What is the future of youth work?

In a never-changing world, there is little to be certain about. Working in the field of youth work, we understand the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and lifelong learning. The Future of Youth Work was the leading topic of the third edition of the European Academy of Youth Work, held in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. A part of our team travelled for the 3-day event in the beautiful Slovenian Alps, and came back with a suitcase full of ideas

The diverse team of youth workers all across the globe gathered on the arrival day (14/05) in Kranjska Gora, creating a small village of 200+ participants. We slowly got to know each other during the opening sessions, and braced ourselves for the knowledge-dense days to come.

The first official day of the Academy (15/05) was dedicated to the topic of the value of future foresighting. We started the day with a thought provoking KeyNote session led by Adanna Shallowe on Creating New Futures and the value of future foresighting. We discussed the drivers of change, reflected on the change in the youth work field in the last 10 years, discovered some case studies of shaping the future, and most importantly – highlighted that future foresighting is not the same as predicting the future. This was a theme throughout the whole duration of the Academy.

The EAYW was organised into sessions like these, as well as several forums following the main theme. The first set of forums were in the topic of Following Major Trends – what are we already doing to adapt to the future? Our team followed a forum on digitalisation and sustainability of learning mobilities. We learned about the pros and cons of digitalisation (it creates a lot of opportunities, but also unique challenges!), and discussed the triple bottom line that should be followed at all learning mobilities, helping us gain valuable insight into what we can improve and implement into our own training sessions.

After the lunch break, the second round of forums (Rethinking Learning: New Perspectives for Impactful Change) commenced. We took part in a workshop about the Power of Humour and its innate transformative abilities. Humour can be used as an intentional tool in youth work; it can be used as a gateway to serious conversations or for changing the atmosphere in training rooms, for a start. 

The rest of the day was set in an informal tone. Our team got a glimpse into the organisation of the next European Youth Work Convention (happening in Malta, May 2025!), and a teaser into the new European Youth Work Agenda that starts in 2028. In the evening we enjoyed a Community Gathering, where participants had a chance to present their organisations, youth centres, projects, and themselves.

The following day (16/05) was just as intense, dense with valuable insights and information. It started with the third round of forums, this time under the topic of rethinking “spaces” of participation. Our team had the opportunity to discuss case-studies of different ways of encouraging participation in youth. The first part of the forum followed an innovative youth centre in Belgium, where facilitators created a space for young people to explore and get familiar with technology, such as 3D printing, VR, video editors, and many more – all with the intention of the inclusion of youngsters who do not have access to such devices, often from vulnerable backgrounds. The second half of the forum introduced the group to a game created in Bosnia and Herzegovina that doubled as an educational tool for learning about civic participation in the country. The goal of the game is for the players to work together and form a youth council – but they are met with obstacles, just like in real life. Both initiatives were great examples of how one can create the space (whether physical or metaphorical) for young people to learn complex things.

After a short break, we were invited to a broadcasted presentation of research findings of the team working on future forecasting in youth work. The presentation is a prequel to the report that is being finalised right as we speak, called the Futures of Youth Work, conducted by the European Academy of Youth Work research team over a period of 10 months. The team compiled a database of trends from a community of trend-spotters around Europe, and then transformed that data into crucial information relating to the future of youth work and what might impact this profession in a few years or decades. 

The report explores the relationship between rising or dominating trends in Technology, Education, Climate and Sustainability, War and Conflict, Civic Participation, Social Behaviours, Values and Ethics, Work and Economy, Mental Wellbeing, Demographic changes with youth and social work. The results were surprising, predicting multiple different future scenarios that didn’t always fit together. The report acknowledges intersectionality between the topics, highlighting that these “trends” are mechanisms that react to one another, creating new situations to adapt to for youth workers.

After familiarising ourselves with the findings of the report, we were split into groups to discuss real action that can be taken in order to prepare for the future. The question “What can we do as youth workers and what can be done for us?” was discussed in a 4-section structure:

  • What can be done on an individual level to change our mindset about youth work?
  • What can be done on an individual level to affect external developments in the field?
  • What can be done on a collective level to better understand youth work on a personal level?
  • What can be done on a collective level to influence external developments, such as policies and external support?

The discussion that followed allowed us to gain a holistic insight into real action that can be taken in order to make youth work sustainable, adaptable, and supported. A real benefit of the report is its proactiveness in addressing the possible scenarios of the future, giving us a chance to prepare accordingly. It is also important to acknowledge that different countries live in different realities. In some, being a youth worker is not considered a real profession, which highly impacts the outreach and ability to work. There was a collective agreement to be more mindful about boundaries in youth work – we don’t need to be heroes, we just need to be there. 

The day concluded with a party, where participants had the chance to get rid of some of the heavy, serious energy of the afternoon, and have some fun!

The last day of the Academy (17/05) was short, but sweet. The day started with the last round of forums, this time in the topic of Looking towards the future. Our team had the opportunity to gain insight into cross-sectoral collaboration. First, between youth work and the event management sector, and second, between youth work and the cultural sector. Both projects stemmed from a real need for participation in young people, which ensured their success. 

All in all, the 3rd EAYW was a unique and valuable experience for us youth workers. It gave us a great opportunity to expand our networks, broaden our horizons, and be prepared for what the future might bring. We came to a valuable conclusion, that there is a need to shift from individual to collective perspective. We need to re-learn the sense of interconnectedness and think collectively, as the concept of infinite growth is over. 

It’s important to remember that youth work is not in charge of its destiny. It has always been influenced by everything that has been happening, ever. Youth work is a promise to young people – a promise that they’re always going to be heard and supported, no matter what happens around us.

You can find out more about the event on https://www.eayw.net/ 


The sole responsibility of this publication lies with the author. The European Union is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.