Why we all have a vested interest in supporting Youth Workers?
Social media platforms are abound with quotes about the importance of staff and workers. One of the most memorable and resonating ones for me is this:
Manager: What if we invest in training our employees and they leave?
Leader: What if we don't and they stay?
Yet despite the popularity of this quote, the 2018 Australian Human Resources Institute Turnover and Retention Report cite that employees leaving their jobs due to a lack of training and development opportunities has more than doubled in just three short years - up from 10.5% to 25.3%.
Further to this, a PwC report on the cost of staff turnover quantifies lost productivity at $3.8 Billion and $385 Million in avoidable recruitment costs.
Youth work staff who work alongside some of our community's most vulnerable members play a critical societal role - often caring for young people who've been left to fend for themselves or in the custody of the State.
How we provide care for these young people can indicate how we are faring as a community.
As the great Nelson Mandela so aptly stated "There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children”
Therefore, the rates of staff turnover in youth work should be of grave concern to us all.
Excessive staff turnover in any sector is a loss.
However, in the youth work sector, staff turnover is exponentially costly because it also impacts on the lives of those youth in care.
Given it is probably safe to assume a high proportion of those young people have already experienced some form of abandonment, rejection, and trauma in their lives, staff turnover can further infect festering wounds from those very experiences.
Building relationships and rapport with care workers who do not show up the next day can incite memories of a family member who promises to visit tomorrow, yet never arrives.
Having to meet a new staff member every month and re-tell the same story of their "favorite color/ meal/ band/ sport" - although well-intended - may feel inauthentic and contrived.
As a community, we need to improve youth work staff retention rates - for the lives of those in care, as well as our collective good.
Their progress is our progress.
Every youth worker I've met, bar none, has entered the field to make a positive difference and act as an agent of change. Many are simply not equipped to handle the realities of working in the field (through insufficient training or unrealistic expectations etc).
Some may not feel supported by the structures and systems of organizations and the macrosystem of government to succeed.
Whatever the reason, the lens through which we see residential care workers must be that these workers are an asset to their organizations, to the lives of the youth in their care, and our community as a whole.
They must be supported to feel valued, and equipped to be effective.
For all sectors, but especially in the youth work sector: the wages of staff is an asset, and staff turnover is a compounding community expense.