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“Your Interests Are Your Toolkit”: How You Can Succeed as a Youth Worker
Youth work is one of Australia’s most dynamic sectors that can lead to a wide array of roles — even some that haven’t been created yet.
Your idea of youth work doesn’t just have to paint the picture of a social worker or group leader at a youth centre. Youth work is everywhere. It’s in schools, community centres, family counselling, sports clubs. It’s the mixture of organisations, service providers and local authorities trying to build a safer, more aligned network of support services for our youths. This means there are more career paths available than you might think.
Take Daniel Cocker, for example. Daniel is the co-founder of the Incremental Project – an organisation that aims to build a network of engaging programs across schools, community centres and social clubs. These programs focus on supporting youths and their key role models, including parents/guardians, teachers, and coaches. Each program is designed to work together to encourage a larger cultural shift in all facets of a youth’s life.
So, where does an organisation like this sit within the larger sector of youth work? And, why does it mean great things for aspiring youth workers?
Support programs can fill the gaps that the system can not
The youth work sector is continuing to expand to encompass a huge range of outreach programs and training opportunities to “fill the gaps that are not being serviced to try and complement the system”. And to help fill these gaps efficiently, more youth worker jobs are constantly being created for qualified workers.
These gaps in the system are the largest hurdle to tackle for many youth workers. Each youth has a unique set of complex circumstances that can include mental health and healthcare struggles and homelessness, that often have no linear pathway to navigate. It’s frustrating and can be disheartening.
According to Dan, it’s this reason why organisations such as the Incremental Project are so important. They’re “responding to the needs of the industry”, Dan explains.
Dan Cocker, Founder of The Incremental Project
Creating a support system early can change the conversation
Youth work is incredibly dynamic and versatile and is relevant way before casework and child protection services may be required. This means school-based programs as early as primary-school level are undeniably valuable to the conversation surrounding the health of our youths.
For Dan, this early work is all about shifting perspectives and figuring out identity.
“Young people get a chance to see different parts of themselves, and redefine themselves,” he says.
“The flow-on effect of seeing correct role modelling coupled with the peer to peer influence means the correct conversations start to go home and into the classrooms.”
These programs provide a chance for budding youth workers to work with and really make a difference to youths from a young age. Dan says that by ensuring youth feel listened to and like “they’re being heard and they’re being considered” from a young age, they have a healthier chance at forming a strong identity.
This is imperative, according to Dan. “There’s a whole universe out there that we have no idea about, but that the youth are very in tune with. That is the future of our businesses, the future of the world and everything.”
Let your creative talents lead you to new roles as a youth worker
For youth work to be considered an ‘uncreative’ field is “the biggest myth about the job”. There is no one size fits all job description. Instead, creative talents or passions become “your alignments and also your forms of communication”.
“You’re coming into the industry because you’ve got talents. You’re a nurturer, and you want to share things. Remember that your interests are your tool kit,” Dan passionately explains.
Often, programs like the Incremental Projects will see an organic change depending on how youth respond to their content. A big part of this is how the youth workers choose to engage with the kids. In these circumstances, creative communication skills and interpersonal connections are highly encouraged because they may be the best way to connect with the kids.
“For example, we can use the vehicle of music to be able to get through certain topics. It’s then also an engagement tool for a young person.
“They’re able to write a song and express emotions and are able to look at emotions and identify them within relationships,” Dan says.
This openness towards different delivery methods means that new programs are being created all the time. And with new programs come new roles. And with new roles, relevant experience become subjective. “If you’re a musician, you’ve got music programs. Sports? There are sports-based programmes. If you come from a different culture? There are cultural programs,” Dan explains. “There’s innovation in not only our resources but in our roles too. We’re creating new roles, creating new ideas and things that people need all the time.”
Dan’s tips for landing a role in program-led youth work
Australia needs youth workers. “Be on the front foot because the system is really exhausted, especially post-COVID,” Dan explains. Working in an organisation like the Incremental Project is a viable and exciting opportunity for youth workers, but you need to be seen to do that.
Dan says the best way to be successful in the industry is to be proactive with your work experience but patient in your approach. “By getting involved early, you’re showing people how you work. You’re practising your techniques,” Dan explains. “Take action as much as you can and take advice from the best.”
With this advice, however, also comes a warning. “You’re going to be in a range of different roles,” Dan warns. “It’s not about making it to the top as quickly as you can. It’s about being happier. Because when you’re happy, you’re better with people.”
Dan assures those dream roles are attainable with patience, good training, and steady progression. Just give it time. And remember:
“Back yourself. Because others don’t know that people like us have what it takes. But we do. And even if you don’t right now, you will.”
As program-led organisations like the Incremental Project continue to grow and feed into our school systems, communities and sporting clubs, the demand for creative, well-attuned youth workers will continue to grow. By combining proper training via a youth work course, a passion for helping people, and a holistic attitude towards youth support, you could find yourself in a unique, thriving career as a youth worker.
Hader Institute of Education (RTO 45162) is a leading online educator providing training services to individuals who want to pursue a career in mental health, youth work, community services, alcohol and other drugs and counselling programs. Courses are offered online and can be accessed anywhere in Australia through your home computer.
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