Spot On

Spot On

South Tyrol

Born from youth movements in the 1970ies young people are still the focus of Open Youth Work in South Tyrol. It is oriented therfore towards their interests, needs and lifestyles.

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Like elsewhere in Europe the aim of open youth work is to stimulate and empower young people, to enable them to live their lives in a responsible and selfconfident way. It supports and guides young people during the time they are growing up and conveys basic social values. Open youth work provides protected free spaces available. In such free spaces, young people can try out different behaviors and gain experience. In this way, Open Youth Work promotes social behavior.

To understand the developments of the field in South Tyrol, it is necessary to explain the regional and historical background in which Open Youth Work in is embedded here. South Tyrol is Italy’s northernmost province and became part of Italy after the First Word War in 1919. Today, South Tyrol has over 500,000 inhabitants. The official languages are German, Italian and Ladin. Approximately 10 percent of the population has an immigrant background.
Because of linguistic and historical events South Tyrol is managed largely autonomously within the State of Italy. This benefits Open Youth Work in South Tyrol.

Its roots can be found in the youth movements of the 1970s. During this time, some South Tyrolean young people decided to band together to form free youth groups because their needs could not be satisfied any more in traditional societies and associations (e.g. traditional music bands, religious youth associations, Scouts, …). For those young people there was a strong need for more autonomy and freedom. In this period the first such facilities were founded, such as the „Bude“ in downtown Bozen (capital of South Tyrol), or the youth club „Latsch“ (a village in the north of South Tyrol) or the „Admirals“ in Tramin (in the far south of South Tyrol). This trend was recognized in the eraly 1980s and open youth work facilities were promoted. Youth clubs and methods of youth work were often modelled on those from German-speaking countries. Even the 1983 adopted (and still in force) Youth Promotion Act took this into account and emphasized the importance of open youth clubs for South Tyrol.

In the 1990s significant structures of open youth work (for example the Jugend- und Kulturzentrum Ufo in Bruneck or the Jugendzentrum Jux in Lana) , finally emerged. In recent years, more major facilities have been opened. So today every major village in South Tyrol has a professional youth center with permanent staff.

Due to the progressive professionalisation of open youth work the youth workers increasingly desired their own legally recognized job description. The education of the youth workers is various respecting their different backgrounds. Therefore a process in 2010 was initiated in all youth centers and youth associations in South Tyrol to jointly develop for (open) youth work professionals. The process has not (yet) been completed. Therefore, a recognized, independent job description of the profession of (open) youth work still does not exist in South Tyrol.

Also, there is to date no specific training for youth workers at all. Youth workers have a general (academic) educational training. This is especially the case in recent times. In order to give career changers a chance in professional open youth work, there are specialized short training courses for Youth Workers in the nearby Austrian County of Vorarlberg. In addition, South Tyrol shares its own facility Youth Hostel Kassianeum. This offers training courses in different fields for youth workers.

Open youth work in South Tyrol is carried out today by small (so-called „Jugendräume“), larger (so called „Jugendtreffs“) and large youth clubs (so-called „Jugendzentren“) country wide. Only the larger and largest ones have fully employed youth workers.

Due to the progressive professionalisation of open youth work the youth workers increasingly desired their own legally recognized job description.

Open youth work in South Tyrol is carried out today by small (so-called „Jugendräume“), larger (so called „Jugendtreffs“) and large youth clubs (so-called „Jugendzentren“) country wide. Only the larger and largest ones have fully employed youth workers.
Almost all villages (116) in South Tyrol have at least a so-called „Jugendraum“. This is a small youth club, often just one room, where young people can socialize. These small clubs work exclusively on a voluntary basis.
Open youth work in general works on a site-related basis, but also uses outreach and mobile strategies. Either way, every single club is run by private and independent associations and governed by private law.
In the centre of professional Open Youth Work stands the Youth Club itselfs.

The majority of open youth clubs are associated within the umbrella organization of South Tyrolian Youth Clubs n.e.t.z. (Netzwerk der Jugendtreffs und -zentren Südtirols). The n.e.t.z., together with the member organizations, provides the standards of Open Youth work in South Tyrol.: „OJA Papier: Die Grundlagen der Offenen Jugendarbeit Südtirols; 2011). This paper is the quality handbook of Open Youth Work in South Tyrol:
Open youth work has to be close to young people. The methods must be age appropriate and, in any case, for the target group; the premises must have adequate facilities and the financing of staff has to be ensured in the long term. Each youth club should have its own concept and youth workers can (locally, regionally and transnationally) regularly discuss with colleagues in meetings and seminars.

Therfore, the n.e.t.z. provides member organizations, new founders of youth clubs, promoting-committees and youth workers as well as volunteers with the necessary information and know-how at a regional, national and transnational level (e.g. pedagogical, legal, financial and administrative advice; holding and organizing conferences, meetings and workshops; coaching, change management, quality development, etc.): It promotes networking for open youth work on regional, national and transnational levels.

This occurs particularly countywide on the so called Plattform (english: platform). This networking “Plattform” meeting of youth workers takes place periodically more or less every two months in alternating youth centers in South Tyrol. In addition to the platform the n.e.t.z. also organizes the so-called bilingual platform of the local Italian- and German Open Youth Work in South Tyrol and every few years the Five-Countries-Meeting of open youth work (or “Fünf-Länder-Tagung”, from the following countries: Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Italy/South Tyrol)

Where will we be in 10 years?

Open Youth Work will become even more colourful in the next 10 years. The number of migrants, as in the rest of Europe, will continue to increase. Young migrants could find a home in the Youth Clubs, too. To make this possible, Open Youth Work, as well as other actors in the field of youth work, must sharpen their intercultural skills.

Another, related challenge, is the increasing number of young people who face difficulties in accessing the labor market. South Tyrol has, compared to the rest of the country, relatively low youth unemployment. Nevertheless, young people are at risk of exclusion and need targeted special support. Open Youth Work due to its scarce resources can do this effort only very conditionally. The need for projects such as the countywide youth coaching or individual local employment projects in the field of Open Youth Work will rise in the next few years.

In 10 years, Open Youth Work in South Tyrol will be a meeting place with many different offers for many young people. Whether rock concerts, a chat with the youth worker, or lectures on political issues, or a shared drink after work or simply doing nothing. All this should be self evident.
For this to be the case will mean that Open Youth Work must respond quickly and flexibly to future challenges whilst maintaining its existing strengths.


by Hanno Raifer (2016)

Hanno Raifer, born 1971 in Bozen/Italy, is the managing director of the n.e.t.z. and a board member of POYWE.

Photos: Cover © Hanno Raifer, youth work © Jugendzentrum Jungle/Meran, POINT/

Video: © n.e.t.z./Hanno Raifer


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