Youth workers support young people to improve their health, education, training and employment opportunities.
Youth workers usually earn
$18-$28 per hour
Senior youth workers usually earn
$28-$35 per hour
Source: Ara Taiohi, 2018.
Pay for youth workers varies depending on experience, responsibilities and location.
- New youth workers usually start on the minimum wage.
- More experienced youth workers in specialised areas usually earn between $19 and $28 an hour.
- Senior youth workers who work as team leaders or managers can earn from $28 to $35 an hour.
Many youth workers work part time. Some do part or all of their job as volunteers, or receive payment for expenses only.
Source: Ara Taohi, 2018.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Youth workers may do some or all of the following:
- build relationships with young people and their families/whānau and peers
- establish relationships with communities, schools, training providers and employers
- provide support, information and resources
- help young people connect with social services
- plan, deliver and evaluate programmes and events for young people
- write reports, prepare funding applications and manage budgets.
Skills and knowledge
Youth workers need to have knowledge of:
- how to work effectively with young people
- practices and resources that are useful for working with young people
- youth culture and their communities
- physical and mental health issues among youth
- laws and policies that affect young people.
Youth workers specialising in working with Māori communities also need to have knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga (language and culture).
- may work full time or part time, shifts, long or irregular hours, or be on call
- work indoors in youth centres, community facilities and offices, schools, homes, churches, marae and government agencies, or outdoors when running camping or sports activities
- may travel locally to meet people they work with, and nationally to attend workshops.
What's the job really like?
Youth workers often start as volunteers
I was a youth leader at our local church and loved hanging out with the kids.
I was studying to be a PE teacher but the youth pastor at Massey asked if I'd ever thought of doing youth work as a profession. I switched to a diploma in youth and community studies and I’m glad I made the move.
My work at Evolve varies – I might be mentoring, helping people access Work and Income benefits and fill out forms, going to appointments, or helping with Study Link and study options.
I also run groups, anything from intense groups like helping people with mental health issues to board games.
Support and time out vital
A big thing is supervision [having professional support for your role]. When I was a young youth worker I didn’t think I needed it, but you just can’t do this job without having someone to talk to confidentially.
In my first youth work job it was hard to get away. My wife and I were both bringing work home and weren’t having time together. It just got too much.
Now we talk about work on the way home but once we get home we don't, so it’s calm and peaceful – that’s been huge – you need to have some breathing space and unplug at home.
Youth worker video
Mavis finds out about being a youth worker - 5.30 mins. (Video courtesy of Learning State)
Clinton: Your questions are about to be answered Mavis. You’ll be spending this evening with Sonya Struginski a youth worker with Te Ora Hou, a Christian-based organisation working with Māori youth.
Sonya: The quality that we look for in youth workers is one needs to be their heart for young people, it’s not really about yourself, it’s about the young people that you’re working with.
Clinton: These young people have been referred by whānau, Child Youth and Family or the police.
Mavis: I’m feeling nervous, and excited too! So yeah, it’s a new experience for me and I can’t wait.
Sonya: Mavis' role tonight will be primarily to support the new girls that are coming along so it’s not all swimming for her unfortunately, but she’ll have a good time, I’m sure of it.
Clinton: Sonya , Mavis and the girls have arrived at the beach and meet up with the rest of the group. Time for action.
Sonya: It’s about the people coming together and feeling safe in a safe space, and that’s our role – to provide somewhere they feel comfortable, they feel nurtured, they feel that they belong, they feel that they’re part of something.
Sonya: Tonight we have a very special guest, I’d like to welcome Mavis Paetai!
Sonya: Listen up closely, because she’s got the instructions!
Mavis: OK, we’re going to play this game, can everyone hop into pairs?
Sonya: Observing Mavis, I think she’s amazing.
Mavis: There’s three moves, and the names of the moves are “princess”, “horse” and “knight”. What are they?!
Crowd: “Princess”, “horse” and “knight”!
Sonya: She has got a good relationship with young people already and is ready to help people, so I can really see her going forward in youth work.
Clinton: There’s plenty of fun and games, and opportunities to learn new skills. These outings provide the troubled youths with a safe environment to relax from life’s stresses and a chance to confide in and get the support they need from their youth workers.
Sonya: A lot of times they just want to have someone listen to them, and if they want your opinion or advice, they’ll definitely ask for it, and if they don’t want it they’ll tell you!
Sonya: Yum! Dinner! Hey! You’re on the wrong side, mate!
Sonya: Oh you can have a dinner break, watch what you’re doing!
Clinton: This is no nine-to-five job. Organising and participating in camps, holiday programmes, and weekly outings can require working irregular hours.
Mavis and crowd: Singing.
Mavis ad Sonya: Hi! How are you?
Client: Good! How are you?
Sonya: Good to see you!
Clinton: Once a month Sonya visits the home of the youths she’s been detailed to. Today she’s catching up with Tayla and her mother Bianca who will shortly be moving to Australia.
