Think you’re cut out for working with young people? Read this first.
Ken Houliston has some revealing comments to make about the work he has undertaken in the last 35 years. Involved in youth centres since the age of 23, he founded The Spot 19 years ago and is now Queensland Development Manager for FSG Australia, one of the largest community services organisations in Australia.
Ken provides wonderful insight for those interested in pursuing a career in youth work.
What type of youth services has The Spot offered over the years?
Ken: Over the years we’ve provided anything from a drop-in centre for kids to hang out, through to ‘get set for work’ programs, which helps kids fill gaps in numeracy, literacy, and other skills in readiness for work. We’ve also had radio stations, recording studios, bus restorations and made furniture. This is designed to give us the chance to walk alongside and mentor them in creative ways and get them to address issues they have.
We’ve also done a lot of adventure learning such as rock climbing, camping, and abseiling where they have to push their own limits to learn about themselves and trust others. At times we’ve had funded programs such as alternate schools where we prepare and mentor young people who don’t go to mainstream schools.
Energex once sponsored a 16 week program for indigenous boys called the Positive Power Mob. We caught them up on any numeracy and science they might need for pre-entry into an apprenticeship with Energex. We’ve also done Work for the Dole programs, and provided training for Certificates II & III in music, and Cert III in Outdoor Recreation. We’ve just about done it all over the years!
What would you say is the most rewarding part of youth work?
Ken: Seeing kids that really don’t know who they are cotton on. It’s all about getting the young person to like and believe in themselves, because once they do they don’t need us anymore. Once you believe in yourself, not much can stop you…
I mentored a young bloke in 1995/6 in a job creation program. Because I’m also a minister, I married him, dedicated his kids and supported the family through his wife’s breast cancer. Now he has one kid going through university. (This was the little baby he and his partner had when I first met them. He wasn’t married and there were all sorts of dramas about that back then that are not big issues today.) This bloke has worked for us at the Spot and is now in the Police Force in Logan. Fantastic guy and his kids are just great! It’s wonderful to see such a significant change in one generation like that.
And the most challenging part of youth work?
Ken: I don’t ever think that the kids are that challenging. It’s more the systems around them. We try to get people to treat them with dignity and as someone who has value, but this is hard if they come from a dysfunctional home situation. When they go back to an environment that is contrary to the way you are treating them, it just makes the situation more difficult. Not impossible. Just more difficult.
What personal qualities would someone need if they wanted to work with youth?
Ken: We generally look for someone who can relate to others and build strong relationships (not co-dependent). We want someone who is prepared to learn and work in a team, someone capable of reflecting on their performance and learning. Someone who is honest and professional. Most crucially though, we want someone who is genuine because young people are very discerning and can spot a fake from a mile off. They spot someone who doesn’t mean what they say straight away because they are used to being let down. You actually do more harm than good if a youth worker doesn’t recognise that.
What are the minimum qualifications this person would need and what level of responsibility would they have?
Ken: The Certificate III in Community Service Work is the ground level qualification you would need to get into this kind of work. But whether we would employ someone also depends on their background and their potential. A kid who leaves school and does a Cert III straight out of school would have to show personal qualities that makes them ideal for this work, but would then require more mentoring and supervision; whereas someone who is 30 and has been a teacher or a mechanic (with life experience and a bit of street credibility) would be viewed differently. Prior learning and life experience are worth a lot and if you add that to a Cert III, then you have something really powerful.
Also, I would look into the quality of the Certificate III before I employed someone. It can’t be from just any Registered Training Organisation (RTO). It would need to be more than a 6 month course or it’s a waste of time. You need to be doing something that takes 6 to 12 months and has a practical component.
What career path can someone in youth work expect to follow?
Ken: I would always encourage someone with a Certificate III to upskill. You wouldn’t want them staying at certificate level because this is only entry level. As they gain more experience and expertise, they grow in their level of responsibility. Most of my employees have a degree even if they started off with a certificate, and because many of them train young people in certificates in music and outdoor recreation, they need to do a training and assessment course as well.