10.5 Youth workers
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There is no competence description for youth workers, with exception to the formal qualifications required when working as a Parish Coordinator for Youth Work in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, for which a Bachelor’s degree in Christian youth work is needed. Youth work providers such as municipalities and non-governmental youth associations are free to hire any worker whose professionalism seems to be suitable for the corresponding work. Some employers have also systematically used young people as interviewers during the recruiting process. Additionally, if an employee is going to work longer than three months, he/she must obtain a Criminal records extract for working with children.
At the end of the year 2019, researcher Tomi Kiilakoski finished a study called Youth Work Education in Finland published by The Finnish Youth Research Society and Youth Research Network. The following text summarises some of its content.
According to Kiilakoski, it can be said that since the first youth work courses took place in the 1940s, Finland has developed an educational system for youth work that spans all levels of the educational system. Moreover, the Finnish youth work education model allows for many different routes into the field. For some, it is initially through formal education. For others, the route is less clear and involves studying a different subject prior to youth work. For others still, youth work might be learned through non-formal education and direct work experience.
After nine years of compulsory basic education, there is the possibility to choose either a general upper secondary education or a vocational education. When choosing vocational, among ten different fields of work, one is ‘Education and Instruction’ including four competency areas, one of which is ‘youth work and community instruction’. After the reform of vocational education in 2018, students are no longer required to study in the classroom. Prior learning is recognised through competency demonstrations completed in authentic working life situations (see Act on Vocational Education and Training). There are currently over twenty institutions providing vocational education in youth work.
Finnish higher education is comprised of universities and universities of applied sciences. A bachelor’s degree in Humanities entitled “Community Educator” is offered at three universities of applied sciences namely in the Humak University of Applied Sciences (HUMAK), the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (XAMK) and the Centria University of Applied Sciences. The Deacon University of Applied Sciences (DIAK) offers a bachelor’s degree programme in social services called “Christian Youth Work”. Aside from degree programmes, one can choose to study open university courses of applied sciences, which enables students to study only the content they wish to study. Such courses are available at HUMAK and XAMK.
The University of Tampere offers Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral Degrees in social sciences in line of study of Youth Work and Youth Research. Though Tampere is the only university offering degree level education in the field, there are other university courses that pertain to youth research and youth work in Finland. The Finnish University Network for Youth Studies (YUNET) is advancing the availability of those courses at universities all over the country.
As Kiilakoski also mentioned in his study, it is impossible to create a complete picture of the scope of non-formal youth work learning opportunities such as seminars and courses in Finland, because there are so many of them — the estimation being that there are hundreds of them. Kiilakoski names four examples: Youth work centres of expertise, youth associations and their umbrella organisation Allianssi - National Youth Council of Finland, Regional State Administrative Agencies (see Glossary), municipalities (see Glossary) and the Centre of Expertise for Municipal Youth Work Cannon. (See more about the Youth Work Centres of Expertise in Youth Wiki/Finland 1.4 Youth Policy Decision making).
Out of principle, the Finnish education system is built in such a way that for those who initially chose a vocational education path, it is possible for them to later choose to apply to universities to pursue academic studies, and for the academically educated to enrol in vocational education. As mentioned earlier, the reform of vocational education emphasised the recognition of prior learning so that learners do not have to be re-evaluated on material they have already covered. (More about content of the curriculum and degree programmes in youth work, see the Kiilakoski’s study called Youth Work Education in Finland).
As afore-mentioned, there are hundreds of seminars and networking events available each year for youth workers working at the regional and national levels, and thus a youth worker’s employer can be municipality, a non-governmental organisation or parish, if there is a possibility to participate in those. Lots of the opportunities are also available online nowadays. Regarding international mobility, such as the national agency of Erasmus+, the Finnish National Agency for Education provides information on the mobility programme of youth workers, provides assistance during the application process, offers trainings to youth workers, manages the selection of projects, supports and monitors their implementation and gives out information on the results of the programme in accordance with the Commission’s guidelines.