Youth Work Requires a Certain Mentality, Not Just a College Degree

(participants in a training session facilitated by SOYA founder Khadijah Ali-Coleman, 2007)

Seldom do we discuss how important it is to be able to retain a certain frame of mind when working with young people. This blog today will shout from the rooftops the fact that any and everyone can’t do this type of work. Having a college degree and various certifications does not annoit you with the skills needed to effectively and positively work with youth.

From my years of work in the field and often serving as a hiring agent, I’ve compiled a list of characteristics youth workers should have in addition to the stated educational requirements:

(1) Patience
This quality is a non-negotiable in the field of youth work. While it is most likely you will be working with a nonprofit or school-system if you are doing youth work, the reality is is that most places of work for youth workers are those where the need is great but the money is little. What this means is that you are often working to program in an environment that approves budget requests slower than you can throw at them. Whether its working with program administration or working with youth who can be emotional, testy and confrontational, patience is a mandatory attribute to have. If you are a short fuse, youth work is not for you.

(2) Creativity
You don’t have to be Picasso or Whitney Houston to be a youth worker. Having an artistic talent is really not required at all, honestly. However, having the ability to think outside the box is crucial when programming to young people. Whether its coming up with an educational yet zany fun activity or creatively marketing your program to the community, creativity is essential to program success. Stick-in-the-muds who see things two dimensional rarely do well with young people.

(3) Maturity
If you aren’t mature, you won’t be able to model for the youth behaviors they should aspire to. Immature staff members are more apt to argue with young people, take things personal and cause dissention on staff.

(4) Love Yourself
If you don’t love and respect who you are, it will come across clear as day to the young person. You can’t love the youth population you work with if you can’t love yourself first. Loving yourself entails doing things you love– having interests outside the job– and feeling good about how you are as a person. Those with higher self-esteem are more apt to be good listeners and less likely to take situations with youth personally.

(5) Versatility
Being versatile is a mandatory trait. Things change. As a youth worker, you are most likely the one who has to ride the wave of change and operate at full steam. If having a routine or the same day to day activity is what you seek, working with youth is not for you!