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The Youth Work Act in Estonia provides the legal basis for the organisation of youth work. In relation to youth workers, it does not define the youth worker profession as such as there are other strategic documents on state level for this purpose (see below) but it does set the requirements for youth and project camp manager, defines the youth work and main enviroments for its practices and some other key elements for youth workers field of activities and responsibilities.
The Occupational standard of youth workers (see more in Chapter 10.4.) is the key document to define the role, the minimum requirements and competences of youth workers, including the code of ethics. The standard is build up on levels 4, 6 and 7, which have a bit different competences, f. ex level 4 has focus on organizing youth work, interacting with the public and cooperation, providing a safe environment, professional personal development, and youth worker recurring competence; while levels 6 and 7 have additional competences like management, youth field development etc.
Obtaining professional qualification has not not obligatory so far (see next paragraph) but there are more and more local municipalities that are requiring youth work formal education and/or professional certificate as pre-requsite for funding certain youth work activities and/or when recruiting youth sector staff on local level, for example for the posts of youth field responsible in local municipality, director of local youth centre etc. In some cases the occupational standard certificate has also been used as reference for salary system in youth sector on local level.
The national youth strategy, the Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035, adopted in 2020, dedicates one of its strategic goals (nr 3) to quality youth work (including hobby education for young people), aiming at ensuring that it is available across Estonia and provides all young people with opportunities for versatile self-development, experiencing success, acquiring experience and gaining independence. In order to do so, there are several ambitions defined for facilitating the development of competences and the training of new youth workers (specialists, managers, volunteers) sustainably across all Estonian regions:
- ensuring regional opportunities to receive bachelor and masters level higher education in the field of youth work;
- initiating the transfer to compulsory professional qualification in the youth field professional qualification in youth sector;
- ensuring high-quality and impactful in-service training opportunities (including the offer of in-service training opportunities by employers);
- creating more relevant training opportunities for professional growth of hobby school staff;
- supporting the development of professional community, professional identity and career models in theyouth sector;
- initiating support measures for starting youth workers;
- developing training and professional development programmes for specialists starting work in hobbyschools;
- ensuring the systematic and consistent acknowledgement of youth workers;
- ensuring a working environment that fosters happiness at work;
- ensuring adequate salary equal with the salary level of specialists on similar positions (such as in the field of education).
Youth work can be studied in three academic institutions in Estonia:
- Tallinn University – higher applied sciences degree in youth work and a master’s degree in youth work organization;
- Tartu University Narva college – bachelor’s degree in youth work;
- Tartu University Viljandi cultural academy – higher applied sciences degree in community education and hobby activities.
Over the years, trainings and non-formal education in the field of youth have been one of the priorities in Estonia receiving attention in strategic development as well as through financial investments. For example, training of youth workers was one of the focuses of the European Social Fund programme “Development of youth workers training” (“Noorsootöötajate koolituste arendamine”) operated until 2020. The programme aimed at training activities targeted at youth field workers as well as providing support of the development and quality of the training system. There have also been several research initiatives conducted in order to gain better understanding of training needs of youth workers, f.ex by the Institute of Baltic Studies in 2017. The impact assessment of the programme „Development of youth workers training“ conducted in 2019 highlights that all main competences defined in Occupational standard of youth workers on level 4 were developed during the trainings, according to the feedback from the participants. 22% of participants declared that changes in their organisations have been primarily initiated as impact from some training activity and the new competences gained. 95% of participants stated that their expectations for trainings were fulfilled.
The programme was implemented by the Foundation Archimedes youth agency (since 01.01.2021, the Department of Youth Programs of the Agency of Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps of the Education and Youth Board) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Research and Estonian Youth Work Centre (starting from 01.08.2020 Education and Youth Board). All the trainings in the programme supportedthe competence development as defined in the occupational standard for youth workers.
The validation of competencies gained by youth workers through non-formal, informal and formal education and trainings is carried out as part of the process of youth worker’s professional qualification. The assessment is based only on the competences, regardless of how they were obtained. See more in Chapter 10.4.
Mobility of youth workers is mainly organized by the Department of Youth Programs of the Agency of Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps of the Education and Youth Board (until 31.12.2020 the Foundation Archimedes Youth agency), and it supports the professional development of youth workers through international seminars, trainings, study visits, etc. Additionally, job-shadowing possibilities in youth work organizations are offered. Erasmus+ funds the mobility of youth workers on the international level.
In addition, it is possible to participate in various international training activities that are mediated through SALTO-YOUTH or the Department of Youth Programs of the Agency of Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps of the Education and Youth Board. The last one also organized national level trainings up to 2019 through the programme “Development of youth workers training” co-funded by ESF.
It is possible to read more about the cross-border mobility programmes in Chapter 2.5.
There are some regional-level initiatives as well. For example, the Tartu County Youth Workers Association (Tartumaa Noorsootöötajate Ühendus) has visited all the Tartu County youth field organizations, organized seminars where there are presented best practices, organized training programmes in order to raise the competences in the field of ICT, organized study visits abroad, etc. The activities are funded from the national LEADER programme within the Tartu County measure through the project “Developing and empowering of the Tartu county youth work cooperation network”.
Also the national programme Noortekohtumised (Youth meetings) that supports 11-19 years old young people living in Estonia from diverse ethnic backgrounds to develop and undertake common projects, enables meaningful professional contacts and cooperation between youth workers supporting youth in their initiatives.See more in Chapter 4.4.
The main objective of all mobility activities is professional development, capacity building, sharing experiences, etc.