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13/08/2018 The vocation of youth | OUPblog




The vocation of youth

Evaluating Civic Youth Work: Illustrative Evaluation Designs and Methodologies for Complex Youth Program Evaluations




AUGUST 12TH 2018

e all benefit when young people understand their strengths and talents and use these to make the world a better place through direct action,
service, and leadership. We use the idea of vocation to describe this process of them coming to understand their strengths and talents and
how these can be applied to address issues they care about in their community. Vocation captures the idea that young people live in a world
that poses questions to them and their life is often the answer to these questions. In our own work with young people, we never met a young person who
did not have a public issue that they cared about on a personal level. They all heard at least one question the world was asking of them. 1/4
Raising Thethe
young people’s awareness about what issues matter to them and vocation of youth
strengths | OUPblog
and talents they have facilitates learning about their vocation: how
they can “make a difference” In our experience, seeing young people as having a vocation challenges common youth programs, services, and policies,
which understand young people as deficient and not ready to take on real issues that matter to them. Youth programs, services, and policies often work to
create oases for young people to protect them from what is going on in their neighborhoods and often limit what information they receive as well as what
questions they can ask.

Having access to safe spaces, this year’s international youth day theme (, facilitates and supports young people
learning about their strengths and how they can make a difference on issues they personally care about—their vocation. The access to safe spaces
correlates with positive identity development, political efficacy, wellbeing, and empowerment. The idea of vocation strengthens our understanding of these
spaces by aligning them to values of participation, inclusion, and creativity and practices the amplify youth voice, youth involvement in decision-making,
and youth action. The idea of vocation also challenges the concept of safe space, reminding us that safety should not equate to limiting information or
removing risk. Vocation provides a useful frame in designing and facilitation youth safe spaces.

The access to safe spaces correlates with positive identity development, political efficacy, wellbeing,
and empowerment.

The Vocation of Youth

There is lack of invitation for young people to apply their strengths and talents to make a difference. Instead young people receive messages to wait, hold
back, and focus on self-development, while simultaneously being told they are self-absorbed. To add to the inconsistences facing young communities, the
world refers to the younger populations as the “next generation” or “the future”, while core systems don’t allow this next generation to have a say in what
their future looks like. In these tumultuous times, safe spaces provide ballast and opportunity that young people may not find in broader society.

The danger is to take the metaphor of safe and safety too far. While opportunities for young people to discuss ideas that matter to them, work out ways of
responding, and taking joint action on these are required, we have to be aware that too often these spaces can work to isolate and segregate young people
from broader discussions and direct action. Safe spaces work best when they invite courage and acceptable risk, and create opportunity roles for young
people. Those who have worked with young people in violent, marginalized, and excluded communities have substituted safe spaces for dignity,
courageous, and/or challenging spaces. They make these revisions to illuminate the purpose of safe spaces. These are only short-term oasis from the
troubling situations in society. When safe spaces become isolating and segregating spaces the world loses. We lose the strengths and talents young
people possess that should be contributed now to creating a better world—to making a difference.

Featured image credit: Balcony by Devin Avery. CC0 via Unsplash (

Michael Baizerman, PhD, MS, MS, is Professor and Director, Youth Studies, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, and Adjunct
Professor of Youth Development Leadership, University of Minnesota. He has taught in Youth Studies since 1972 and also carried out
community-consultation on youthwork and youth studies locally and internationally.

Ross VeLure Roholt, PhD, MSW, is Assistant Professor, Youth Studies, School of Social Work, and University of Minnesota. Before joining
the Youth Studies faculty, Dr. VeLure Roholt worked for two years in Belfast, Northern Ireland on issues around youth civic engagement and
youthwork practice. He has consulted both locally and internationally on youthwork practice, especially in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine

They are the authors of Evaluating Civic Youth Work (

and Civic Youth Work, ( published by Oxford University Press.



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