I am a project coordinator on a youth volunteering project working with young people in Manchester City Centre. I have been running my own project in Manchester and Birmingham for 5 years.
What are you working on at the moment?
Current projects range from:
Helping young people who are in bands to organise and promote their own events – which as a result should give them experience of budgeting and other skills along the way.
Trying to work with local police and the city council to ensure that there are appropriate spaces for young people to socialise and be safe in.
So how did you get to this point in your career?
When I was young I was very concerned by how young people were treated by teachers, police and authorities. I grew up, went to university and had other jobs. By accident discovered that a lot of the problems I had identified were still occurring and I was quite surprised! This motivated me to start looking at career options in teaching, careers advice and youth work.
While working for connexions I worked in very deprived areas with young people with chaotic lives, multiple issues and drug gangs. I saw an opportunity for a project that suited my particular skills and interests, I spoke to young people about it and together with them created a plan for a new project.
We were lucky enough to find a small amount of funding from the local authority and from there kept following young peoples interests and problems and trying to find funding to do something about them.
What are the highs & lows?
- We have to hit central government targets so can’t follow the needs & priorities of young people as we see them.
- The job is surprisingly political because every party/council/newspaper has an opinion on what the “problem” with young people is!
- This is not a well paid job but the job satisfaction is high.
- There is tremendous satisfaction in having people tell you that you have helped them. You know that maybe it’s not much but most of the time they won’t tell you.
- It’s a real privilege to see people learn and develop.
What training or experience are essential to get in?
- It helps to have real world experience to relate to the people you are working with. Personal experience or work experience helps you make a real connection.
- You can do youth and community courses and you can be held back if you don’t have a qualification in this area.
- You need good professional boundaries, you need to care but don’t take it personally!
- You need to be comfortable with paperwork, planning and recording, there’s a lot of it to do.
What about attitude, personality or interests?
- You need to be a blank slate – don’t come with an agenda. You need to find out what your clients want not how to meet your needs or ideas.
- You need massive patience to allow people to learn for themselves, there are no shortcuts!
- A good sense of humour used intelligently with good communications skills.
- The ability to think on your feet.
How have you found opportunities in this field?
Look for something advertised with a big organisation like Connexions and get some experience. Then look around to decide what you want to do. This will give you experience in within a limited remit and will help you focus rather than looking too broadly. It is common to start with very specific roles tackling a particular issue then with promotion the roles get broader.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar career?
This career is about helping and serving young people. Whatever ideas you bring will need to change and develop according to their needs not yours.
It’s all about collaboration you can’t fix young people but you can work with then.
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