What are the signals that could shape the future of youth work? And what are the preliminary results of the research on Futures of Youth Work? How can youth work look like in 2050? These questions were tackled at our webinar “Futures of Youth Work”, held on 21st March 2024. Interested to find out more? We invite you to read the summary written by our rapporteur Nik Paddison and to take a closer look at the visual summary created by graphic designer Mireille van Bremen. 


Futures of Youth Work

The European Academy on Youth Work (EAYW) enters its third cycle with the theme of: “Trends, future developments and their impact on youth work”. The third Academy kicked off with the webinar “Futures of Youth Work” on Thursday, 21st March 2024. Over 120 members of the youth work community of practice attended from all over Europe and beyond.


Sonja Mitter, Coordinator of the EAYW, opened the webinar, highlighting the EAYW theme with a series of questions; what will youth work look like in the future? How can we get ready for thinking about the future(s)? How can we act or plan or envision for a future of youth work that at the end of the day we do not know?

Sonja acknowledged that while we can research about the future and make general predictions, we cannot accurately predict it. Thinking about the future encourages us to look at where society is going and as a result where youth work is potentially going. It is up to us to decide if we feel threatened, concerned, or challenged by this. The question we need to respond to is: How will we engage with it?


The webinar was hosted by Anita De Silva and Darko Markovic, they guided the participants through some future thinking activities and the research inputs from Aleksandra Szymczyk and Ozgehan Senyuva. Aleksandra focused on the methodology while Ozgehan spoke about some of the themes that are emerging from it. There were also opportunities for the participants to interact with the researchers and respond to the inputs.



Preparing for Future Thinking

Anita introduced an interactive future thinking exercise for the participants, to create a forward-looking mindset and to inspire the participants with their own imaginations. Anita concluded the activity saying that, “having this mindset where we consider the future doesn’t mean we don’t look at the past. These skills are important for supporting young people to be more proactive in creating their futures.”


The Research Methodology

Aleksandra introduced the research project “Futures of Youth Work” that she, Ozgehan, Gisele Evrard and Darko Markovic have been working on since the summer of 2023. She presented an overview of the research and what it has involved up to this point. She explained that they used foresight methodologies, a concept that originates from the field of future study. The methodology in this context, identifies signals, trends and drivers that have the potential of shaping the future landscape of youth work.


The research process began with something called horizon scanning. This is a systematic approach to gathering emerging trends and signals. To do this, around 50 people (signal spotters) were recruited. They were asked to observe everything going on around them; news, political climate, personal observations, cultural shifts, societal attitudes, innovations, casual conversations, etc. They recorded the signals they observed and submitted them over a period of two months. The team received 159 submissions in total.

The research team also conducted eight interviews with experts in different fields related to youth work on trends and developments. These provided more insights about societal, environmental, technological, and workplace trends. In February 2024, the EAYW brought together some of the signal spotters and experts in a residential “Resonance workshop”. They explored the emerging themes and connections that were already showing up and were able to develop scenarios and possible indications about the future of youth work.


They then divided the results of the research into sets of future trends according to three horizons:

  • Horizon 1 – short term, what is clearly visible and understandable.
  • Horizon 2 – medium term, emerging trends taking shape, though their exact form and impact are not clear.
  • Horizon 3 – long term, highlights challenges and strategic issues that may arise in the long term, but it is difficult to really make sense of them at this stage.


The participants were asked to respond to what they heard and shared some dynamic conversations in breakout rooms. While for some there was a feeling of being overwhelmed and a need for being cautious, for the majority there was an air of excitement, and an interest to hear more. There was intrigue about the methodologies and concepts introduced, and they wanted to know about the results and their applicability.


The Research Content

Ozgehan then shared some of the content of the research. He highlighted that they are purposefully using the term “futures” and not the singular, simply because there are so many possible alternatives. Ozgehan explained that they had identified 16 topic areas. These included, among others, technology, climate and environment, mental health and wellbeing, work and economy, and intergenerational disconnect.


There are themes that can be found running through many of the topic areas, one of the key elements is that youth work needs to adapt, continuously. The research reveals that young people are experiencing anxiety, stress, and a lack of mental wellbeing – although this is a topic in its own right, it is also transversal across many topic areas. Young people are also facing deepening divides in their communities and globally, economically, politically, and on an intergenerational level and are experiencing shifts in social values.


The research shows that young people are and will be needing both psychological and material support, increased critical thinking, ethical frameworks, economic opportunities, local community spaces for authentic connections, boosted political literacy, foresight, interdisciplinary problem-solving, healing and reconciliation, cultural intelligence, and intercultural exchanges.


Connected to this article is a visual of the webinar by graphic designer Mireille van Bremen who explores more of the content of the research in her illustration. You can download the visual HERE.


Reflections from the Participants

The participants had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard from Ozgehan, below are some of their reactions.

“There is change we see coming, change we don’t see coming, change we can plan, but an important element is the speed of change and its impact, how to deal with the speed that sometimes is out of our control?”

“Seeing what we as youth workers do or are facing on a daily basis in writing is a bit overwhelming but also sobering.”

“The challenge for youth work is to focus on its core and to avoid thinking we have to solve all these problems young people are facing these days.”

This webinar marked an exciting and challenging start to the EAYW 2024. Exciting because of the buzz created by the participants toward the Academy itself and to the topic of ‘futures’, and challenging because of the nature of the topic. The level of engagement was high, and the interest was on a high level.


The Next Webinar

The next EAYW webinar, “How future-ready are you?” is on Thursday 18th of April at 10.00 CET. The call for applications is open until 16 April. We are looking forward to seeing you there!


If you are interested in having a look at the recording of our first webinar, please find it down below.