What is the role of youth work in relation to employability?

cropped-228h1.jpgWhile speaking about the role of youth work in employability it is interesting to see why we relate both terms together…

First question coming into mind is “What youth work is?” Going through various official EU documents, studies and publications on the subject, the following lines could be drawn, in order to bring a general idea of the term.

Youth work is usually thought of as a typical form of non-formal learning. The educational aims of youth work are broad rather than specific, they are grounded in responses to the needs, cultures and interests of the young people rather than being pre-set. The emphasis is on the process instead of the learning outcomes (Ord 2014). Youth work can be seen as an alternative to the education that takes place usually outside of formal educational system. Youth work is not about producing learning results, it is more about providing an environment where communication and sharing of ideas goes on.

EVS can be seen as a typical example of youth work, since one of the necessary conditions and most important elements so that it happens is the voluntary participation of the young people. Voluntary participation is among the factors that define any form of non-formal learning. When young people engage deliberately in activities, their motivation for learning is intrinsic. This also means that the activities are meaningful and important for the young people. It is all about cooperation and working together. In this way, youth work combines recreation, social fellowship and education. Finally, youth work recognises the impact of cultures on young people as an important aspect of contemporary society, it develops methods through which young people can engage in cultural activities and, if necessary, they can question cultural norms and expectations (Kiilakoski 2015). Nevertheless, the educative aspect is one of the core elements of youth work.

On the other hand, in order to understand how youth work relates to employability, it is necessary to have a general perspective on which kind of employability challenges the young people often meet. Therefore, various reports and documents were studied so to be able to bring both concepts together.

Going through a document called “Youth Work: “Enhancing Youth Employability?”, published by Institute MOVIT, Ljubljana, Slovenia with the support of the EC, the following findings appear. First of all, transition from education to the labour market is a very important phase in the life of every young person, as it represents the transition from childhood to adulthood, from economic and social dependence (on parents) to independence, and it is therefore of major importance for the autonomy of the young individual (Vertot 2009, 10).

In addition, when entering the labour market, youth face similar obstacles in most of the EU countries.

  1. Information about the labour market is often insufficient and young people don’t receive enough guidance and support during this very important stage of their lives.
  2. Internships are often not paid well enough and sometimes don’t even involve a learning experience. In many countries, internships act as a replacement for youth jobs.
  3. There is a lack of financial support and mentoring schemes to encourage entrepreneurship and self-employment among youth.
  4. Non-formal learning and competences gained through extracurricular activities and youth-work are not recognized. This makes it more difficult for youth to present their achievements when entering the labour market.
  5. The role of youth work is very often not recognized by the authorities and youth are excluded from the social dialogue (Adapted from: Belgian Presidency 2010; Spanish Presidency 2010; Hungarian Presidency 2011).

Another common issue that the document has analysed is that many young people remain also underemployed. It appears that for the youth it is more and more difficult to get a decent job and satisfactory working conditions. Finding a job position that matches young people’s education level and field of studies remains the biggest problem and many of them work in unstable and unbearable working conditions (ILO 2011).

Moreover, statistics show that increasing numbers of youth are working in non-standard employment, which has little to no job security, no social security, no health protection and safety at work, no trade union representation and is accompanied by low or even uncertain wages (European Metalworkers’ Federation). Such employment is referred to as precarious employment and is, unfortunately, becoming an everyday reality for many young people all over Europe and the world.

Reading further the stated document the following conclusions regarding this topic were found.

Through youth work and in youth organizations, young people gain valuable non-formal education and become active citizens. This integrates them into society (with major effects especially on vulnerable groups), and helps them perform better in everyday life. Youth work gives added value to young people and equips them with competences that help them in their career life; either when searching for employment or in performing better at work later on. Besides raising their employability, it allows young people to become more confident about their achieved work and voice their competences easier. Competences gained through youth work differ from one individual to another, but quite often they include most key competences: (1) communication in the mother tongue and very often also (2) communication in foreign languages, (3) acquisition of social and civic competences, (4) cultural awareness and expression, (5) learning to learn, (6) acquiring a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, and last but not least (7) mathematical and (8) digital competences. Key competences are those “which all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment” (European Commission 2007).

Being aware of all those matters we could come to the conclusion that in any way, youth work is a positive factor for stimulating youth employability. Considering the fact that competences should be better recognized in order to further motivate young people to engage in youth work and non-formal educational activities, many associations operate in the field, striving to bring innovative elements and solutions on how it should be done.

