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Last year in a conference full of young people and policy-makers, a state minister responsible for youth matters confused youth work with youth employment, when taking a question from the audience. An honest mistake one might think. And it was, no big deal. However, immediately it provoked some thoughts - do enough people outside of those very directly involved in youth work know what it is?

The last decade has seen a series of breakthroughs for youth work on the European stage. Following a demand for a common policy by the European Youth Work Convention in 2015, the Council of Europe’s Recommendation on Youth Work was adopted by the Committee of Ministers two years later. It was a huge win for the entire youth sector, but not the only policy victory of this decade. Despite being in the midst of a pandemic, this week the EU Youth Ministers adopted a Council resolution for the establishment of the European Youth Work Agenda, proposed by the German Presidency.

Now that both political strongholds for youth policy in Europe have commitments to support strengthening the role of youth work in Europe, safe to say the expectations of all stakeholders, including youth organisations are high.

After a decade of putting policy in place, we’re ready for a decade of action.

Next week, youth workers, practitioners, young people, policy-makers and researchers will come together at the third European Youth Work Convention, this time held virtually, to discuss what are the next steps to take. While we wait for the outcome of this important Convention, we have to come back to the question - does youth work get the visibility and credit it deserves?

Most likely - not. A lot of the time, the positive impact of youth work on society falls under the radar. Experiences, knowledge and skills gained in less conventional and non-linear pathways, including youth work, are still undervalued and minimised. Youth and Education spending often shrinks under austerity measures. It is time to change this!

Here are 3 ideas on how we can put the spotlight on youth work in Europe and spread the word about its positive power on young people.
  1. Speak about youth work when shaping the national recovery efforts

Youth services and activities were hit hard if not fully halted due to the coronavirus. What was usually a safe space for young people with their peers to learn and socialise, was no longer available. Majorly publicly funded, these activities and support for organisations, often fall under austerity measures when public spending is being cut, as the 2008 crisis showed. When the entire European Union is calling their recovery package “Next Generation EU”, it is about time to put young people, services and youth work activities on the radar, when shaping the national recovery plans. Perhaps the European Youth Work Convention next week can serve as the much needed space for forming a common voice and ensuring that young generations are being heard.

  1. Organise a Day for Youth Movement, just like in Flanders, Belgium

A day to celebrate the Youth Movement doesn’t leave anyone out! On the streets, at schools, at work and on the TV, everyone can hear and feel the power of voluntary activity and youth work. In Flanders, it always takes place on a Friday, the week before the autumn holiday starts. It is a celebration of the youth movement and all the activities it offers throughout the year for young people. Perhaps some day the European Union and Commissioner for Youth Mariya Gabriel will announce European Year of Youth Work too. Or maybe, it can be a joint initiative between the Council of Europe and the EU.

  1. Establish a national Youth Work award, just like in Scotland

National Youth Work Awards of Scotland, organised by the YouthLink Scotland, celebrates achievements and projects of youth work and youth workers in different categories: community-based youth work, arts and creativity, environment and conservation and more. It is a fun and engaging way to celebrate, recognise and say thanks for work with young people. Furthermore, inspiration can be drawn also from the initiative of a European youth organisation, Youth for Exchange and Understanding (YEU) - the YEU Youth Worker Award gives youth workers the opportunity to get the recognition they deserve for all the work done.

We hope to see a lot more initiatives such as these taking place at local, regional, national and European level as a result of the newly established European Youth Work Agenda.

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