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“Exploring the digital Dimension of Youth Workers’ Competences”

A Dutch participants´ review and reflections

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I am a youth work professional from the Netherlands and first participated in the “Digital Youth Work Conference” in Vienna in 2017.  Then it became clear that online youth work was a novity in the Netherlands. Only the last two years some research was done on the topic, only a few documents were published and even less youth work organizations actually practiced some form of online youth work.The most striking difference between online youth work in the Netherlands and other European countries was then and is now  that in the Netherlands in particular tools and apps are used in order to support communication and supply information on (offline) activities: WhatsApp, Facebook, Insta and Snapchat. Tools and apps are hardly used to organize activities or support non formal learning activities.

Key competences and self-assessement

In this year’s conference titled “Exploring the digital dimension of youth workers´ competences” especially the subject of competences had my interest since I am involved in a team of youth work experts that aim to update the key competences of youth workers in the Netherlands.

The first part of the program this year was once again reserved for an overview of tools and online methods. Especially the presentation of Marco Vigelini, using Minecraft as an educational tool was interesting. In fact, in the Netherlands a youth club started a project during the Corona crisis to build their youth centre in cooperation with several young people with Minecraft.

I was also lucky to be able to test two prototypes of self-assessment tools. One was presented by Jacob Fuchs from Youth Policy Labs based in Berlin. He demonstrated a beta version of a self-assessment tool for youth workers on their own digital competences. Answers that were supplied by youth workers were actually tested by several questions and examples.  The motto of their approach is: self-assessment tools are supposed to be fun and that showed. Their prototype was very promising!

The other self-assessment tool is based on the Competence Model for Youth Workers to work internationally created in the framework of the European Training Strategy (ETS). Nerijus Kriauciunas demonstrated this prototype. This tool is really a self-assessment tool: participants answer several groups of questions, related to determined ETS competences. The answers given are not checked on any way, so this tool really relies on the truthful answers of the participant. Compared with the tool of Jacob Fuchs it means that it takes less time to cover more competences, but of course needs more self-awareness and self-discipline

Then the main course: the competence profiles.

Two were presented: The European Training Strategy (ETS) competence model for youth workers to work internationally, presented by SALTO Training and Cooperation, and the competence framework of AufZAQ, Austria. The latter outlines how people active in youth work act competently and covers open youth work and the work of children’s and youth associations. In Austria, the aufZAQ Competence Framework is regarded as the binding standard for trainings of youth workers, if they wish to be certified by them

The process of developing differs strongly, as you can read elsewhere in this magazine which shows in the results. Where the ETS Model focusses on key competences and is not meant as a list of measurable elements, the AufZAQ model covers a long list of competences looking like a kind of checklists.

The competences of the AufZAQ model are detailed in different levels based on the National Qaulification Framework. This makes it an interesting tool to support personal professional development.

The model presented by SALTO Training & Cooperation lacks these levels but has a totally different structure. Each competence area focusses on four dimensions: attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors. By using these dimensions this model invites to reflect and explore.

To my surprise I missed the first and basic competence of youth work: the competence of connecting and leveling with young people in different circumstances and situations. No contact, no youth work.
At the last day of the conference, in the plenary discussing on the outcome of the reviews of the competence models there was an overall understanding that this area should be added.

During this last session an old pitfall showed up. When talking about tools, technical opportunities, new apps and other online novities one tends to lose the focus of the main aim: what can these means add to the support youth workers offer to young people. For a while it looked as if the means became the goals – which happens more often. For instance, when talking to a developer about an assessment tool the developer will be eager to put in a lot of technical amazing features. Which can easily end up in a huge, user unfriendly tool that costs much too much money and the users will resent to use. This is a serious issue that youth workers should be aware of in their cooperation with developers and technicians of online tools and apps.

During the conference I also had the chance to facilitate a smaller group discussion on a  subject that I was curious about:
How can we use online youth work to reach “new’ target groups (e.g. vulnerable youngsters or youngsters at risk).A question that unfortunately became more current in the weeks after the conference. Because of the lockdowns and schools and youth clubs closed children and youngsters in menacing domestic situations or who are victims of physical or sexual abuse where suddenly homebound and had hardly any means to escape their aggressors. Many of them got out of sight of their teachers, youth workers or social workers. So, this definitely has become a more urgent mission for youth workers and developers: how to answer that question more effective in the very near future.

by Dick Smit (2020)

Dick Smit has more than 35 years of experience practicing youth work and working as a consultant/trainer. Since 2020 he runs his own training and consultancy agency:

Photos:  Grafitti  © Dick Smit, all others © Domagoj Morić

Video © Domagoj Morić


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