The project OVPELO, to which this blog is referred is exactly working in this field and therefore, has already produced some interesting results in terms of solutions for working towards better recognition of employability competences gained through youth work and mainly through EVS experience.

So, curious readers can already check out the new platform  http://www.volunteersemployability.info, which contains the portfolio for assessment of employability skills and therefore can try to get their own perspective on how youth work relates to employability! Good luck!!

BLOG OVPELO Article done my YouNet

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NFE values versus the need of official certification

164HI have to say that the work of the youth worker is not an easy one, and the more we move forward the more traps we can find on our way. Just imagine the situation related to the recognition of NFE (non formal education), that is becoming very popular and hot topic among the youth work practitioners.

The ¨imaginary¨ situation:

The group of 5 European organizations is preparing the project to innovate the topic of recognition of the learning in the European mobility projects (btw. the next blog post should be about the innovation, since it is very funny in the youth work as well). As each good practice to start the project preparation, they discuss what are the real needs they observe in their local communities. One partner explains that learning in European mobility is not considered as an added value by employers since those types of projects are associated mainly with drinking etc. Other partner refers to youthpass, that is still not recognized, and it is too long for the possible employers to actually have a look on that, besides many young people have several youthpass documents and presenting all of them is too much. Other partners express their observations that what is the most valued by employers are the formal certificates – like the certificates from the universities, official language exam certificates, etc. In this moment other partners react positively that in their countries there is very similar situation.

This excitement among partners that finally they have found something in common quickly leads to development of the first draft of the project – creation of the certification system, that is prefebly recognized by some institutions (here you can mention National Agencies, Governments, Local Authorities and if nothing would work hosting organizations). There might appear as well ideas as creating the standardized programmes, common evaluation systems (if not something that might look like exam, but will not be an exam because we talk about NFE), procedures, online platforms, competences frameworks etc…

Sounds familiar?

And then imagine that one partner is late for this meeting. This person comes when all the others are already getting into the details how to create the evaluation system and who will sign the certificates. Looking on what is happening around ask a very simple question to others: HOW WE CAN DO ALL OF THIS IN THE ACTIVITY THAT SHOULD BE BASED ON THE NFE PRINCIPLES LIKE BEING LEARNER CENTERED – MEANING ADJUSTING THE CONTENT TO THE SPECIFIC NEEDS OF THE LEARNER AND SELF EVALUATION – EXACKLY WHAT IT MEANS, THAT THERE ARE NO GREADES, LEARNERS ARE NOT BEING COMPARED AND ONLY THE LEARNER IS EVALUATING OWN RESULTS. In this moment the previous excitement that all partners had disappears as a soup bubble leaving the question what next….

For me the above-described situation is nothing new and I have observed it already several times. It presents very big dilemma that we as youth workers have. Since youth workers usually believe in the NFE principles (or they would like to believe, but still needs to internalize it a bit more), they try to follow them in the everyday youth work, that that´s great. On the other side recognition as well as employability are hot topics, and we are pushed by the local needs as well as the funding opportunities that put it as a priority, to work with that, innovate, improve and do something to make it work. Unfortunately quite often our innovation ends up exactly like our imaginary story – we end up producing something that is not fully in line with the NFE principles (although is fully desired by the employers) and something that is a simple multiplication of the things that has been already done – like youthpass. As youth workers we usually have very good ideas, but the truth is not easy to do something better then youthpass, with maybe 1% of the money that has been invested in the tool, and with much smaller network of stakeholders and promotion capacities.

But the life doesn’t have to be so sad and negative as it might seem from the last paragraph. I do believe that there are several things that we can do, and even more important are super necessary! So let´s start with the list:

Improve the image of European Learning Mobility – we need to promote more and more that all the European Mobilities within ERASMUS+ are learning mobilities, and the participants are learning; what is even more important they are getting new competences, not only getting to know the theories, but being able to use them in the real life situations… saying with the simple words they learn practical things.

Embrace self-evaluation as valid type of evaluation – I have heard it many times that is the evaluation is not standardized, and does not finish with the sigh and stamped certificate (yes some people are crazy about stamps, and is come countries they even doesn’t exist) it is not real, and doesn´t serve anything. IT IS NOT TRUE, and until we start believing in this we will not change much. Self evaluation it is very helpful to improve the self-esteem of the learner, since they start believing that they actually can do things, start believing in themselves. Secondly self-evaluation helps to name the competences that they have learned, so it brings added value to the CV learners are doing, or their self-presentation during the job interview. And there are for sure much more examples how useful the self-evaluation is (if you have some you can comment this blog post). Our responsibility as people who want to promote the recognition is to believe in and to spread the world that the real-evaluation really make sense.

