10.5 Youth workers
On this page
On this page
Status in national legislation
Both associational and open youth work activities in Germany are dependent on a large number of voluntary and paid workers. Different qualification requirements apply to these two groups.
Article 72 of Social Code Book VIII (SGB VIII) lays down (at a national level) the basic qualification requirements applicable to paid workers involved in child and youth services. The same applies to youth work professionals. At the same time, the federal legislature has refrained from including requirements that are too narrow and specific, so as not to undermine staffing autonomy as a component of local self-government. It would also be beyond the legislature's scope to define requirements profiles for every one of the numerous tasks in a single law. Rather, occupational standards are defined based on the expertise of professionals in the field. The law prescribes two basic criteria: personal suitability and specialist training. Since the criterion of personal suitability is not refined further, this leaves substantial room for interpretation. It refers in general to the characteristics required by the social professions, e.g. credibility, empathy, resilience, responsibility and openness/awareness. Although the second criterion – specialist training – does not refer to a specific training path, it does require youth work professionals to have been trained in the skills they need to perform the assigned tasks in their area of work. Individuals who meet both criteria are referred to as `youth work professionals´. In addition to youth work professionals, paid workers may also include persons with a strong background in social work provided they are able to perform the relevant tasks. As a rule, most paid workers are youth work professionals. Irrespective of these national guidelines, the statutory authorities at a local authority level can define more specific or more extensive requirements that apply to paid workers involved in youth work in funding and/or quality agreements with the service providers.
At national level, SGB VIII includes a further requirement applicable to paid workers employed in youth work. Article 72a SGB VIII describes circumstances under which individuals already working in youth work or who plan to work in youth work can be excluded from the field. It says that persons convicted of specific offences (in particular sex offences) are not allowed to engage in youth work. Youth work organisations must therefore regularly ensure that there are no grounds for exclusion from work by obtaining Criminal Records Bureau checks for paid workers.
Article 72a SGB VIII also requires youth work volunteers to submit a Criminal Records Bureau check at regular intervals. No further criteria are applied at national level to volunteer activities in youth work.
This distinction between youth work professionals and volunteers is fundamental to the basic understanding of youth work activities in Germany. It is expressed in the principle "by and for young people". Especially in associational youth work, paid workers are there to support volunteers and the children and young people taking part. Almost all members of the executive boards of the youth associations (Jugendverbände) are volunteers. They decide on the activities and orientation of the youth associations. In open youth work facilities, paid workers put the agendas of children and young people at the centre of their actions. In this context, their function is to open up opportunities for volunteers and visitors alike to participate in education and development processes.
In quantitative terms, there are significantly more volunteers than full-time staff both in open child and youth work and in associational youth activities. The proportion of youth associations that operate without full-time staff is higher than in the facilities and services of open child and youth work.
Education, training and skill recognition
Graduates of universities of applied sciences – social education workers and social workers – make up the largest group of paid workers involved in youth work (33%). Child educators form the second-largest group (22%) of university-educated professionals [cf. Federal Statistics Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) 2022].
Most study courses do not tackle youth work as a separate focus topic. Of the 603 degree courses offered in Germany in the field of social work, only two bachelor's degrees include the words "youth work" in their names (Kempten University of Applied Sciences (HS Kempten) and Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW)). None of the 376 master's degrees in the field of social work includes youth work in its name. Although the universities seldom focus exclusively on youth work as a study topic, the degree courses for social professions in particular, such as social work, social education work, education work and educational sciences, (also) provide training relevant to youth work in the form of transferable methodological skills and knowledge for working with children and young people. Graduates of these courses are thus seen as youth work professionals within the meaning of Article 72 SGB VIII as described above (federal working committee for state youth offices (BAGLJÄ) 2005).
