the job you are doing now will not be the same in 3 years.
We need to step up or step off. If we step up we will be future focused and developmentally minded. If not, we should do everyone a favour and move on. The time for generalist youth work being the glorified mountain top is over. We are at the dawning of the age of the specialist youth worker. What will you specialise in?   

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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  1. Thankyou for writing this. I’m a little confused with my professional identity at the moment, and whether I want to stay in my current role. But you have reminded me that when I came into this new role a year ago(through a restructure) I bought some books to help me learn and develop skills for this new role. A year in, I’ve forgotten about them. So you have encouraged me to pick them up again, and maybe buy a few more or look at a training course or two. Thankyou. Maybe this new role can become what I dreamed it may be.

  2. Pingback: Youth work in the court system: its extremely important

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