Stop producing new recognition tools – in this point maybe my pragmatic point of view is getting too dominant, and maybe one of the tools that will be produced would really make sense. Although based on my observation for now I see that the organizations try to develop something new, quite often it really make a lot of sense and might be really useful, but due to the lack of funding, promotion and time it slowly dies. It is very difficult to compete with the youthpass in terms of the recognition, since already a lot of money has been invested in that, a lot of time dedicated (10 years or something), and it is becoming well known. Within the 2 years project that cost 150 000€ it is simply impossible to have the outreach that youthpass has, and then comes the question what next? How can I sustain my tool when the funding ends…

Train youth workers on how to use youthpass – yes, I said it, many manuals and trainings has been developed on that and still the quality (in my opinion based on what I see) of support on youthpass is very limited. It is very simple to improve, just find the time in the project to really implement the youthpass process – which we can call self-evaluation, and ensure the time that learners really can reflect. It can be very helpful to introduce the Learning to Learn competence better and develop it within the project. Finally we need to support learners to use the language that is relevant for the employers, so whenever learner went through the self-evaluation, we can help them to give a from, to translate what they have learnt into the employers language.

Learning in EVS

ovpeloblogDuring many years of our life, we learn within the world of formal education: in primary school, high school or university. The education system decides what you have to learn, how you have to learn it, and evaluates whether you have learned it or not. In the end, you receive a certificate that validates your learning. Within the EVS experience, the volunteer will go through a non-formal learning process. There won’ t be any teacher, just some accompanying person or a person that will give him support during the process. The learning adapts to his own interests, since he will participate in the planning, organisation and evaluation of the process. As through our entire life, informal learning is also present during the EVS experience. This learning is not structured or planned, it takes place unintentionally within his environment and while relating with other persons: during a conversation, while having a cup of coffee, while doing your grocery in the supermarket, or just walking through the streets of a different country, while watching a movie, through media…..

During his EVS, he has the control over how he live this experience; it’s not about things “happening”, it is about things “that you make happen”… The same applies for the learning outcomes within your EVS: a step further that you can take if you feel like doing it. It consists in learning to analyse and to set his own learning goals, reflecting over his learning process and evaluate if he are meeting your goals and to which extent.

He may learn from the activities that he carry out within the organisation but also during his free time… During his EVS, he is the one to look for your own learning opportunities! However, he dosen’ t have to do it on his own, he can count on the support of other colleagues, his mentor or other persons from his organisation… but remember, the most important thing is his personal interest and his own motivation.

What the volunteer in the end should learn and develop, are summary in the famous 8 key competences:

  • communication in the mother tongue, which is the ability to express and interpret concepts, thoughts, feelings, facts and opinions in both oral and written form (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and to interact linguistically in an appropriate and creative way in a full range of societal and cultural contexts;
  • communication in foreign languages, which involves, in addition to the main skill dimensions of communication in the mother tongue, mediation and intercultural understanding. The level of proficiency depends on several factors and the capacity for listening, speaking, reading and writing;
  • mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology. Mathematical competence is the ability to develop and apply mathematical thinking in order to solve a range of problems in everyday situations, with the emphasis being placed on process, activity and knowledge. Basic competences in science and technology refer to the mastery, use and application of knowledge and methodologies that explain the natural world. These involve an understanding of the changes caused by human activity and the responsibility of each individual as a citizen;
  • digital competenceinvolves the confident and critical use of information society technology (IST) and thus basic skills in information and communication technology (ICT);
  • learning to learnis related to learning, the ability to pursue and organise one’s own learning, either individually or in groups, in accordance with one’s own needs, and awareness of methods and opportunities;
  • social and civic competences. Social competence refers to personal, interpersonal and intercultural competence and all forms of behaviour that equip individuals to participate in an effective and constructive way in social and working life. It is linked to personal and social well-being. An understanding of codes of conduct and customs in the different environments in which individuals operate is essential. Civic competence, and particularly knowledge of social and political concepts and structures (democracy, justice, equality, citizenship and civil rights), equips individuals to engage in active and democratic participation;
  • sense of initiative and entrepreneurshipis the ability to turn ideas into action. It involves creativity, innovation and risk-taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. The individual is aware of the context of his/her work and is able to seize opportunities that arise. It is the foundation for acquiring more specific skills and knowledge needed by those establishing or contributing to social or commercial activity. This should include awareness of ethical values and promote good governance;
  • cultural awareness and expression, which involves appreciation of the importance of the creative expression of ideas, experiences and emotions in a range of media (music, performing arts, literature and the visual arts).