University-trained child educators comprise the second-largest group of paid workers active in youth work. A framework agreement adopted by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK) established training as a child educator as an overarching professional qualification for various socio-educational fields of work [childcare facilities, youth work, socio-educational/residential care support services (Hilfen zur Erziehung/Heimerziehung), all-day schools]. On account of its comprehensive portfolio, child educator training is also designated what is known as broad-spectrum training (Breitbandausbildung) (Leygraf 2012, page 21). Since the vocational training courses remain non-standardised, the proportion of training dedicated to specific areas of work can vary substantially between universities and federal states (see e.g. Janssen 2010). Students can choose to focus on individual fields within their respective vocational training.
In addition to their formal education or university degree, professional youth workers can gain further qualifications and acquire additional certificates through informal or formal training.
Dialogue between youth work professionals, be it in working groups, expert conferences or continuing professional development (CPD), is an integral component of youth work in Germany and takes place at all levels. The goal of such dialogue is to promote the personal development and advancement of individuals and to improve the quality of youth work. The continual training and advancement of youth work professionals' skills and expertise helps to maintain the high standards of youth work in Germany.
Diverse CPD opportunities and conferences are offered at local authority, regional and supraregional level to promote dialogue [on quantification and topics see Empirical research on open youth work (Empirie der offenen Jugendarbeit) Zankl 2019 and on associational youth work see Seckinger et al. 2009, page 45 et seq.]. In this context, regional training courses and CPD on current youth work topics serve in particular to promote dialogue between youth work professionals from a range of organisations. Many local and district youth support plans incorporate this dialogue as part of training for youth work professionals and the ongoing development of quality in open and associational youth work activities.
In addition, youth leader meetings take place at local authority and regional level. Youth leaders can use these regular get-togethers as a platform to talk about daily work, their experiences and the challenges they face.
Depending on the local budget, interests and policy, both paid and voluntary workers in youth work are given the opportunity to take part in CPD to differing extents. Individual federal states also offer CPD grants to volunteers engaged in child and youth work.
Volunteers in particular can choose to train up as certified youth leaders. "JULEICA" has become the standard term across Germany designating certified youth leaders. However, since the JULEICA rules are not codified in national law, the individual federal states apply their own application criteria and processes for becoming JULEICA-certified. In most cases, trainees must undergo at least 30 hours of training. Applicants must also usually provide evidence of first aid skills in order to obtain the JULEICA youth leader card. 152,000 JULEICA applications were submitted in 2018. JULEICA cardholders can be employed as paid or voluntary youth workers.
Beyond JULEICA, no further certification of youth work training exists nationwide. Some local programmes recognise volunteer activities in the field of youth work.
Mobility of youth workers
Alongside the exchange activities that take place under Key Action 1 of the Erasmus+ programme, further initiatives exist in Germany at national and federal state level that aim to promote exchange between youth work professionals internationally, nationally and state-wide. A major goal of international exchanges in particular is to develop new projects with partners from outside of Germany.
At national level, the Federal Child and Youth Support Plan (Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes) promotes international exchange between youth work professionals by way of seminars and training courses. The Federal Child and Youth Support Plan also supports international exchanges in the form of work experience and job shadowing. A range of bilateral programmes, such as those implemented by the youth offices (Jugendwerke, cf. for an overview), also offer opportunities for bilateral exchange between youth work professionals. A 2018 publication entitled "European mobility in flux II – attracting and strengthening youth work professionals for cross-border services" (Europäische Mobilität am Übergang II – Fachkräfte für grenzüberschreitende Angebote gewinnen und stärken) looks at the role of youth work professionals in cross-border mobility projects on the basis of real-world examples.
As part of the EU Youth Strategy 2010–2018 in Germany, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) funded a project entitled "Enabling learning experiences with cross-border learning mobility" (Lernerfahrungen durch grenzüberschreitende Lernmobilität ermöglichen). Part of the project focussed on supporting youth work professionals with training and mobility. This part was based on the idea that youth work professionals can only support young people with cross-border mobility experiences if they themselves have had the same experience or received relevant training.
The BMFSFJ-funded network "Kommune goes International" is a platform for nationwide exchange between communities with the aim of establishing local structures to give more young people the opportunity to spend time abroad. Training and international exchanges for youth work professionals play an important role in this context.