Illustration by Madalina Pavel (Picturise)


Education and training of youth workers in the European context

 by Marko Kovačić 


The education and training of youth workers is one of the dominant themes within the narrative of European youth work. Discussions about the role of education and training, the structure of the pedagogical process, the institutions and organisations that implement it, and co-ordinating youth worker needs with those of education and training providers are some of the more important aspects of this topic. This is precisely why it is necessary to understand the concepts of youth worker competency development, analyse the origins of this policy priority in the European context and offer potential directions for the development of youth worker education and training. Although this article does not intend to offer a complete overview of the education and training of youth workers, its contribution is reflected in the codification of the existing discussions and the illustration of the role and contribution of the Youth Partnership to this topic.


 Developing education and training of youth workers as a policy

The quality of work with young people depends on several factors – how well the services are complementary to the needs of young people, whether the basic principles of working with young people are met, whether ethical principles are respected, but also whether the people who work with young people are competent to carry out the activities. This is precisely why the education and training of youth workers is one of the prerequisites for quality work with young people, that is, competent youth workers provide better service to young people (Mahoney and Stattin 2000; Pierce et al. 1999). In addition, the constantly changing social context within which youth work takes place is important. Modern society is characterised by permanent change, rapid exchange of information, increased dependence on technology, crises that affect all segments of society, namely, everything that is part of the so-called liquid modernity (Bauman 2013) inevitably affects youth work as well. Young people grow up in uncertain and flexible social contexts, so their needs are not identical to the needs of previous generations. This is a challenge that youth workers must respond to. For this, they need to gain the knowledge and skills to identify and analyse the reality and adapt and innovate tools, mechanisms and methods of youth work to benefit young people.

It is difficult to pinpoint the beginning of youth work policy development. Some believe that the opening of the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg and the establishment of the European Youth Foundation in 1972 can be considered as the beginning of the European story of youth policy (including non-formal education and youth work), while others take the starting point as 1988, when the European Council adopted a Decision on establishing an action programme for the promotion of youth exchanges in the Community – “Youth for Europe”, which was aimed at promoting youth work, non-formal education and youth mobility. Although youth work could not be considered a policy priority until 2007, the supporting structures for its development were defined by numerous initiatives and documents at the European level. Thus, in 1998, a document laying the foundations of youth policy of the Council of Europe (Resolution (98) 6 on the youth policy of the Council of Europe) was adopted, and in 1999, the European Commission White Paper on youth was adopted, followed by the European Youth Pact in 2005.

In 2010, the first European Youth Work Convention was held in Ghent and in its conclusion the education and training of youth workers was mentioned, followed by the Resolution of the Council and of the representatives of the governments of the member states on youth work, which noted only the importance of the training of youth workers. This changed with the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention held in Brussels in 2015 which emphasised the importance of both training and education of youth workers and culminated with the Declaration of the 3rd European Youth Work Convention from 2020. This was flesh to the bone of the European Youth Work Agenda which clearly states the need and benefits of quality education and training provision for youth workers.

As a result of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers Recommendation CM/Rec(2017)4 on youth work emerged. It is the first comprehensive policy document on youth work whose content is related to the education and training of youth workers. This recommendation, adopted in 2017, provides guidance and is calling for “establishing a coherent and flexible competency-based framework for the education and training of paid and volunteer youth workers that takes into account existing practice, new trends and arenas, as well as the diversity of youth work” (Council of Europe 2017). The recommendation went through a review process in 2022-2023. In October 2023, the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ) discussed the review’s outcomes and the conclusions were transmitted to the Committee of Ministers. We conclude this short overview of policy development of education and training for youth workers with the seminal policy document on this topic, namely the Conclusions of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council on education and training of youth workers. The conclusions recognise that education and training of youth workers should be adapted to meet the particular needs and conditions in individual member states. At the same time, they stress that there is a shared understanding as regards the educational and training needs of youth workers in the EU. The text invites the European Commission, and the EU member states to further explore how to improve the current youth work education and training systems in Europe.


 The role of the Youth Partnership in the education and training of youth workers

Youth policy, as well as work with young people, is an eclectic practice that brings together various actors. On one hand, there are decision makers; on the other, the beneficiaries – young people themselves, and between them there are service providers and experts who develop the field itself. Institutions, organisations and individuals with specific mandates, expertise and roles co-operate with others depending on the structure and mission of their activities.

