The newest resource postings on the Next Gen home page indicate that there is momentum toward professionalizing the field of youth work with core competencies, ethics, and certifications. I am hearing a variety of reactions to this trend. Some believe it holds great promise for advancing our field because it validates our knowledge base, values our impact, and provides a measure of quality assurance. Others are hesitant or alarmed by the potential for reduced flexibility as a more formal structure develops rules and regulations that may inadvertently pose a barrier to high quality youth work.
In the fall of 2010 the University of Minnesota Extension Youth Work Institute piloted a new 15-hour workshop called Leadership Matters. Twenty-two youth work supervisors and managers delved into the complexities of youth work supervision and leadership. One segment of the workshop examined core competencies, certifications and core knowledge. One particular activity that generated a great deal of energy asked the participants to debate the question: Should the youth work field professionalize?
One group argued FOR professionalizing with these key points:
- Provides a common language and value base
- Legitimizes the work
- Improves understanding by the community about the field
- Enhances quality, brings it back to the youth and what is best for them
- Advances the field with potential for increasing pay
- Provides a framework for programs, job descriptions, all systems to build upon
- Supports the experience that youth workers bring to their work
The other group argued AGAINST professionalizing with these key points:
- Creates bureaucracy with rules and regulations that may impede high quality youth work practice
- Overemphasizes the tangible parts of the system rather than grappling with the complexities of the organic whole
- Oversimplifies complex practice
- Does not account for unpredictability of everyday youth work
- Overemphasizes academics (earning an academic degree)
- Undervalues practice and expertise which is harder to measure
- May undervalue diversity or lower income youth workers as they are less likely to have a degree or specific credential
What is your reaction to these two sides of the argument? What side of the debate do you favor? What are some of the subtleties that our field should examine from this debate? Post a reply and also link this blog to other online networks to encourage a broader conversation!
University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development
Next Generation Youth Work Coalition member