When so many youthwork jobs are staying vacant – whats going on?

And i dont just mean the underpaid roles. Image result for situation vacant

I mean good solid, permanent, well paid, interesting roles in creative cities and projects. All going unfilled , all in the last 18 months. Sitaution vacant seems to be common.

This has been relayed to me time and time again over the last 4 years since I have been in the North East, but it was also a problem in the south west.

Are there just no youthworkers around who are looking for new jobs, new roles or are wanting a change?

At Durham YFC we had difficulty filling roles, as have churches, community groups and projects in the north, my surprise also, has been the amount of roles i have heard of not being filled in Scotland also, at projects with very good people. My experience and knowledge does not extend too far in the southern end of the UK, to know the employment scene down there. Though from what i hear its not so different.

At the same time, there’s 1000 people, maybe many youthworkers signed up to be going to the national youth ministry weekend later in the year. At least theres 1000 people working with young people there… how many of them are in the employment scene? At least thats a snapshot of some numbers in the scene. However, the curious lack of filling roles recently, causes a few questions to be asked.Image result for situation vacant

  1. Is this universal? Many in the north/north east/north west – talk about being unable to fill youth and ministry roles. Bishop of Burnley talks about a clergy gravitational pull to the south (and this is where, excluding Durham) many theological training courses are. But how common is the ‘unfilled’ youth work/ministry post say in the Home counties, or shropshire or Kent? Or are these posts, with a decent salary filled without a problem?  I literally do not know. But wonder.
  2. Is the reduction in college courses now biting. Less newly qualifieds entering the arena for youthwork employment, therefore less people to employ, also less spaces to advertise. Is there just not the workforce, and can those who are qualified look for roles in hotspots and where they want to, and be picky? But is the gradual reduction in workforce now having an effect?
  3. Has the moving for a 2-3 year role stopped? Its not something I would be willing to do ever again. So if people are reluctant to move, then theres going to be some serious upskilling of local people to fulfill the requirements of job descriptions in some areas.
  4. Those who did move have now got homes, teenagers in schools, feel called to an area, and if there isnt a huge number of newly trained workers, willing to move and take a risk somewhere new, then this could be a major issue.
  5. Is the pay not good enough? Id agree in some cases. But in others, recently there were 4 roles on premier youth childrens work, all over £25,000 – so this seems more than reasonable (just depends on their location) In this post here, there are some shocking low paid roles, and even today on some denomination sites some youthworkers are being paid very little above the living wage. Shocking.
  6. It could be that this isnt a new problem. Theres probably more situations of ‘we need to get a youthworker’ than there are youthworkers around, or at least there was, and so theres a residual over capacity.
  7. Maybe its a problem of expectation – being a first person in a role, following a really good person in a role, working for a church with a ‘reputation’, working for a project that is so ‘out there’ and trying to be ‘original’ and ‘radical’ all the time. It could be too much pressure…?

Related imageFrom the perspective of the prospective new employer, church, organisation, community group, this situation can then cause a bit of a headache. Imagine the example of the church who want to reach out to their community, do a lot of leg work, raising funding, creating employment process and management, advertise, maybe even find accommodation – only then for no one to appear, when this has been the pathway all along. Or, what of the situation in a church where there has been a youthworker to do a lot of activity, maybe schools work, detached or partnership work, and this position remains unfilled. But getting a youthworker, praying for a youthworker, and expecting a youthworker, almost feeling like a place on this basis (dare i say it) deserves a youthworker , when this doesn’t happen, is an issue. Its one thing asking the question what a church or group doesnt when a youthworker leaves, its another when the expected person didn’t even arrive, when many people are gearing up for it.

Stuff would have been held back – we’ll wait for the youthworker to help us with that

People will have been denied a space – the youthworker will do all this for us

Super -person is waiting just around the corner… but doesnt arrive…

And some of this is implied through the actions of trying to find and appoint someone, rather than what is explicit, but and ive said it before, employing someone can have a disempowering effect, when there might be other opportunities to grow and develop those within, taking significant risks.

In her book Young people and the church since 1900 (2018), which no one is going to read because it is £100, Naomi Thompson describes how a capatalist approach is often used when a youthworker works for a faith based organisation, that essentially they are employed on a payment by results, bums on seats. Or, as likely, they get given the stuff no one wants to do, or be trained up in to do – youthwork – and receive few volunteers, support and structures. But those days are long gone arent they, no church treats a youthworker like that anymore do they….(especially not an underpaid one…)  I say this just to reiterate that the crest of a youthwork wave is on its way down… the enthusiastic have become battle weary and some of the markers of its success have faded..

