Keeping motivation in youth work

MotivationMotivation is key

Life is tough, and so is youth work. Keeping motivation can be difficult. From the outside most people only see the coffees, conversations and if everything goes well a young person who appears to be well rounded. What they don’t see is the hours of paperwork, the phone calls, the parent meetings, the heartache and tears. When all of this gets mixed together with the trauma our young people experience and the lack of structured support from our organisations we come up against vicarious trauma. When this happens it is really hard to stay motivated.

At first you find that all the tasks in your day begin to seem mundane. You start to think you have heard your clients stories before. You are bored by tasks you used to enjoy. Your clients become just another number. Then all of a sudden you are looking at the job boards thinking of your next position. I have worked with dozens of youth workers in just this position over the years. They come to me for advice on how to address their job search as they just need to move on. The first thing I alway address is the reason for wanting to leave.

Youth Work MotivationI wish I could catch these youth workers six months earlier. Planning for your care is so much easier than trying to cobble together a career when you have lost all motivation. You see motivation is hard to regain, but it is pretty easy to maintain.

Here are a few of our go to motivation maintenance techniques that we believe will help any youth worker stay fully motivated for the work ahead:

  1. Know why you became a youth worker. Your values, philosophy and frameworks of youth work are intrinsic to your motivation. If you do not know why you became a youth worker, or what your motivations were to start then it is hard to focus when times get tough.
  2. Get supervision. We harp on about supervision because we know its worth. We don’t just mean the task supervision that you might get at the moment. We mean supervision that asks you to be critically reflective, to look at you as a person as well as you as a practitioner. You need a place to wrestle with the challenges of the job and how they affect you as a person.
  3. Have a life outside of work. Most of the people I know that have lost motivation or burnt out in youth work have lost their ability to live a full life. Their blinders are on and all they can see or think about is work. Get a hobby, catch up with friends and family, take a holiday… Live life outside of work.
  4. Stay up to date with the sector. Get involved with your peak bodies and networks, read journals and books, study, sign up to blogs and newsletters. Be involved with the sector not just your little patch. It helps breed a wider and deeper perspective.

If you do these four things you will find that when the dark days come… and they will, you will have a strong foundation from which to stand with motivation.

Youth work and politics

Politics is great

One of my favourite questions for youth work students is how much they love politics. It asks them if one wall is ‘I hate politics with a fiery passion’ and the opposite wall is ‘I love everything about politics’ where do you stand on the continuum? Most students herd themselves down the ‘I hate politics end’, I have even had a few leave the room completely. Every now and then a few likely souls brave the tides and step towards their love. They show their comrades that politics is not to be feared or despaired over but embraced fully.

politics and youth workThe fact of the matter is that all youth work is political. Whether you are supporting an individual young person through an education program or you are advocating for hundreds at a symposium, all youth work is from a political framework, in the political system and funded because of political ideals. As youth workers we must have a strong understanding of the political sphere and the process that helps bring the decisions to the fore. We need to know the players and their political bent. We need to understand how to influence these decision makers and help them hear the voice of our young people.

Our profession is motivated to provide a world that listens to and embraces young people as equal citizens. This is a very political statement. It puts a flag in the ground that we will not give up. Sometimes it puts us politically against those in power. Sometimes our vision aligns. Either way our employment and our future is intrinsically linked to politics. Whether your a liberal leaning lefty or a right as rain conservative if you are a youth worker your work is politically challenging. You are more like a lobbyist than you think.

Whats your take on political youth work?

Youth work and your family

Family comes first

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the pressures youth workers face because of the job. We have high rates of psychological distress, we deal daily with vicarious trauma, our jobs are often at the mercy of government whim and to top it of we work long crazy hours. This takes a massive toll on us as youth workers, unfortunately it also has ripple effects around us.

youth work family lifeI have seen a number of memes lately that have really got on my nerves. Mainly because they hit the bullseye. As youth workers and indeed human services workers in general we can become so focussed on the people we serve that we forget about the ones we love. Our partners, spouses and children forget what we look like as we spend every night out at meetings, running centres and programs. Our kids in particular feel the burden.

