What does a youth worker do?
"We provide basic counselling and make assessments about the health and well-being of young people. Youth workers are goal-focused and solution-focused. If the issues appear complex or specific, e.g. sexual abuse, drug and alcohol, then we'll refer them on to other professional services," Bill explains from his office, the walls papered with photos young people (and pictures of his cat).
Another part of Bill's job is organising groups and projects that help build self-esteem and confidence in young people. "We just finished running a film group," he says proudly, "The young people were writing, directing and facilitating a film night. It was really fun."
What does a typical working day involve?
Bill's day starts by checking his emails and scheduling meeting times. "I see around seven young people a week and I might do school visits as well. The meetings provide individual support for specific issues like housing, relationships or schooling." Next up, there's often a meeting with counsellors or other support workers, then young people arrive to work on projects in the afternoon, and there's maybe a group after that.
Groups or events are often held after hours. "You must have flexible hours and you do work nights," Bill says of his 38-hour week. "Groups usually run from 5pm to 7pm, sometimes later, and then you drive everyone home. The big bonus is you can sleep in the next day."
Sometimes youth workers are contacted outside standard working hours. "We're not expected to be on call," Bill says. "We have mobiles but I don't turn mine off. It's important to have clear boundaries but sometimes I have to talk to the young people on the weekend about projects or events. If it's a crisis we'll encourage them to use Kids Help Line or refer them to another 24-hour service."
What are some of the pros and cons of the job?
"The biggest high is when you get written or verbal feedback saying that you've made a difference to the young peoples' lives, especially those in a real rut. They come in with a dropped head and when they leave they're looking you straight in the eye," Bills says.
"It's really satisfying when the young people are proud of themselves and you've been able to help them build up self-esteem." Bills comments that a major low point of youth work is that often you can't give as much support as you'd like to.
How did you become a youth worker?
"I did a theatre course when I left school and my theatre placement was with a youth theatre. Then I got into a Bachelor of Youth Affairs at RMIT, which gives a broad understanding of youth work. I had to apply for a few jobs before I got this one though," Bill says.
What sort of skills and qualities do you need?
"You've gotta have a sense of humour," Bills says immediately, "and have faith in people. And patience. It's important to be aware of why you want to be a youth worker and that you're doing it for the right reasons - you don't want to be sorting out your own issues." He also mentions having an open mind about other people's values and beliefs, good communication skills, and being energetic, approachable and friendly. "You also need to be a bit immature," he laughs.
What do you see as the next stage in your career?
"I'll probably move into a more managerial or coordinating role. I may not be as approachable to young people as I am in my 30s or 40s. I'll miss the direct interaction but I may be able to have more influence in writing policy than at the ground level."
Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).