DHAKA: The governments should do more to support youth workers by promoting their professional recognition, education and training, according to a new report by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
This is despite a significant youth bulge in many countries, and a global development context in which young people still face disproportionately difficult life circumstances.
The report, 'Youth Work in the Commonwealth: A Growth Profession', aims to establish a baseline to measure progress, to share best practices and to encourage greater investment in a sector which is largely composed of volunteers, many of whom work at youth clubs, charities and faith-based organisations.
While the study of 35 countries provides evidence of major advancements in the recognition of youth work in several countries, it found that only 34 percent of those sampled (12 in total) have taken significant steps to professionalise the youth work sector.
The countries covered in the study are Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Cyprus, Malta, United Kingdom, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
However, reflecting the growing popularity of youth work among educational institutions, 71 percent of countries (25 in total) today offer a diploma-level qualification. This indicates that, although the sector is lacking official recognition, it remains a career of choice for many students.
The authors of the 270-page report conclude that greater investment is needed to upskill and support youth workers. Among the report's recommendations is a call for youth work to be given the credential of a public sector profession and for relevant qualifications to be registered by national authorities.
In Asia, definitions of youth work are sometimes explicit, and sometimes implicit. In Bangladesh, for example, there is no specific definition of youth work. What is understood as youth work can be gleaned from what is expected in terms of changes for young people in the Youth Organisations (Registration and Operation) Act 2015, which refers to young people's 'physical, mental, moral and cultural development'.
In Bangladesh, the Department of Youth Development (DYD) aims to facilitate skills development training, employment and self-employment, and to involve youth in national development.
The DYD works to encourage self-development and employment, promote involvement in community and national development activities, support youth organisations, involve youth in socio-economic activities and empower youth to become self-employed through micro-credit schemes.
As such, it is evident that while youth development in Bangladesh carries elements of what might be understood to be youth work principles, the emphasis is on economic exigencies via employment.
Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: "Youth workers have an essential but often under-recognised and under- resourced role in engaging and supporting young people to be positive and productive citizens who contribute to national peace and prosperity."
The study was launched on the opening day of the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in Uganda, which brings together over 200 delegates - ministers and senior officials from more than 30 countries, as well as young people, youth workers and donor organisations.
The report looked at the existence of specific policy commitments and legislative enactments on youth work. For example, Malta in 2014 brought in a Youth Work Profession Act through which the sector is given formal recognition and is regulated. The study also looked at the existence of associations of youth workers, the availability of qualifications, as well as
recruitment and remuneration.
Dr Robyn Broadbent, Chair of the Commonwealth Alliance of Youth Worker Associations, said: "This study shines a light on the key challenges and opportunities in the youth work sector globally. The baseline will help to identify future priorities for the profession, including legislation and the provision of resources for education and workforce development."