Key Concepts of the Project

We know that the name of the project  “Voluntary Youth Work Recognition for Employability” itself may appear complex from the first sight.

We summed up the key terms and definitions in order to create a common understanding.

Here we present how the European Institutions define the main concepts. Some of them are broad terms, so we encourage you to share your own thoughts and ideas with us.

Youth Work

What is youth work? There is no short answer to that question. To get a glimpse of how complex a topic youth work is, let's have a brief look at three definitions of youth work used by the European institutions.


The new EU Youth Strategy for the period 2019-2027 views youth work as “civic and socio-educational activities that give young people life skills and act as a bridge to society, especially for disadvantaged youth”[1].

Hence, youth work has been given a role in the development of society. Youth work experts have defined youth work in policy contexts as “actions directed towards young people regarding activities where they take part voluntarily, designed for supporting their personal and social development through non-formal and informal learning”, and youth workers as “people working in direct contact with young people, carrying out activities designed for supporting their personal and social development through non-formal and informal learning”.[2]


[1] European Commission (2018), “Engaging, Connecting and Empowering young people: a new EU Youth Strategy”, Brussels, 22.5.2018 COM(2018) 269 final.

[2] European Commission (2015), “Quality Youth Work – A common framework for the further development of youth work. Report from the Expert Group on Youth Work Quality Systems in the EU Member States”.

Youth Work



The CoE too has adopted a rather wide view of youth work, though it keeps its focus slightly more on young people. Though it recognises the social nature of youth work, it puts less emphasis on the social functions of the practice:

"Youth work is a broad term covering a wide variety of activities of a social, cultural, educational, environmental and/or political nature by, with and for young people, in groups or individually. Youth work is delivered by paid and volunteer youth workers and is based on non-formal and informal learning processes focused on young people and on voluntary participation. Youth work is quintessentially a social practice, working with young people and the societies in which they live, facilitating young people’s active participation and inclusion in their communities and in decision making[1].


[1] Recommendation CM/Rec(2017)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on youth work (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 31 May 2017 at the 1287th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)​.

Youth Work



The co-operation programme between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth, known also as THE EU–COUNCIL OF EUROPE YOUTH PARTNERSHIP, maintains a rather broad understanding of youth work:

"Youth work is a broad term covering a large scope of activities of a social, cultural, educational or political nature both by, with and for young people. Increasingly, such activities also include sport and services for young people. Youth work belongs to the area of “out-of-school” education, as well as specific leisure-time activities managed by professional or voluntary youth workers and youth leaders and is based on non-formal learning processes and on voluntary participation".

This definition builds on five features of youth work:

  • Voluntary participation of young people

  • Listening to the voice of young people

  • Bringing young people together

  • Connecting to young people’s lifeworld

  • Broadening young people’s lifeworld. [1]

Youth work nowadays is seen to have a role in supporting participation in the formal education system and in learning in non-formal environments, in the transition to the labour market, in addressing social exclusion, in supporting civic activism and participation and in helping young people to obtain healthy habits. Also, violent radicalization and the social integration of refugees appear among social issues youth work has chosen to address.


[1] Webpage of the EU-CoE youth partnership. Youth Work, a very diverse field of practice.


Volunteering refers to an activity or a set of activities which take places through a non-profit or a community organization, with no financial payment for the work done by the volunteer. The volunteering experience might be portrayed as a set of learning opportunities and personal or professional development for the volunteer, having as aim to be of benefit to the community. The volunteer involved with the activities might be a professional in the field offering the expertise and aiming at supporting the individuals and impacting the communities’ development, or might be ones involved with activities with no link to their profession, but driven by personal motivation and willingness to help.

Voluntary and Paid Youth Work

The new youth strategy by the European Commission makes no distinction between paid and volunteer youth workers, the Council of Europe definition mentions paid and voluntary youth workers separately and so does the definition used by the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership.

The distinction between paid and volunteer youth workers is an appropriate one to make. Volunteering is a rather common practice in youth work today; the number of volunteers greatly outweighs the number of paid youth workers in the EU[1]. The situation, however, is not similar in all countries. On the contrary, the share of volunteer youth workers and their role varies significantly across European countries. In Ireland, the number of youth work volunteers in 2012 was 40 145 while the number of paid employment was 1 397, constituting thus only 3.3% of all youth workers[2]. In Scotland in 2017, the youth work sector had a workforce in excess of 80 000 and more than 70 000 of them were volunteers. Hence, only 10% or less of youth workers were paid youth workers[3]. In the Netherlands, the number of volunteer youth workers seems to greatly exceed the number of paid youth workers; exact numbers are not available because there is no count of volunteers[4]. In Estonia, the situation seems to be the opposite. According to an online survey carried out in 2017 among youth workers, only 8% of youth workers were involved on a voluntary basis, 79% identified themselves as being employed full-time and 13% on a part-time or seasonal basis. The total number of youth workers in the country was not known, but was estimated to be approximately 7 000[5].


[1] Dunne A., Ulicna D., Murphy I., Golubeva M. and James M. (authors), European Commission (editor) (2014), “Working with young people: the value of youth work in the European Union”, p.13. 

[3] Green L., presentation at the Youth workers education and work pathways seminar in Brussels, 31 May to 1 June 2018.


Refers to the set of achievements, skills, understandings and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment, stay in employment and to be successful in their chosen occupations. Employability of individuals depends on: (a) personal attributes (including adequacy of knowledge and skills); (b) how these personal attributes are presented on the labour market; (c) the environmental and social contexts (incentives and opportunities offered to update and validate their knowledge and skills); and (d) the economic context.


In the European youth field, the term recognition refers to the position of non-formal learning and youth work in legal and public administration systems, and in society at large. The recognition of the non-formal learning is a process that aims at validating the learning outcomes achieved at the end of the learning experiences structured with non-formal education tools, instruments and methodologies.


Validation means a process of confirmation by an authorised body that an individual has acquired learning outcomes measured against a relevant standard and consists of the following four distinct phases:

1. IDENTIFICATION through dialogue of particular experiences of an individual;

2. DOCUMENTATION to make visible the individual's experiences;

3. a formal ASSESSMENT of these experiences; and

4. CERTIFICATION of the results of the assessment which may lead to a partial or full qualification.

Formal Learning

means learning which takes place in an organised and structured environment, specifically dedicated to learning, and typically leads to the award of a qualification, usually in the form of a certificate or a diploma; it includes systems of general education, initial vocational training and higher education.

Non-Formal Learning

means learning which takes place through planned activities (in terms of learning objectives, learning time) where some form of learning support is present (e.g. student-teacher relationships); it may cover programmes to impart work skills, adult literacy and basic education for early school leavers; very common cases of non-formal learning include in-company training, through which companies update and improve the skills of their workers such as ICT skills, structured on-line learning (e.g. by making use of open educational resources), and courses organised by civil society organisations for their members, their target group or the general public.

Informal Learning

means learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure and is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support; it may be unintentional from the learner's perspective; examples of learning outcomes acquired through informal learning are skills acquired through life and work experiences, project management skills or ICT skills acquired at work, languages learned and intercultural skills acquired during a stay in another country, ICT skills acquired outside work, skills acquired through volunteering, cultural activities, sports, youth work and through activities at home (e.g. taking care of a child).

© Social and Youth Workers 2019