Youth Workers As ‘Knowledge Professionals': The Irish Experience in International Context

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: 414
Distributed Paper
Maurice DEVLIN , National University of Ireland, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland
While youth work (non-formal and informal educational work with young people) has a long history, going back at least to the 19thcentury, it is taking new forms and facing new challenges and opportunities today. It has always been ‘knowledge-based’ in that it is centrally concerned with the generation, facilitation and even ‘manipulation’ of both information and ideas among young people: information and ideas about self and society and the relationship between the two. It has therefore always had an inescapably ideological dimension.

Recent and current social and economic change is influencing both the types of knowledge with which youth workers are concerned and the ways in which they, and the young people they work with, relate to it. It is also influencing youth work’s relationship with other occupational and professional areas such as formal education, employment and training services, commercial leisure and the media.

This paper will provide a case study of the ‘state of play’ regarding professionalism and professionalisation in Irish youth work, making reference also to some relevant developments elsewhere in Europe and further afield. It will explore the tensions and apparent contradictions between an increasing policy focus on quality standards and professionalism among workers and an austerity-driven climate in which workers themselves are increasingly often in precarious job situations and the young people they work with are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis and its impact on jobs and public services. It will also consider the legacy of youth work’s history as a social movement as well as a professionalising occupation, and the ‘problems’ as well as possibilities that lie in relationships between volunteers and paid workers. Finally it will refer to recent efforts (often through the use of new media) to develop a stronger collective purpose and voice among youth workers and young people.