The sample of youth workers surveyed is a large and varied enough one to take seriously. Over 400 youth workers, evenly split between volunteers and various forms of paid work, drawn from around the UK, including Northern Ireland. Perhaps a surprising number - nearly 40% - have been youth workers for more than 10 years and 60% more than five.
Nearly half of youth workers say they don’t have time for training and, in any case, they’d prefer just to meet with other youth workers - and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s a serious misjudgement on their part. However helpful meeting others in the same line of ministry might be - and it is - it’s no replacement for professional development and training. In a complex, fast-changing culture where the church is facing new challenges every day, we need more skilled and able youth workers than ever before. This feels like a workforce who’ve lost sight of the value of ongoing development of their skills and knowledge. That may be for systemic reasons in the profession as much as their own feelings, but it’s still a cause for concern.
When it comes to the kind of training that might appeal, the survey splits the next couple of questions into two sections - the first a list of skills a youth worker might want to acquire; the second, a list of cultural themes in the lives of young people. What came out on top? Note (with some irony) that time management comes a woeful last in the first list - hey, we’d even prefer fundraising training to that! At the top are three close together which those who organise training would do well to take heed of - counselling skills, behaviour management and a youth workers own personal discipleship. I’m not surprised to see counselling and pastoral skills high on the agenda - it’s the ‘bread and butter’ of most youth worker’s lives, but there’s a widespread lack of professional understanding in this area. More training on listening skills, CBT and other basics are surely required urgently.
Were you as surprised as me to find family and relationships and sex so far down the list in question 4? Perhaps youth workers already feel well-equipped in these areas (though I’m doubtful) or perhaps the others at the top of the list are bigger priorities in 2016. Mental health is surely a key topic for anyone working with young people, in or outside of the church. Much more training there please. And discipleship - the perennial question of youth workers. Given the resources and programmes already out there, why is this still seen as an unmet need? Are the approaches we already have simply not working?