I have met many young people over my career who had parents who were youth workers. most turned out pretty ok. A number of them however had fallen off the rails. This detour through trouble often came because they felt abandoned by their parent for other young people. Often hearing about how the more troubled kids need their parents attention at the moment.

As a youth worker I have not been immune to this either. Studying, working weird and wonderful hours and being out at nights and weekends has been a part of my life for well over a decade. The final semester of my Masters degree I was working 80+ hours a week and was lucky if I saw my wife and children on a week night or more than a couple of hours on the weekend. As a family we knew this was only going to be for a season, yet the strain was clear.

A few weeks ago my family grew by two. Beautiful identical twin girls. This has made me slow down and reevaluate. Some things have taken a hiatus, some have been cut fully. One thing has been a clear reminder to me in this time, My family is the most important people in my life. When it comes to balance my family wins every time. If we put others young people before the needs of our own children what message does that convey to them. I know there will be times where for the short term we have to put our work first, but if our own children continue to lose out then they will become the clients of other youth workers down the track.

It is a cycle I intend to break. Being a professional means having thing work at home and at work. Will you join me? Put family time first n your calendar. Your family comes first.a

Recruit great youth workers

7 tips for recruiting Ultimate Youth Workers

Recruit great youth workersRecruit great youth workersRecruiting Ultimate Youth Workers…

Recruiting is one of the most important jobs a youth service manager will ever have. Managers are responsible for two major tasks: results and retention. You can never get great results if you have mediocre people and you will never retain people if they don’t believe in what you are doing. So the answer is simple… recruiting the right people in the first place solves 90% of your issues.

First things First

You do not need someone so badly that you have to hire bad candidates. The absolute worst thing you could do is hire the wrong person because you feel the need to fill a spot. This will inevitably hurt your team and your ability to get the results you so desperately need to show. We all have stories of when the wrong person had a role and they tore a team apart. There is no time ever that you need to have a full complement of staff over recruiting the right person. No matter what anyone says you can take your time to get the best.

Tip 1 – Write a great position description: A great position description isn’t a fluffy document. Many HR departments have templates that have so much information and window dressing that you actually have no idea what you want a person to do, or even worse… you want them to do everything. Be clear and concise. The position description should include the duties you want the candidate to fulfill, the behaviours you want them to exhibit and the knowledge the must hold to do the role to which they are applying. If you feel like you are adding more than this it is simply window dressing. If you have the opportunity to have input into writing the position description make sure it is imperative that you make it fit your role perfectly.

Tip 2 – Initial cut down: You should ask for a resume, a cover letter and a response to your key selection criteria. Start with the cover letter. You are looking for an opportunity to weed out all those who wont fit your role. Many recruiter will spend less than 10 seconds scanning the cover letter. But, what should you look for??? Well here are a few ideas:

  • Is the document well formatted? Are there paragraphs? How are they justified (left or fully is the only way to go). Is it more than three or four paragraphs in length? Is it grammatically correct?
  • Are the candidates contact details on the document?
  • Has the candidate let you know where they heard about the role?
  • Have they addressed it to you or just used a ‘to whom it may concern’?

If a person makes it through the first round move on to their resume. Are the candidates contact details on the document? Do they have the qualifications and experience to fulfill the role? Is the document well formatted? Have they told you what they did in their roles or just put what they should have done from previous position descriptions? If they make it through these checks then you move on to the key selection criteria.

The key selection criteria should address your criteria within the position description. Have they answered your points with a clear PAR story. In a PAR story, they will describe:

  • Problem that existed
  • Actions they took to address the problem
  • Results they achieved solving the problem

If they make it this far they are OK. But, OK is not enough to fill your position. Its time for you to proceed to the next step.

