Raising Youth Worker Wages

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Brooke Harvey , Project Associate
Joyce Shortt, Co-Director
National Institute on Out-of-School Time
Wellesley, Mass.

While there is no question that the road to increasing compensation for youth workers has been long and progress slow, it should be recognized that solving the youth worker wages issue is not an isolated task, but just one piece of the workforce development puzzle. A recent national effort is crafting a strategic plan to open the door to improving worker compensation and career pathways.

With funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and the AED Center for Youth Development and Policy Research are tackling the dilemma of inadequate compensation with a big picture approach. Our strategies and recommendations will focus on several critical factors that impact youth worker compensation.

First, we must develop an accurate portrait of the workforce. Right now there is no categorical way to account for or describe youth workers. In order to accurately inform policy and create opportunities for professional development and education, advocates need more information about staff at all levels: who they are, their skills and credentials, how they are compensated for their work, how their work is organized, how they experience their day-to-day responsibilities, and what kind of support they need to develop professionally, stay in the field and make a career out of the work.

Our team has identified the additional data collection and analysis needed to achieve an effective national workforce development strategy. Our strategic plan also makes a rallying cry to youth workers. The youth worker voice is often lacking in policy-making circles or venues where policy development is discussed. A campaign must be undertaken to organize youth workers at all levels to advocate for worthy wages.

Finally, we must determine the true cost of financing programs. Despite the groundswell of interest in and funding for out-of-school-time programs, little is known about the actual costs associated with running programs. Identifying the true cost will provide advocates with accurate data to influence policy-makers, speak to the media and begin adequately investing in and compensating staff.

In order to build a skilled and stable workforce for youth programs, we will need more than a plan. We will need support from within the field and the public to ensure that investments in a high-quality workforce will pay off with better experiences and opportunities for the young people of this country.

Ann Mitchell Sackey
Executive Director
Greater Philadelphia Federation of Settlements
Philadelphia, Pa.

Few topics may be of more interest to youth worker practitioners than ensuring a decent wage. Youth Today, however, is incorrect in stating [“Worthy Wages for Youth Workers,” September] that such topics get less discussion because of poor prospects for improvement, fear about unionization, and the self-fulfilling expectation by management that entry-level staff won’t stay, so why increase their pay.

In 14 cities across the nation, several organizations, including the Greater Philadelphia Federation of Settlements, are working to help youth workers earn a higher wage. In Philadelphia, this project is BEST Apprentices and is being spearheaded by the federation in partnership with academics, employers, funders and policy-makers.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Philadelphia BEST Apprentices is designed not only to help youth workers earn more money, but also to enhance their skills and earning potential through apprenticeship training that creates a professional career path in youth development.

Several national organizations also are a part of this effort, including the National Training Institute for Community Youth Work (NTI) in Washington, D.C. NTI recently published findings on the impact of its 15-city national BEST Initiative. The study supports Youth Today’s premise: “Many stakeholders and youth workers see salary and employment benefits as related to the low professional status of the field.”

The federation and NTI are working hard to change this, to both promote the positive development of our children and youth, and to ensure that the people employed to do this are provided a career track for their professional growth and development.


Youth Today welcomes comments by mail or e-mail. All letters must include the author’s name, job description or other connection to the youth work field, and phone number or e-mail address. Please send to: Letters to Editor, Youth Today, 1200 17th St. NW, 4th Fl., Washington, DC 20036 or info@youthtoday.org.