Following the theme of Mark Smiths classic book “Youth work”, whereby he describes the aspects, and approaches of the roles that youth workers take; such as ‘redcoat’ (to entertain) or Educator (err to Educate). It has become apparent that being a sales person is now one of the key components, or if i’m more blunt, the essential criteria of being able to survive, and sustain in youthwork.
When i worked at EDF Energy in their call centre in Sunderland 15 years ago, the beast of door to door Gas & Electricity doorstep selling had started to wind down, given the huge numbers of issues caused by the sales, contracts and customers, yet even though i was on the customer incoming calls, or managing a team who were dealing with incoming calls, there was still an emphasis on encouraging customers to add extra products to their account, whether Gas, or Electricity ( in those days selling broadband or mobile phones was unheard of). The motivation to sell, increase customer base and products was very clear in the cut throat competitive world of post-nationalised Utility Company. And though i was glad of the bonus as the manager of a team who could improve their sales targets month by month ( it helped that theyd set their bar very low for the first year), selling wasnt something natural to me, and still isnt.
Nevertheless, one of the challenges that both Youthwork and Youth Ministry (to use the distinction) now face is the need to be able to compete in the new world of increased competition for funding, competition to be noticed as a brand, competition to impact-ful, competition for personal donations (amongst other charities), and so there is now the need more than ever for youthwork to be about selling; selling organisations, selling products & resources, selling events that raise money for brands/organisations, selling a programme (to young people), selling ourselves (as credible) or selling our time and skills to others, as individual consultants.
There may be many reasons for this, given now that lack of statutory funding for youthwork, and thus competition for funding, or more Part time/self employed/freelance roles in the profession.
Maybe convincing is a better word than selling, however there’s not a great deal of difference; because we should ask ourselves critical questions of the work/calling/ministry that we’re in, if convincing or selling are part of the sustainability package. Especially if that involves convincing young people to participate in expensive camps, not for their benefit/needs but so that it might break even. Or if we have to sell the state of poverty that young people are in so that it convinced funders to donate, or round up figures for attendance so that churches give, or encourage young people by paying them to participate in programmes. Should this trouble us as youthworkers, who are acting within a values base? It probably does, and so this is preaching to the converted, yet I’m personally troubled that this is a type of person or personality that youthworkers might have to take on to survive in this seeming competitive world. Its a place i feel uncomfortable, and that’s more than just a personal thing, its a values thing.
So, is Youthworker as Sales rep – something that we know is what youthworkers need to become, or have been for a while- and what are the ethical, philosophical challenges this might bring, given the pragmatic need for funding, or the organisational size to cope with the need for sales people to sell organisations, and people people to do the actual youthwork.
One day institutions will invest in youthworkers because they are good for the institution, and the person of the youthworker need to sell no more. Schools, other than the few in Scotland, will employ youthworkers, to do youthwork, as will churches, and hospitals are starting to. The philosophy and outworking of youthwork is good for people, good for communities and good for society. There, sales pitch over.