Sonya: We’ve just come to catch up with you about Tautoko, so I can show you some photos.
Bianca and Tayla: Oh yeah!
Sonya: It’s quite important for us to go to their house, where they’re comfortable in their space, to be where they are, and sometimes you might just go and sit on the doorstep, and you do that for a whole year of visiting and that’s OK because that’s where they feel comfortable.
Sonya: So this is just some footage from the camp that we went to in Hastings.
Sonya: it’s one thing to pick the young person up and take them up for a programme, but it’s another thing for them to know you, to trust you. Because at the end of the day, you’ve got their child in your care.
Clinton: Tayla's mother, Bianca, can see how Sonya’s input has helped her daughter.
Bianca: I think she’s really lucky to have Sonya with her, and her journeys that she’s doing and what she’s doing. Any little problems, now she goes “Text Sonya” you know, and Sonya is there for her.
Clinton: With the family moving to Australia, Sonya’s support will be missed.
Tayla: I don’t want to leave club.
Sonya: You don’t want to leave?
Tayla: It’s like my other family.
Sonya: Sometimes you build such good, close working relationships with young people and sometimes you see them go through hard times, and also when they move on into other areas, or they move away, it’s also pretty hard to say goodbye.
Sonya: See ya.
Clinton: Mavis’ time with Sonya has given her a good insight into the importance of the role of a youth worker.
Mavis: Just observing and taking on that responsibility makes you think, that’s what a youth worker does, not always having fun or always interacting with kids, you actually have to take a big responsibility, and watching and seeing how the kids react or how things affect them, and all those kinds of things.
Clinton: To become youth worker you will need a natural interest in helping others, any voluntary work with youths and teenagers will be helpful. Youth workers may move into social work, counselling or teaching with further training. There are two options to becoming a qualified youth worker. You can go to an education provider that runs NZQA-approved qualifications in youth work. Or if you have a job with a youth work organisation, you can study towards your qualification through work-based learning.
There are no specific requirements to become a youth worker. However, most employers prefer you to have a relevant qualification such as a New Zealand Certificate in Youth Work (Level 3 or 4), a New Zealand Diploma in Youth Work (Level 6), or a similar qualification in a Māori context.
You will need to pass a police check, and hold a full driver's licence if travel is involved.
Senior level youth worker qualifications
To work as a senior youth worker you need either a New Zealand Diploma in Youth Work (Level 6) or a Bachelor of Youth Development.
- Careerforce website - information about the New Zealand Diploma in Youth Work
- Unitec website – information about the Bachelor of Health and Social Development (Youth Development)
- WelTec website – information about the Bachelor of Youth Development
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
There are no specific secondary education requirements for this job, but NCEA Level 2 health education, social studies and te reo Māori are useful.
Youth workers need to be:
- good leaders and communicators who can relate to people of all ages and cultures
- good problem solvers who can remain calm in an emergency
- honest, ethical and impartial, and able to keep information private
- energetic and enthusiastic, with a sense of humour
- able to work well under pressure
- well organised.
A lot of youth workers want to save the world, but we can’t do everything. You need to know your limitations, and if you can't help someone you refer them to someone else.
Useful experience for youth workers includes:
- voluntary work with youth, such as at a youth work agency, or sports coaching
- work that involves helping people, such as teaching, counselling, social work, community work or church work
- work with an iwi or Māori community or social service, or with people from a variety of cultures.
Ara Taiohi, the national body for youth workers and youth work organisations, recommends working towards membership of Korowai Tupu, the professional association for youth workers.
Find out more about training
- Careerforce ITO
- 0800 277 486 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.careerforce.org.nz
- Ara Taihohi
- 04 802 5000 - email@example.com - www.arataiohi.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Good demand for youth workers
Demand for youth workers is good due to:
- more organisations recognising the importance of providing services to young people
- more youth workers being recruited into multi-disciplinary teams where people in a variety of roles work with young people
- a high turnover of youth workers creating vacancies.
Half of all youth workers are under the age of 35.
Volunteering can help you get into youth work
Youth work volunteering will give you hands-on experience and increase your chance of getting paid work.
Contact youth organisations directly or ask at your local volunteer centre.
Types of employers varied
Youth workers may start with volunteer or casual work.
They may work for:
- local and central government
- charitable or religious trusts and marae
- schools, education or community facilities and youth clubs
- live-in or justice institutions
- kaupapa Māori organisations.
- 24-7 website, accessed July 2018, (www.24-7youthwork.org.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Zintl, J, development manager for Korowai Tupu, Ara Taiohi, careers.govt.nz interview, July 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
With further training, youth workers may move into social work, counselling or teaching roles.
- Social worker job information
- Counsellor job information
- Primary school teacher job information
- Secondary school teacher job information
Youth workers may specialise in working with Māori or other communities.
Last updated 21 January 2020