There might be other reasons, too, but from the point of view of the advertiser, what do you do with a constantly unfilled role? 

Options like rewording the documents, re-advertising, trying to advertise in other places are all legitimate and common and a good shout for after a few times of not finding someone, or even getting applicants. (And for a small fee id be happy to have a look through the documents and give you some advice, but i cant magic up youthworkers)

but what if the reality is, is that there just isnt the youthworkers in the mixing pot anymore?  

though the other reality might be that all the youthworkers are concentrated in some areas of the UK. 

It is as much of a reality that, at the same time as churches feeling like a youthworker is needed in an area (because the statutory youthwork has been removed), as the same churches have less resource to do this work, due to aging population and a myth that youthwork occurs be being young, the need stimulates action to act- at the same time the other part is that the courses, colleges and opportunities to train and ‘get qualified’ are reduced. Communities are needing a church based youthworker more than ever, yet at the same time the scene has dropped out with colleges and courses closing.

Might central funding help colleges and courses increase, if demand is clearly there? Go on church commissioners – fund some youthwork training!

Of course, paying someone well, also means asking for qualifications and experience. Its become a bit of a circle.

Can churches take a gamble and try different approaches? might it be good to develop ongoing apprenticeship and learning posts?

is there a different way to employing the full timer? 

Training is possible in areas, and new areas if there was demand for it – and so would one-two day training be possible in roles. What about digital youthwork/theology training for areas where rural/distant travel is too much of an ordeal? Is it better to invest some of the salary on an external person to train up someone who is in the area already and pay for their education fees (if there is suitable courses available). Im sure there could be are other options too. Maybe the trick is not to start with only one option in the first place – the default we’ll get a youthworker to do this

I realise I may not be speaking for all the sector, the country in terms of the availability of youthworkers to the roles. If theres queues outside churches in the south because of the high level of applicants for roles, then this isnt a world that i am seeing, or speaking of.

It is more that trying to make every role seem ‘exciting’ ‘dynamic’ and ‘pioneering’ because every advert for a youthworker says the same. Everything is exciting, pioneering and challenging. Changing the wording isnt going to magically generate youthworkers. And a frustrating time of waiting continues.

They say in housing whether theres a sellers or buyers market. At the moment, its probably a buyers market in the youthwork world, with few youthworkers and much choice. Yet at the same time, there are places where there are youthworkers and limited choice. Like the housing market it has regional variations.

So – whats going on in the scene? And what might the future scene need to look like?


Is this a universal problem in the UK?  Are there posts unfilled in every diocese?

Who are the people willing to move to an area for a role – have youthworkers stopped doing this?

On average, if you’re trying to fill a youthwork role – how many times have you have to re-advertise?

Is a north/south divide too lazy – is it more complicated than that?



Thompson, Naomi, (2018) Young People and the church since 1900.



Some advert below reminding you that this site is free, but the cost is this advert. Apologies. Also a gentle reminder that if theres stuff i can try and help you with, including training volunters in churches, so that finding the elusive youthworker might not be your only option, then do please get in touch. Id love to hear from you to help you develop sustainable relational youth work.

6 thoughts on “When so many youthwork jobs are staying vacant – whats going on?

  1. Good thoughts James – thank you.

    From this youthworker-at-heart who hasn’t realistically been that much coalface youth work for many years, I think a few of the questions posed speak to me especially:

    (2) The number of youthwork/ministry courses (and their make-up) has – for me – had an impact to be sure. One of the colleges I know that is training a decent number of youthworkers is pretty much teaching them the same theory and theology as they do church-leaders-in-waiting, and I think this has increased the ratio of those dabbling in youthwork for a few years and then getting a ‘proper job’ as a church leader. If people are being trained in church leadership, where is the scope, imagination and permission (both internal and external) to think creatively about youth work and ministry outside of this framework?
    I think this means more youthworkers than ever don’t see youth work / ministry as a vocation within itself – but a stepping stone to ‘better’ things. I recognise that this has long been part of the reality (I certainly felt the tug in my late teens through to my early 30s).
    I also think that we have seen a ‘narrowing’ of the definition of what youth work is for, and how it should/could be done within a Christian and church context. (I’m grateful for organisations like FYT for challenging this). Again, the gravitational pull towards a narrow definition has always been there (oh, the stories I could tell about some of my ex-student youth workers!!), but I think the pull is stronger and the creative resistance weaker/harder to maintain.

