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Youth Worker Core Competencies: What are They? January 23, 2014

From the inception of youth development/ youth work back in the 1800’s the field has struggled to answer the following questions: What do youth workers need to know and be able to do? How will we train and support them towards learning specific content and skills; and how will we know if they have been successful at learning the content and/or developing these skills?

Trying to get the field to agree on what these things actually are in practice is no easy task.



But several national, state and local organizations have taken on the task of defining the content knowledge and associated competencies. Generally, there is agreement about a common set of content knowledge, like these as identified by the National Afterschool Association (NAA):

  • Child/Youth Growth and Development

  • Learning Environments and Curriculum

  • Child/Youth Observation and Assessment

  • Interactions with Children and Youth

  • Youth Engagement

  • Cultural Competency and Responsiveness

  • Family, School, and Community Relationships

  • Safety and wellness

  • Program Planning and Development

  • Professional Development and Leadership

Below, I’ve provided links to some common Core Competencies as well as a few links to research and other resources you may find useful. It’s worth spending some time comparing the various resources. If you are just bringing Core Competencies to your organization, ask your Board to chime in or get your staff to give feedback on which ones align best with your organization. You may need to tweak them a little, like folks did here in Philly to meet your agency, city’s, etc. needs.

But before you jump to the various resources, here are 4 tips for how you can utilize core competencies in your organization.

1. Creating your Dream Team: By this I mean take a broad assessment of your current staff’s strengths and then bring on people who complement those strengths/competencies.

2. Developing the Job Description: Identify the Core Competencies that go along with the job you are hiring for and list them in the description.

3. In an interview: Ask participants to describe which competencies they are feel are their greatest strengths and the ones they would need to develop further. Or, have participants rank themselves on a scale of 1-5 (1= weakest and 5=stronges

t) and then if hired, use those answers as a way to set their professional development goals (see below).

4. Developing Professional Development (PD) plans: Once someone has been hired, develop a way to help him or her improve and/or increase their competencies. Identify a the resources need, the timeframe by which you want to see some progress and also, what you will be using to assess whether they are making progress or not.

Let me know: How do you use Core Competencies in your program? Which ones do you use?

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