Tip 3 – Phone screen interview: If you have other staff members on your team this is a good opportunity to get them to show some leadership, if not you can do it yourself. A phone screen interview is a short 30 minute interview that starts with the question ‘tell me about yourself?’ and ends with a behavioural interview question. You don’t tell the candidate your decision here (provide a good no letter if they didn’t make it). This is the most cost-effective and timely way of eliminating candidates who don’t stack up.

Recruiting to interview

Tip 4 – Interview those who are left: A day of interviews and testing and it’s what we use at Ultimate Youth Worker when we hire staff. But if your organisation can’t afford a day of interviewing then here are a few ideas for you:

  • Behavioural interviewing is a must. You need to see how a person will react to situations which will happen regularly in the role they are applying for.
  • If you aren’t getting your young people to help it’s not worth interviewing. The young people add a different dynamic that shows a lot about how the candidate works with young people.
  • An hour is not enough. Even the worst people can put on a good show for an hour. Try an hour of panel interviews, testing such as DISC profiling or a big 5 and finish with a half hour interview with the team. If you do this as a minimum you will be leaps ahead of your competition.

Tip 5 – It’s always better to have a bench: If you have a job opening and you already have a person who will fit the role you save yourself a lot of effort at the start. Most Government funding requirements expect transparent recruiting into roles, however if you have a person who will fit your role there is no rule that says you can’t get them to apply. Students who have done placements with you, former staff that you would have back in a heartbeat and casuals who are looking to expand their careers are all great people to have on your bench. If a role comes up that you think would fit a bench warmer then get them to apply. 

Tip 6 – References are not as useful as people think: If a person has put down a referee it is highly unlikely that person will have anything negative to say about your candidate. It is important to make sure they have all the credentials and qualifications they say they do. The best use of reference check is to qualify all the information the candidate has provided to you.

Tip 7 – If they aren’t excited they aren’t the right person: We don’t mean they have to be extroverts (we love introverts) but they do need to show enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for the organisation, the mission and the role. If the candidate doesn’t have a smile on their face and a spring in their step they are most likely the wrong person for your role. You should take excitement for the role over just about every other metric you use in hiring. Everything else you can teach or have it taught to the person who gets the job. Passion is something which can’t be given.

If you use these seven tips we guarantee you will get great candidates. These tips work for 90% of candidates 90% of the time. The rest comes down to your hard work and tenacity. If you want to take your organisation to the next level then you need to have the best staff. Recruiting Ultimate Youth Workers means setting the bar high and never settling except for the best.

 Once you’ve got the right person, don’t forget to keep them!

National Youth Week 2016

National Youth WeekNational Youth Week

Every year adults around the country set apart a week to celebrate the exciting time of life called youth! The arrogance of adults! That we would think young people deserve a week of focus and then pack it up for another year. That governments would put the measly scraps of funding towards running youth week is a telling symbol of their lack of care or respect for young people. The fact that the Federal Government still does not have a Minister for Youth is a clear indication of how inept government is at taking seriously the voice of young people.

The more adults try to placate young people the more we miss the amazing things they have to teach us. When we hear people say that “young people are becoming…” we need to remind them that young people are already fully human with all the rights that come with being so. What it felt like to not be listened too. What it felt like to be ignored except to be reprimanded. The older we get the more we forget our own youth.

[Tweet “The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth. Edmund Burke”]

As a society we pay young people less, simply because they are young.  We believe that young peoples opinions are lesser because they have less experience. We believe that one day young people will make great citizens, but not quite yet. As a society we must submit to be taught by our young people. They are not only the hope for the future, they are our hope now. If we continue with our arrogance of age the future looks bleak.

There has been some discussion in Australia over the last little while about lowering the voting age to 16. This would be a good start in showing young people how much we can learn from them. It would also go a lot further than a poorly funded week of placation.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

Training: The next evolution in Ultimate Youth Worker

Training for the future

Well the world turns and we are still kicking. Funding cuts hurt us as an organisation as you know. We decided that that was not ideal. We rely on fee for service work to keep going. We have most often focused on supervision sessions to meet our funding needs. Occasionally we would run a seminar or do some training but it was limited. Over the past few months we have invested into our own training and have decided that we will focus on providing training to youth workers for a little while.