One of the key players in the overarching narrative concerning the education and training of youth workers is the Youth Partnership. With the growing interest of the Council of Europe and the European Commission in youth work and the education and training of youth workers, the Youth Partnership initiated a research project in 2017 mapping the educational and career pathways of youth workers. The aim of the project was “to develop a better understanding of three aspects: the opportunities that youth workers have for learning through formal or non-formal routes, the recognition and validation systems in place, and the career pathways of youth workers” (Taru et al. 2020). This project led to the publication of two reports:

  1. Mapping the educational and career paths of youth workers”, by James O’Donovan
  2. Diversity of practice architectures: on educational and career paths of youth workers in Europe”, by Tomi Kiilakoski

The project played a significant role in bringing this topic to the policy agenda. The two reports highlighted a large diversity of levels and context of formal and non-formal education for youth workers, which were closely connected to the levels of recognition of youth work. This fundamental conclusion generated many initiatives. Following the research, an epistemic community formed and, through conferences, seminars, round-tables and articles, introduced the topic into the community of practice, exploring how to start it, how to improve it, whether to regulate it and how to strengthen recognition and professional development. The Youth Partnership recognised the momentum and established a working group dedicated to further analysis. 

In 2020, a Youth Knowledge Book Youth worker education in Europe: policies, structures, practices on the education and training of youth workers was published, which further explored aspects of this topic connected to early career support, the role of mentoring and supervision, ethics and the perspectives of managers and educators throughout Europe in 10 chapters followed by a range of communication tools (illustrations, podcasts, MOOC on Youth Work Essentials). This first comprehensive book thematising youth workers’ education not only illustrated the diverse European landscape on formal education of youth workers, but it also provoked debate on the position of youth work in academia and a greater debate on the recognition of youth work in different contexts. 

Drawing on an extensive body of research on the education and career pathways of youth workers in 2022, “Insights into developing the youth work environment: a thinking and action kit” was published. It encompasses discussions on youth work as a field of practice, policy support for its development, different learning pathways to becoming a youth worker, followed by a debate on youth work recognition and the supervision of youth workers. This publication serves as a call to action based on research findings. It aims to provide guidance to a community of practice without dictating a strict course of action. Instead, it emphasises potential factors to consider when determining the most suitable approach in a given situation. 

In line with the European Youth Work Agenda, the Youth Partnership, in collaboration with SALTO Training and Cooperation, Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, and the National Agencies of Erasmus+ Youth from Germany, Finland, Ireland and Portugal, as well as policy makers and youth work structures from Serbia and Georgia, initiated a peer learning activity (PLA) on the Education and Training of Youth Workers. The PLA seminar in Helsinki, hosted by HUMAK University of Applied Sciences, brought together 50 representatives of academia and the teaching community in higher education to learn about youth worker education programmes across Europe and to discuss contemporary challenges impacting youth work curricula. The Youth Partnership prepared a comparative analysis of the partner countries and published a report of the seminar (Youth Partnership 2023). 


 Instead of a conclusion

It is clear to all that the education and training of youth workers is an integral part of European policy debates today. The entire community of practice in Europe recognises the importance of the main segment of youth work and youth policy and, at least nominally, tries to improve it. Education and training of youth workers is complex because it includes not only youth workers, but also formal education structures and training organisations. Educational institutions, civil society organisations, policy makers and funding organisations are important players in the entire universe of youth worker competency development. If we add to the equation the fact that educational policy and youth policy are part of national competences, the situation becomes even more complex. This is precisely why at European level the focus is on setting quality standards to support quality development of youth work at national and local levels.

Although there are still large differences across Europe in the number and quality of programmes intended for the education and training of youth workers, initiatives such as research projects, platforms for networking youth workers’ education and training providers, as well as the education of the educators themselves, are a step in the right direction of increasing the quality of work with young people on the European continent. All these initiatives have one thing in common – faith that every member of a community of practice can do something in order to help youth work development. Each of us can play a role in making youth work more visible, more understandable, or more present in everyday life.


Bauman Z. (2013), Liquid modernity, John Wiley & Sons.

Mahoney J. L. and Stattin H. (2000), “Leisure activities and adolescent antisocial behavior: the role and structure of social context” Journal of Adolescence Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 113-127.

Pierce K. M., Hamm J. V. and Vandell D. L. (1999), “Experiences in after-school programs and children’s adjustment in first-grade classrooms”, Child Development Vol. 70, No. 3, pp. 756-67.

Taru M., Basarab T. and Krzaklewska E. (2020), “Introduction: education, learning and practice of youth work under the lens”, in Taru M. et al. (eds), Youth worker education in Europe: policies, structures, practices, Youth Partnership, Council of Europe.








 Issue 36 

 25 years: 
 Youth Partnership 



Marko is a youth worker turned academic.