Commonwealth conference to focus on youth work

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pretoria – Creating awareness of youth work as a practice that is worthy to be recognised as a profession will be in the spotlight during a three-day Commonwealth Conference on Education and Training of Youth Workers.

Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Obed Bapela and National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) CEO Steven Ngubeni officially launched the Commonwealth Conference on Education and Training of Youth Workers to be hosted at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria from 18 – 20 March 2013.

The conference is hosted by the South African Government in partnership with the Commonwealth Africa Regional Centre, UNISA and NYDA. It will be geared towards sharing experiences and lessons learnt in order to advance the critical agenda of professionalising the field of youth work.

Held under the theme “Towards the professionalization of Youth Work”, the conference is based on the foundation that youth development practice is a profession like any other and therefore must be streamlined in order to meet the standards required for any profession.

A total of 500 delegates from the 54 Commonwealth member states, including South Africa are expected to attend the conference, where they will be provided with a platform to deliberate on issues relating to their work and chart a way forward for ensuring recognition of youth work as a professional practice.

The delegates are drawn from youth development networks in Governments, Non-Governmental Organisations, institutions of higher learning, youth workers associations, as well as Youth Development Agencies.

Bapela said: “It is widely agreed that any profession should entail creating a body of knowledge, providing formal training, mastering specialised knowledge, establishing a professional association, developing an ethical code of practice, and regulating the practice in a manner that will protect the interests of the youth.

“The start and allure of any profession begins with education and training. As such, the importance of proper education and training of youth workers cannot be underestimated”.

The Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) has over the last 40 years liaised with member governments and academic institutions to provide education and training of youth workers. This is evidenced by their widely offered Diploma in Youth Development Work (DYD) as well as short courses and the Degree in Youth Development Work currently offered in Asia and Pacific.

In South Africa, UNISA is offering a Commonwealth Diploma in Youth Development Work. The University of Venda and Stellenbosch University are also offering youth work qualification.

Although Bapela acknowledged that this has helped youth workers to meet the minimum basic qualification that would be required to practice youth work, he however, noted that these institutions are faced with the greatest challenge of producing graduates who are not employable due to lack of recognition of their work.

He said that lack of recognition of youth work as a profession has left this practice largely undefined and less marketable over the years.

“This is happening despite the need for youth focal points across the three spheres - a decision that was approved by the South African Cabinet. Furthermore, other development workers whose roles impact on youth development may not necessarily be aware of youth workers’ critical contributions to the youth development sector.

“Hence as a mainstreaming and advocacy effort, there is a need to bring together various stakeholders in the youth development space through initiatives such as this conference in order to share experiences and lessons learnt.”

The conference has been designed as a bi-annual event for all youth workers, researchers in youth development, academics in youth development studies, policy makers and government officials to discuss and agree on the common agenda for professionalising the field of youth work.

This conference will include plenary and parallel workshop sessions covering variety of relevant themes that include: Education and Training of Youth Workers; Recognition of Prior Learning and Continuous Professional Development; Standardisation of Youth Work Curriculum in the Commonwealth; Building and sustaining a strong front through formation of professional youth work associations; and Promoting Youth Work through National Youth Policies and Programmes.

The discussions will look into current qualifications offerings, curricula of youth work studies, national and international recognition of youth work, employment opportunities for youth workers and their conditions of service.

Bapela highlighted that through the conference, the partners seek to create awareness of youth work as a practice that is worthy to be recognised as a profession and advocate for provision of a qualification in youth work by education and training institutions.

“In the end, all these will build the capacity of those involved in youth work. Professionalisation is a goal directly linked to South Africa’s national priority of professionalising the public service as stated in the National Development Plan.”

Ngubeni said that a lot of positive outcomes will be realised out of the conference.

“South Africa can serve as an example because of work done in the youth space. We’ve got a lot to teach other countries,” said Ngubeni. –