Between now and the end of 2016 we will run four specific training programs:

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid
  • Introduction to Drug and Alcohol
  • Mandatory Reporting and Duty of Care
  • Intentional Self Care for Career Longevity

YMHFA TrainingThis is a new venture for us to undertake however we were very aware of the poor training that was available in the sector. We believe that if dedicated youth workers are paying good money they should get exceptional training. Our staff have been trained by Mental Health First Aid Australia to deliver the world renowned Youth Mental Health First Aid course. Two days of dedicated training for supporting young people experiencing mental health issues.

Our staff have also created three exceptional courses and seminars to support youth workers specifically. Introduction to Drug and Alcohol is a two day course design to help youth workers support young people who are experimenting with or abusing substances. Using best practice and the most recent data this course is designed by our Executive Director a former youth rehabilitation facility manager. Mandatory Reporting and Duty of Care is a half day seminar which supports youth workers to know their responsibilities under new legislation in Victoria. With public scrutiny at an all time high it is our responsibility to know our responsibilities for protecting young people to the highest standards. Intentional Self-Care for Career Longevity is a one day course which provides participants with the skills and knowledge to develop a self care plan and maintain their own self care and career development.

We will run these courses through a partnership with Eastern College Australia at their training facility in Mulgrave. We can also come to you and run any or all of these courses in your workplace.

To find out more about these courses or to register to attend click on the events tab above.

 If your in Melbourne download our Professional Development Calendar and put it up at work!!!

Returning to our social justice roots

Social JusticeReturning to our social justice roots is imperative

As a young man I attended a youth centre in the suburbs of Melbourne that changed my life. The staff there had a mission to see me become the best I could be. They invested in my life through camps, day trips, courses and counsel. They supported me in my down times and rejoiced in my highs. At the time I thought I was the only person they worked with like that. In hindsight I know that is how they worked with us all.

What made these staff so amazing was a belief in what they were doing and a values base which was the foundation of all their work. The motto of the organisation was ‘somewhere to belong’. The staff had a realisation that many people in society are excluded and as such they have a feeling that they do not belong to community. The staff provided a listening ear, a cup of coffee and support amongst much much more for those considered the least in society. This comes from a clear focus on social justice.

Social justiceAs youth workers we need to come back to our roots, social justice. Having a recognition that a hurting generation are being oppressed by systems that are designed to hold them back. A generation being harmed by individuals who claim to be looking out for their best interests. A generation with more potential than we can imagine being told to wait their turn by those who are lost in their own miseries.

It is our social justice roots which allow us to recognise the hurting. It is our social justice roots which call us to step into the gap between those who are hurting and the world. It is our social justice roots which cause us to rally against the systems and individuals who by their actions or inaction cause our young people isolation and harm.

If you call yourself a youth worker then your roots are firmly planted in the values of social justice. Remember this and draw near to it. Your work will grow from strength to strength as you draw near to the values of the profession. We need values oriented practice more than ever before. As governments world wide are pushing to destroy a social just society it is people like us who will remind them of the needs of our young people. It will be those of us with a social justice mindset that change the world.

To all the amazing women: Happy International Women’s Day!

Amazing womenWomen are amazing!

Let me just state that from the beginning. I am in awe of so many women in my life. Women I love, Women I work with, Women I studied with… Women who are changing the world.

I have the privilege of working with some of the most amazing and talented women in Australia. When I first started Ultimate Youth Worker a colleague “S” provided me with encouragement and a renewed passion to see youth workers succeed. “S” was in an extremely high paced environment and was going through a difficult time as her contract was coming to an end. She faced it with amazing resolve applied to do a Masters degree and became a full time student. She works in resi care and even though the system is so incredibly broken she supports her clients with care, love and compassion.