These key competences are all interdependent, and the emphasis in each case is on critical thinking, creativity, initiative, problem solving, risk assessment, decision taking and constructive management of feelings.

What is employability?

20downloadThinking about the employability I think always about my profession – youth worker. The term is being present almost everyday in my professional life – I open my mailbox and there is a new training offer on employability, I looks for youth exchanges for my young people – most of the topics employability, we write projects and what topic we can choose… EMPLOYABILITY!

To write this article I did same small investigation about the presence of the word employability in the ERASMUS+ programme guide, and yes it popped up a lot, especially in relation to the youth field. What catched my attention is how some of the objectives and priorities has been formulated. Here are some examples what you can find in that document:

  • The mobility activities supported under Key Action 1 are meant to produce the following outcomes: enhanced employability and improved career prospects;
  • AIMS OF THE MOBILITY PROJECT ARE: support learners in the acquisition of learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and competences) with a view to improving their personal development, their involvement as considerate and active citizens in society and their employability in the European labour market and beyond;
  • KA2 should have a positive impact on the persons directly or indirectly involved in the activities, such as: improved levels of skills for employability and new business creation (including social entrepreneurship);
  • HORIZONTAL PRIORITY of KA2: Transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications to facilitate learning, employability and labour mobility.
  • FIELD SPECIFIC PRIORITY Youth (KA2) Promoting high-quality youth work. Priority will be placed on projects that: foster the inclusion and employability of young people with fewer opportunities (including NEETs);
  • As well employability is stressed out in the Knowledge Alliance and Jean Monnet

So as we can see there is a lot going on in the field of youth on the topic of employability, but how well we actually understand this concept? For my for a very long time I was thinking that employability is the ability to get a job, and while working with young people we need to focus mainly on the application process and the things that young people can put into their CVs. While I started working with the topic of employability I have discovered that it is much more.

If someone would ask me right now what the employability is, I would state that it is the ability to get a job, do the job, keep a job, develop within the job and move on to the next job. Taking this approach while working with young people we need to focus on preparing them for being employed, for example how to be efficient, how to find the balance between personal and professional life, how to be responsible and how to take care about the personal development and life long learning.

Therefore whenever we are talking about the employability competences we are talking about something transversal, skills that everyone need to some extend and they are not really connected with the application process, rather with the soft skills. Within one of the projects that we have implemented within the KA2 – Strategic Partnership in the field of youth that is called OVPELO we have identified based on research the set of 9 main employability competences that are:

  • Learning to Learn
  • Taking the initiative
  • Social competence
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Organizational competences
  • Problem Solving
  • Self-management

Since to some extend each young person poses those competences, developed at school, in the social life, doing volunteering etc., and on the other hand many young people are not really aware of this, we have created the new tool – portfolio of the employability competences, that aims to help young people to self-evaluate and realize where are they, on what they want to work and were to improve. The tool soon will we up, so stay tuned!

About the blog


We are the practicioners of the youth work, working in depth with the EVS project, and a year ago we have decided to create a project called OVPELO, that aims to improve the employability of the EVS volunteers. During the process of the implementation of the project we have faced a lot of interesting questions, analyzing what the employability is, reflecting on the different aspects of the recognition and valorization of learning, and exchanging a lot of best practices and challenges that we see in this field.

A lot of the discussions that we had were interesting enough to motivate us to share them with the wider public, and include other practicioners to contribute. Therefore we have created this blog. We are planning to post minimum once per month, and discuss the following topics:

1) NFE values and self-evaluation versus the need of official certification.
2) What are the benefits of EVS that can be useful for employers?
3) Challanges for the EVS volunteers to get a job – why?
4) The story of recognition – how it has all started.
5) Recognition – who recognize the learning in the youth project?
6) Learning to Learn approach versus external need of recognition.
7) What really young people learn during the EVS.
8) Employers are looking for transversal skills – but how they can verify them?
9) How EVS can support young people in the process of getting a job?
10) What is employability?
11) What is the role of youth work in europe in relation of employability?
12) Employability – magic word to get the project approved or soemthing more?
13) Employability what we do versus what we need to do as youth workers.

If it sounds interesting, stay tuned!