Just back from the Commonwealth Conference on the Education and training of Youth Workers which held in Pretoria, South Africa, from 18th to 20th March 2013,  Ajiroba Oladipupo, Executive Director at The Environment Advocacy and Management Initiative (TEAM), provides a synopsis of what transpired in this brief report below

Some participants at the conference

Some participants at the conference

The first Commonwealth Conference on the Education and training of Youth Workers just came to an end in Pretoria, South Africa. The conference which was held from 18th to 20th of March 2013, at the University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, had delegates from over 40 countries of the Commonwealth as well as delegates from other countries across the world. The conference raised attention on the professionalization and standardization of Youth Work and its practice; which is a key issue in nurturing the potential of the young people.

This inaugural conference had speakers drawn from Ireland, Australia, the United Kingdom amongst others. It was a platform to share t experiences, challenges and lessons learnt on developing strategies to recognise youth work as a profession. The conference was hosted by the Government of the Republic of South Africa in partnership with the Commonwealth Africa Regional Centre, University of South Africa and the National Youth Development Agency in South Africa. The 3-days conference which held under the theme Towards the professionalisation of youth work is based on the foundation that youth development practice is a profession like any other and therefore must be streamlined in order to meet the standards required for any profession. The conference discussed the challenges faced in the recognition of youth work as a profession, the often limited job opportunities for trained youth workers and limited options of trainings for interested people in youth work.

In 1973, Commonwealth leaders created a dedicated Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) to train government staff and other interested persons with the skills and knowledge to lead youth empowerment work in their member countries.

Over the subsequent 40 years, CYP has partnered with member governments and academic institutions to provide education and training for youth workers through programmes such as the Diploma in Youth Development Work – delivered by more than 30 higher learning institutions – and short courses. With the Commonwealth’s support, the University of the West Indies in the Caribbean recently launched a new Bachelor’s Degree in Youth Development Work, with over 150 students from 16 countries now enrolled. Motivated by the success of this programme and as well as the importance of regularisation of the youth work profession, Commonwealth is leading the effort of professionalising youth work.

The conference was declared open by the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, Jacob Zuma. In his opening remarks, he emphasised – “we are all present here today because young people hold the key to our future. We can only prosper if there are dedicated efforts to invest in the youth.” He further mentioned that while training has taken place for many youth workers, the sector is still not recognised as a profession. The South African President said the conference will go a long way towards raising awareness so that practitioners can be recognised accordingly.

“This conference enables an opportunity to support young people in their pursuits, and in particular, to appreciate the efforts of youth workers as they are the frontline providers of services to the youth, be it healthcare, education or developmental work.”

Ajiroba at the University of South Africa, Pretoria, venue of of the conference

Ajiroba at the University of South Africa, Pretoria, venue of of the conference

In his speech, Mr Zuma applauded the Commonwealth for its investment in youth and education, given that more than 50 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population is under the age of 30. “The future of the Commonwealth is tied inexorably to the future of young people,” he said.

In her speech to delegates, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba said: “In many Commonwealth countries, youth work is still an emerging discipline and profession that needs to take greater root in the national development strategy. Investing in the development of professional youth workers will bring together, at local and national levels, the persons with the right skills and approaches to engage and support young people who still remain as an untapped potential in many respects.”

Key issues discussed on the conference agenda included but not limited to; creating a map of current programmes for educating and training youth workers, sharing national experiences of professionalising and creating awareness of youth work, current qualifications and research on the sector, and a Commonwealth framework on moving towards standardisation of youth work.

Delegates were also implored to explore the promotion of youth work through national youth policies and programmes and the formation of youth worker professional associations and a Commonwealth Youth Workers’ Association.

The outcomes from the conference which has been captured by the Commonwealth Secretariat will feed into the 8th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in Papua New Guinea from 15 to 19 April 2013 for discussions, ratification and subsequent adoption.

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Rotimi Olawale, co-founder of is a youth development expert. For more than six years he has been involved in leading youth advocacy efforts mainly around the Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, he represented Nigeria as a youth ambassador at the United Nations Global Youth Leadership Summit held at the UN Headquarters in New York. Rotimi has held several global leadership positions including; member, UNFPA Global Youth Advisory Panel for 2 years; member, African Youth Panel. Rotimi is currently involved in shaping local, national and global policies to benefit youth and also leverage opportunities for young people. He was listed by the Nigerian government as one of 15 Nigerian youth on the world stage in 2008.