About the same time another colleague “A” took me under her wing and took it upon herself to shower me with praise and encouragement. A Human Resources wizz who saw the potential of Ultimate Youth Worker as a business and me as the Director. This woman helped me deliver training, supported me at conferences and let me ramble on about the vision I had for a well supported youth sector. Over endless coffees “A” provided a sounding board and links to networks which helped solidify those early days of Ultimate Youth Worker.

InternationalWomensDay_0At Eastern College Australia I work with so many amazing, dedicated and qualified women. Teachers, community developers, artists, counsellors and theologians. Women who support me to do my job with admin skills I could only dream of. Women who encourage my work, professional and personal development. Women with vision to see higher education done differently in Australia. Women who are academically excellent and personally filled with faith. Women who breathe life into the lives of students and colleagues every day.

I have studied with so many amazing women. Youth workers and social workers. Women of conviction and vision. Women that study hard and get the grades so that they can provide the best service to their clients. Women who are professional and practice their skills with wisdom and compassion. Women beginning to change the world.

There are also the women I love. My daughters. Young women who give me a run for my money every day. Young women who debate me, teach me and love me back. Young women who see a future of opportunities, who strive to be better every day, who are sporty and academic and compassionate and great cooks and outdoorsy and amazing. Young women who would take on any man and win again and again. Young women who do not suffer fools and who expect the best from those around them. My Wife. A woman who is by my side through thick and think. Who stands against those who attempt to tear me down and who leads my cheerleaders when I succeed. A woman who is highly qualified and exceptional at her job. Who loves her family above all. A woman of noble character who opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. A woman of strength, wisdom and blessing.

These women.


What do youth workers need to know about sociology?

Sociology for youth workers

SociologyAs youth workers we draw on many different frameworks to help us make sense of the world our young people live in. One of the most used frameworks in our kit bag is sociology. Through the sociological lens we can analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete interpretations to sweeping generalisations of society and social behaviour, youth workers can study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to the way groups work together (The meso level of analysis of groups and organisations) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns).

Below is a bite sized view of the top three perspectives in sociology which all youth workers should have an understanding of:

Symbolic interaction perspective

Max WeberThe symbolic interaction perspective, also called symbolic interactionism, is a major framework of sociological theory. This perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction. Although symbolic interactionism traces its origins to Max Weber’s assertion that individuals act according to their interpretation of the meaning of their world, the American philosopher George Herbert Mead introduced this perspective to American sociology in the 1920s.

Symbolic interaction theory analyses society by addressing the subjective meanings that people impose on objects, events, and behaviours. Subjective meanings are given primacy because it is believed that people behave based on what they believe and not just on what is objectively true. Thus, society is thought to be socially constructed through human interpretation. People interpret one another’s behaviour and it is these interpretations that form the social bond.

Critics of this theory claim that symbolic interactionism neglects the macro level of social interpretation—the “big picture.” In other words, symbolic interactionalists may miss the larger issues of society by focusing too closely on the “trees” rather than the “forest”.

Functionalist perspective

Emile DurkheimThe functionalist perspective can be traced back to Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons and has its roots in anthropology. This perspective focuses on social systems as a whole, how they operate, how they change, and the social consequences they produce.

Functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society. Society is more than the sum of its parts; rather, each part of society is functional for the stability of the whole society. The different parts are primarily the institutions of society, each of which is organized to fill different needs and each of which has particular consequences for the form and shape of society. The parts all depend on each other.

In trying to explain an aspect of a social system, functionalism asks several basic questions:

  • —How is this aspect related to other aspects of the system?
  • —What is its place in the overall operation of the social system?
  • —What kinds of consequences result from this?
  • —How do these consequences contribute or interfere with the operation of the cultural values and the realization of the cultural values on which the system is based?

Functionalism emphasizes the consensus and order that exist in society, focusing on social stability and shared public values. From this perspective, disorganisation in the system, such as deviant behaviour, leads to change because societal components must adjust to achieve stability. When one part of the system is not working or is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates social problems, which leads to social change.

