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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.5 Youth workers

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 28/12/2020 - 13:46

On this page
  1. Status in national legislation
  2. Education, training and skills recognition
  3. Mobility of youth workers


Status in national legislation 

According to the Department of Education, youth work is composed of a voluntary sector and a statutory sector.


The Service relies on the contribution of over 20,000 volunteers (approx 90% of the youth service workforce), whose dedication, commitment and skills are vital in helping to deliver services. These volunteers make a positive difference to the lives of young people and their communities. Most individuals looking to begin working in the sector by volunteering, after which they may take the short Leadership in Youth Work course, which is accredited by the Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCNNI) awarding body at Level 1 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). For more information about the RQF, please see the article entitled 'National Qualifications Framework' in the Eurydice Network's description of the Northern Irish education system.

Individuals must be at least 18 years old in order to work with young people as a paid employee and undertake any youth work training courses, which range from Level 1 through to Level 4. Until individuals become professionally qualified youth workers (see below), they are considered 'unqualified' youth workers and may work in positions such as Assistant Youth Support Worker, Youth Support Worker or Youth Support Worker-in-charge.

In order to become a professionally qualified youth worker, individuals must at minimum have a bachelor’s degree in youth work from a higher education institution.

All youth workers are subject to a criminal record check administered by AccessNI.

Education, training and skills recognition 



The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for Youth Work in Northern Ireland is the body that ensures courses meet the required quality and standard; the North South Education and Training Standards Committee for Youth Work (NSETS) is licensed by the JNC to quality assure courses in youth work across Ireland. It is responsible for the design and application of the requirements for professional endorsement as well as the scrutiny of courses submitted for recognition.

The Education Authority’s Workforce Development Strategy aims to equip those providing youth work with the appropriate skills, knowledge and attitudes to deliver high quality youth work, within a safe environment and based on their assessed needs.

The EA offers a Youth Service Trainee Youth Support Worker Scheme for 18-25 year olds who are looking to gain training and experience in youth work and leadership. Participants on the scheme are paid per hour for attendance on training courses and during their placement within a youth work setting. The scheme offers courses such as:

●      Youth Support Worker Qualification

●      Child Protection Awareness Course

●      Moving Ahead with CRED Course

●  Emergency Basic First Aid Course

●      2 skills-based courses (e.g. games)

Participants will also be placed within a Youth Centre or Youth Project Setting in order to obtain hands-on experience within the youth work sector. After completion of the programme and a successful background check, participants are offered a professional placement. 

Northern Ireland’s Ulster University also offers a Masters degree and a post-graduate diploma in Community Youth Work. These courses includes modules such as

●      Context of Youth Work;

●      Pedagogy and Practice of Community Youth Work;

●      Power, Inequality and Anti-Oppressive Practice;

●      Ethical Leadership, Management and Supervision; and

●      Critical Thinking and Professional Development.

Both degrees are endorsed by the North/South Education and Training Standards Committee for Youth Work (NSETS) (JNC Recognised) for the purpose of professional qualification.


Mobility of youth workers

Erasmus+ provides organisations engaged in youth work with opportunities to travel abroad to attend seminars, training courses, networking events, study visits, and job shadowing/observation periods. Youth work organisations can apply to either send youth workers abroad, or recieve organisations and be responsible for hosting a group and developing a programme of activities for participants.

Any organisation or group established in a Programme Country can be an applicant, and must apply on behalf of all participating organisations involved in a project.

Opportunities for youth workers can include up to 50 people and can last anywhere between two days and two months. Projects must take place in the country of a participating organisation. 

Under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU, the UK will continue to participate fully in the current (2014-2020) Erasmus+ as part of the Brexit transition period. According to the European Commission website, the possible participation of the UK in future programmes after 2020 will depend on the outcome of the overall negotiations on the future relationship between the two parties.

Recent initiatives

Youth Initiatives Northern Ireland began running youth work group programmes online, live stream appropriate content, and expanded availability for phone calls for support during COVID-19 in 2020. This includes specific outreach youth work to young people in need. 

In February 2017, EA Regional Youth Support Services facilitated two study visits: one to Brussels for youth work managers and one to Helsinki for youth work practitioners. Each delegation comprised representatives from EA statutory youth services and recognised Regional Voluntary Youth Organisations (‘RVYO’s).

The purpose of the study visits was to share experiences between colleagues and observe the youth work initiatives of their international counterparts. As the report explains, ‘This process enabled participants to return to their respective youth work role and setting having gathered ideas, opportunities and enhanced motivation bringing lasting benefits to their work and the wider youth sector.’

 The group discussions that occurred during these visits highlighted the challenges that youth work in Northern Ireland faces as compared to their international counterparts. These are listed as:


●      Lack of visibility/priority in policy documents and from management;

●      Limiting terms and conditions of service;

●      Competing priorities for practice and for young people;

●      Increased levels of bureaucracy and associated paperwork;

●      Lower financial assistance at 50% through Erasmus+ if using EA PIC number; Safeguarding considerations;

●      Exchange rate variations between the Euro and Pound Sterling; and

●      Uncertainties created by ‘Brexit’.