Want to get into youth work? Consider these career paths

If you’d like to help disadvantaged young people get back on track, then one of these careers could be right for you.

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A career in youth work can be incredibly rewarding. You’re responsible for helping young people during their most challenging moments, and for connecting them with the services they need to develop into healthy adults. While it’s a role that does require a certain level of resilience, you’re guaranteed to make a lasting impact on people’s lives.

You can specialise in youth work through a few industries, like social welfare or criminal justice. It really depends on what you’re interested in, and who you’d like to help the most.

Here are the main career paths you can take—and the courses you can study to get started.

Social worker

Social work is all about advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves. If you’re tenacious, empathetic and care deeply about human rights, then this career path could suit you well.

What does a social worker do?

Social workers meet with vulnerable people going through tough situations and help them find solutions to their problems. This might involve referring them to a community service like a foodbank or domestic violence shelter, acting as a mediator, or educating them about their rights.

You can work with young people by specialising in an area like child protection, youth homelessness, family mediation or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Sadly, COVID-19 is expected to increase demand for social workers in a big way over the next five years, making it a stable industry to get into.

What qualities should a social worker have?

  • A desire to help and empower others.
  • Strong relationship-building skills.
  • An ability to handle complaints and resolve conflict.
  • Emotional resilience.
  • Strong organisational skills, for managing busy caseloads.

What to study online

To qualify as a social worker, you'll need to complete a Bachelor Degree majoring in social work, or, if you already have a degree in another discipline, a two-year Master of Social Work.

You'll also need a Working with Children Check before you can go on placements, and membership with the Australian Association of Social Workers before you can apply for roles.

Get a taste for social work with this short course: Counselling Concepts

Get qualified with this degree: Master of Social Work (Graduate Entry)

Youth justice worker

Are you interested in criminology and rehabilitating young offenders? You should think about a career in youth justice.

What does a youth justice worker do?

This challenging role involves supervising young people who have committed minor criminal offences. You could work in a youth justice precinct coordinating their day-to-day routines, or as a case manager who meets with low-risk offenders in the community.

Your job is to help young people from diverse backgrounds navigate the legal system and make positive changes in their behaviour so they can re-join the community.

What qualities should a youth justice worker have?

  • A sensitive and understanding mindset.
  • Strong relationship-building skills.
  • An enthusiasm for taking initiative and making snap decisions.
  • A thick skin for dealing with difficult or unpredictable situations.
  • An ability to resolve conflict quickly and calmly.

What to study online

You don’t need a formal qualification to get started as a youth justice worker, but employers do look favourably on people with a degree in criminology or welfare. If you’re keen to get a case work or management role, you’ll need a relevant Bachelor Degree.

Get a taste for youth justice with this short course: Youth Justice

Get qualified with this degree: Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Welfare support worker

Like social workers, welfare support workers help people cope with mental health, financial and family issues. The key difference is that they don’t need as much training to get started.

What does a welfare support worker do?

Welfare support workers perform a lot of the same tasks as social workers, like running counselling sessions and organising access to support services. But where social workers have extra responsibilities, like liaising with government departments and putting together assessments, welfare workers are considered more on-the-ground support.

They can specialise in areas like mental health, youth work, disability or social housing, and work with young people through community centres, councils and schools.

What qualities should a welfare support worker have?

  • An ability to communicate with a wide range of people.
  • A desire to help and support others.
  • An ability to handle complaints and resolve conflict.
  • Emotional resilience.
  • Great listening skills.

What to study online

You can work in welfare support after completing a Certificate IV or Diploma in community services or human welfare.

Get a taste for welfare support with this short course: The Context of the Health and Community Services

Get qualified with this course: Diploma in Community Welfare and Wellbeing

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander youth worker

If you come from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background and you’d like to support young people from your community, you can specialise in this area as a youth worker.

What does an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander youth worker do?

You'll advocate for young First Nations Australians by providing counselling, offering advice on culturally safe support services, and organising engagement programs that build self-confidence and leadership. Some youth workers chose to work in remote communities, though you can also work with city councils, government departments and not-for-profits.

It’s important to note that due to the nature of this role, most employers will require you to identify as a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

What qualities should an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander youth worker have?

  • A deep understanding of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander culture.
  • A desire to advocate for the rights of marginalised young people.
  • Strong relationship-building skills.
  • Emotional resilience.
  • Strong leadership skills.

What to study online

You can get started as a youth worker by studying a Certificate IV or Diploma in Youth Work. You’ll also need a valid Working With Children Check. If you’d like to explore more job openings or have a more direct impact on social changes, it’s worth considering a tertiary degree in community development, social work or welfare.

Get a taste for youth work with this short course: Contemporary Aboriginal Issues 

Get qualified with this degree: Bachelor of Arts (Community Development)

Want to learn more about a career in youth work? For free and unbiased advice about your online study options, chat with an Open Universities Australia student advisor now on:

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