    (3) I think this is certainly true. This is – to a degree – the opposite of some of the reflections I’ve shared in the above paragraphs… As the ‘narrowing’ has happened, so there has been an increase in the sense of being called to an area/community, and to a type of work with people that transcends the (relatively) neat boxes and definitions of ‘youth’. It’s nice (as someone who feels called to a community in part of London) to have friends working in other areas of the country where I often think to myself “I’d love to go and live with what they are doing”. Again, organisations like FYT and Worth Unlimited are good at stretching the delivery of youthwork so it becomes a blessing to many who are not yet- or significantly past- their own teenage years.

    (6) yep

    (7) [linked, for me, with 3 and 4] – being the ‘first’ to do a role for 4 successive jobs sure took its toll on me – fighting the battles of perception, language, reality…. breaking the ground so that (hopefully) any successor can just ‘get on with the work’. (exhales)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s good to think about this. I have been trying to move roles (for 3-ish years) but the doors have been shut firmly, so I am now celebrating 10 years as the youth worker where I am. I have been to several job interviews, I realise there must be something on my CV/in my application that means I am shortlisted, but I seem to come ‘second’ a lot of the time… I have realised, with a great deal of reflection, that I don’t do well at interview and there is no standard interview for me to be able to practice answers or train effectively.

    One job I recently thought I would get (and would have really enjoyed) didn’t employ me because they wouldn’t pay my maternity leave, even though I offered to shorten it. Shortly afterwards, the job was advertised again. Perplexed. I didn’t apply again, but didn’t recieve a great deal of feedback on why I wasn’t suitable.

    Churches need to stop looking for fixers, and start supporting the children and young people they already have. A youth worker should be enhancing work, and eventually leading new stuff, I feel.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think there are a number of interesting factors at play here. Certainly some places are more difficult to recruit to than others – here in Grimsby we experience what is effectively a brain or talent drain, with lots of people leaving, and very few willing to move in. Lots of other places have the same thing. The key thing is that it makes it very hard to recruit quality people – and that’s not just for youth work, it’s true across the board, even to senior levels and highly remunerative jobs. Strictly speaking I don’t think this is as simple as north south divide, I’m willing to bet that parts of Cornwall are very hard to recruit to too, I do think that London has a problematic impact on the rest of the country though.

    I agree with Andy that for some people, youth work is considered as a gateway into bigger and better things: I’ve seen that in some individuals. But at the same time, there’s a harsh reality that people in work in their forties or even fifties are looking for a number of things that youth work often can’t offer: higher salary, job security, etc. etc. So its not necessarily that there’s a planned career progression, its just that as age encroaches, priorities begin to shift. Also, older youth specialists are few and far between, either due to burn out, talent spotting, lack of energy, or just natural career movement.

    Young youth workers who I see coming through the system often leave when they are frustrated by lack of opportunity (or job security), there may be four jobs listed at £25k plus, but there will natural limitations on a young person looking for jobs. Plus, while £25k may be decent here, or in parts of the North East, it’s still not necessarily a ‘move out of mum and dads’ wage for many places in the country. Inflationary pressures make it hard for people to take these jobs. An 18 month or two year ftc is challenging too, it doesn’t provide the stability that a lot of people are looking for. Many of the youth workers I know are doing more than one job, they have a side gig of some sort, and are looking for a full time post which will give them a more straightforward life. The exception to this is a few local authority youth workers, but there are far fewer of them than there were even three years ago. Austerity britain, innit.

    And yes, probably, the cut in supply of youth workers is having an effect now, although there were too many at one point, it’s a see saw effect, maybe it will eventually equal out, but I suspect it will continue to see saw as a gap in the market is exposed and some people try to capitalise as funding comes available, and then is withdrawn… and then is available… and then…

    Plenty more to explore, but I’ll stop banging on. It’s a frustrating place

    Liked by 1 person

    1. most definately, resonate with all of this, there are so many factors. When youth workers get old what happens is fascinating… thank you for this lengthy response


  4. I wonder if there isn’t something wider going on here – for example, in Scotland there is also a significant shortage of teachers. – is there a change in the zeitgeist where working with young people is no longer the dynamic career choice that it once was.

    It would be interesting to know the age demographic of youth workers, we are now reaching a point where young people have born into the digital age are now reaching teenage years, and their experience of growing up has not really included the youth club experience, and therefore they have little concept of its worth.

    The evidence also seems to suggests that those young people who are in targeted youth work are still, regardless of youth work, less likely to achieve a degree qualification, so while they may know the worth of youth work they haven’t got the qualifications.

    Liked by 1 person

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