The functionalist perspective achieved its greatest popularity among American sociologists in the 1940s and 1950s. While European functionalists originally focused on explaining the inner workings of social order, American functionalists focused on discovering the functions of human behavior. Among these American functionalist sociologists is Robert K. Merton, who divided human functions into two types: manifest functions, which are intentional and obvious, and latent functions, which are unintentional and not obvious.

Functionalism has been critiqued by many sociologists for its neglect of the often negative implications of social order. Some critics, like Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, claim that the perspective justifies the status quo, and the process of cultural hegemony which maintains it.

Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them. Instead, functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate in a seemingly natural way for any problems that may arise.

Conflict Theory

Karl MarxConflict perspective is one of the major theoretical approaches to sociological thought. It originated with one of the fathers of sociology Karl Marx and his critique of capitalism and has since developed along a number of lines. In general, the conflict perspective assumes that social life is shaped by groups and individuals who struggle or compete with one another over various resources and rewards, resulting in particular distributions of power, wealth, and prestige in societies and social systems. These shape the patterns of everyday life as well as things such as racial, ethnic, and class inequality and relations among nations and regions of the world.

Conflict theory originated in the work of Karl Marx, who focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production and the capitalists) and the proletariat (the working class and the poor). Focusing on the economic, social, and political implications of the rise of capitalism in Europe, Marx theorized that this system, premised on the existence of a powerful minority class (the bourgeoisie) and an oppressed majority class (the proletariat), created class conflict because the interests of the two were at odds, and resources were unjustly distributed among them.

Within this system an unequal social order was maintained through ideological coercion which created consensus–and acceptance of the values, expectations, and conditions as determined by the bourgeoisie. Marx theorized that the work of producing consensus was done in the “superstructure” of society, which is composed of social institutions, political structures, and culture, and what it produced consensus for was the “base,” the economic relations of production.

Many social theorists have built on Marx’s conflict theory to bolster it, grow it, and refine it over the years. Explaining why Marx’s theory of revolution did not manifest in his lifetime, Italian scholar and activist Antonio Gramsci argued that the power of ideology was stronger than Marx had realized, and that more work needed to be done to overcome cultural hegemony, or rule through common sense.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, critical theorists who were part of The Frankfurt School, focused their work on how the rise of mass culture (mass produced art, music, and media) contributed to the maintenance of cultural hegemony. More recently, C. Wright Mills drew on conflict theory to describe the rise of a tiny “power elite” composed of military, economic, and political figures who have ruled America from the mid-twentieth century.

The sociological imagination and youth work

The sociological imaginationsociological imagination

As one of the main sociologists in history C. Wright Mills has contributed much to the study of humanity. Perhaps though nothing as important as the ‘sociological imagination’. The ability for people to see an issues from another’s point of view. Literally to imagine yourself in their shoes. The sociological imagination asks us to think about the world through the experience of individuals other than yourself. A core process that most people in society have never engaged in.

Currently governments around the world are spruiking the individualised perspective of society. That we are all responsible for our own destiny and the free market will even things out for us all. The big society supposedly looking out for the good of all. However the focus of these ideas is often either individual or societal focused. Rarely do we someone with an understanding of the individual and of society. This leads to things falling apart as we are seeing in the UK, Europe union and many other nations.

Enter youth work. We are trained to understand individual young people and the society they live in. We seek understanding of the societal issues which cause concern for our young people and we understand their individual concerns and wants. Youth workers have a great sociological imagination! For us it is beyond stupidity to focus on a person without looking at the context of their life. We look at the structures of inequality and the individuals strengths. We provide advocacy at a macro level and develop relationship with our young people at the micro level. Youth workers are awesome.

If you find your work focusing on one area more than the other I implore you to refocus your sociological imagination. If you are focusing too much on the individual begin to look at the societal. If you look at the societal side begin to look at individuals.

It is the only way we can understand fully.