Hot Issue

Which competences are needed for digital youth work?




Digitalization has a huge impact on the lives of young people. The question “What do youth workers do when they act competently?” nowadays might be answered differently than some years ago. The demand on youth workers regarding their knowledge and skills has changed. The aufZAQ Competence Framework wants to highlight that in the future.

Read more

Digital youth work and the aufZAQ Competence Framework

The aufZAQ Competence Framework for Youth Work serves as a translation tool for the qualifications of youth work to the Austrian and European Qualifications Framework and as a quality assurance tool for youth work trainings in Austria. The competence model displays the competences of youth workers systematically and at different levels.

The aufZAQ Competence Framework was empirically developed: In 2015 and 2016 practitioners, representatives of organizations and specialist institutions and scientists throughout Austria were asked: “What do youth workers do when they act competently in their work?” This resulted in more than 2000 individual actions. These were summarized in competence descriptions which are now clearly presented in five competence areas:

  • Enable, initiate and promote learning
  • Support identity development and approaches in copin with everyday life
  • Enable participation, represent interests
  • Act and interact consciously and responsibly
  • Organize and manage (projects)


Apart from being a training standard for courses in Austria, these competence descriptions can be used as a resource for the new and further development of all educational programs. The content can also be adapted and used to create job profiles, job postings and self-assessment tools.

What do youth workers do when they act competently in their work?

Digital youth work into the spotlight

For the digital dimension of youth work it is essential, that in the aufZAQ Competence Framework youth work settings are described as any immediate conditions for youth work. The setting can include a physical space and/or a virtual space. Additionally, the setting includes the environment (e.g. other people in a public park or in a virtual space), the space’s design (e.g. colour of the walls, light, web design), the room setup (e.g. refrigerator, functions of a website), the material available (e.g. climbing harnesses, online tools) and the atmosphere as well. Settings are often flexibly created and adapted together with the young people according to the situation.

At the moment inside the aufZAQ Competence Framework there is no further distinction between youth work in physical and virtual spaces. All competence descriptions are meant to work in any setting. As a matter of fact, in recent years youth work in digital spaces, settings and tools has increased a lot. Different publications and competence models, like the report of the EU Expert Group on digital youth work, are bringing specific competences for digital youth work into the spotlight.

What happened at the conference?

aufZAQ is now entering this discourse and has taken the conference “Exploring the Digital Dimension of Youth Workers´ Competences” as an opportunity to raise the following questions: In which way specific competences for digital youth work can be shown up in the aufZAQ Competence Framework? How does youth work differ in physical and virtual spaces?

At the conference participants discovered the different areas of the aufZAQ Competence Frameworks. They were asked, how this competence areas connect with their digital work.


Participants concluded, that if there is no distinction between digital and non-digital youth work, than you could always read the competence descriptions in a way that excludes the digital dimension. Only the explicit naming of the digital dimension leads to an expectation for youth workers to be able to work in physical and digital spaces. Participants also highlighted that there are specific topics like privacy and specific activities like online participation which should be taken into more consideration. During the conference we got a lot more inputs form participants and took part in many fruitful discussions.

show relevant digital competences for youth workers clearly

What does that mean for the further development of our competence model?

Our conclusion of all this is, that there is no need to adapt the general structure (five competence areas) of the aufZAQ Competence Framework, because the existing ones cover the main aspects of the digital dimension comprehensively. On the other hand there is definitely the need to add some specific competence descriptions and maybe some specific sub-areas to the aufZAQ Competence Framework to show relevant digital competences for youth workers clearly.

After analysing all the results of the discussions we have identified three topics which should be explicitly mentioned in our competence model in the future:

  • Data ownership and digital property
  • Digital safety and the protection of personal rights and privacy
  • Digital media skills


Broader thinking we also have been reflecting the general approach of the aufZAQ Competence Framework. Its logic is partly based on the subdivision into the categories individual, group and society. However, because of digitalisation the whole world is in a process, where the concepts of individuals, groups and society are changing:

  • Individuals present themselves increasingly in digital spaces and are interacting in a hybrid way in physical and digital spaces.
  • Groups are much more fluid in digital spaces, memberships are more flexible and anonymous and physically known people meet in equal measure.
  • In digital spaces society is structured more according to interest and less according to the place of residence and membership of a political entity (e.g. EU, national state, municipality)


In addition to these three categories the impact of (digital) networks gains ground.

A further development of the aufZAQ Competence Framework, which is taking into consideration these extensive social developments, would be much more fundamental and should only take place in a few years’ time, when the individual and social processes of change can be identified more clearly.

Some general conclusions about the current impact of digitalization on youth work

  • Digital and non-digital youth work is not an “either … or …”. Young people live hybrid lives in physical and digital spaces and youth work can also be offered in hybrid ways.
  • Young people often use digital opportunities directly and without distance. Some of them are very competent and others have only little background knowledge in this area. Therefore it is crucial, that youth workers are able to provide this knowledge and skills.
  • Youth workers should not chase after youngsters in digital spaces. They should be up to date where the young people are and if necessary meet or accompany them. There is no reason to compete with commercial offers like online games. Youth work has a different role and offer.
  • In general, due to digitalization the demands on youth work are increasing. Therefore further auxiliary sciences will have to be consulted in the future. In addition to education, social sciences, psychology and law, communication and information sciences will be increasingly used.

by Klaus Schreiner (2020)

Klaus Schreiner lives in Vienna/Austria, works in the aufZAQ Office and is one of the developers of the aufZAQ Competence Framework.

Title  ©  Marius Masalar on Unsplash
all others © Domagoj Morić

Video © Domagoj Morić


Your name

Your e-mail

Name receiver

E-mail address receiver

Your message










Sign up

Subscribe to Logbook!

Sign up