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Armenian youth workers on job shadowing in Finland

Armenian youth workers on job shadowing in Finland
In the first half of October 2019, we had a pleasure to host Gayane and Angela, Armenian youth workers from Gyumri, the first Armenian youth centre, who came for a job shadowing project to witness the Finnish system of youth work first-hand. Read the story of how their visit looked like and how they compare the youth work in two countries.

Hello all,

we are Gayane Arakelyan and Angela Janoyan from Armenia. We are representatives of Gyumri “Youth Initiative Centre” NGO and we work in the first and the only open youth house in Armenia. We came to Finland to take part in the job shadowing project for youth workers funded by European Union programme Erasmus+. This project gave us an opportunity to develop our competences as youth workers, exchange practices with Finnish youth workers, discuss approaches, values, methodology and results of youth work processes in the 2 countries.

During our stay, we have visited several youth houses in Virrat, Alavus and Tampere, where we had a chance to experience daily work of a Finnish youth house and approaches to work with young people. At the same time, we also learnt about the Finnish youth work system in general.

This experience naturally led us to the comparison of the Finnish and Armenian youth work contexts and systems. And here goes a brief version of our findings. 


History vs non history

Looking at the histories of youth work in the two countries, one fact is common: long processes for the field development. Finland has a really rich and long history of youth work and youth policy. The history of youth work and youth development in Armenia is, in many respects, a non-history. If there is a history, it is only a short one. Even though Armenia has now endorsed its State Youth Policy Strategy, the discussion about youth policy is in many ways only at the beginning.

The main state actor dealing with youth issues in Armenia is the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport. The only normative document approved by the Government by now is the “State Concept on Youth Policy” adopted in 1998. It was developed by the Youth Department of the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs and serves as a basis for the National Youth Policy and it defines youth work as: “Youth work is an activity that is conducted with the youth and youth groups or it is a type of activity that is aimed at giving solutions to the key problems of the youth”.

What might be interesting is the principle that gives the youth and NGOs’ initiatives and programs a higher priority compared to state initiatives in the relevant spheres.

In Finland, youth work is regulated by the Youth Act. According to the current Youth Act, youth work should aim at “supporting young people’s growth and independence, promoting young people’s active citizenship and empowerment, and improving their growth and living conditions”. The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for the overall administration, coordination and development of the national youth policy, and for the creation of favorable conditions for the pursuit of the policy in the central government.

How the system works 

A fact worth mentioning is that in Finland, youth work belongs to the responsibilities of local authorities (municipalities) and local authorities are responsible for creating framework conditions for youth work. Municipalities are responsible for providing youth services at the local level: organizing activities at youth houses and targeted youth work and funding local youth organizations. Congregations, national and local youth organizations and non-governmental organizations are working alongside municipalities in organizing youth services. 

From our perception, it is really important that Finland sees the youth as a priority and carrying out youth activities is mandatory for local authorities. In comparison, the youth work in Armenia is provided mostly by non-governmental organisations.

In terms of funding, there are also big differences. In Finland, it is the Ministry that gives funding for municipal youth work, national youth organizations and other organizations doing youth work. At the same time, it provides education for youth work professionals. 

In Armenia, youth organizations receive funding mostly for a short-term projects from different grant schemes. This is one of the main challenges for systematizing youth work, as relying on such funding does not contribute to the sustainability and continuity of youth work. Seeing the practice in Finland and its sustainability, we would really like to have the same sustainable system in Armenia and stable state funding.

When talking about the structure of youth work, in Finland it is quite systematic. For example, following types of youth work are provided: international youth work, social youth work, outreach work, youth workshops, church youth work, preventive and targeted youth work. In Armenia, there is for now only one open youth centre - Gyumri Youth House that is doing daily youth work with youngsters from 13-18 years old.

When comparing the work of the Finnish youth houses that we have visited to our youth house in Armenia, we have noticed some similarities and differences between them. In Gyumri Youth House, we provide following services: individual and group work, consultations professional orientation and guidance, educational clubs, workshops and trainings, study visits, entertaining and informal events. Here we noticed one big difference between Finnish youth houses and the Armenian one. In Finland, youth house is mostly a space where youngsters can hang out, spend their free time and organize it the way they want. In Armenian Youth House, the main focus is on educational activities. There is a programme for every week and young people can choose in what activities they want to participate. But youngsters can also come just to use the space and resources provided by the centre. Another difference is that in Armenia, the workers in the youth club are volunteers whereas in Finland, the youth house has its employees-youth workers who do this work as their regular job.

In the Finnish Youth Act, the term “young people” refers to people under 29 years whereas in Armenia, this term refers to people from 16 to 30 years. In Finnish youth houses, there can be time slots for visitors of different ages. For example, from 2-4 PM, the house is open for kids of 10-13 age group, and after 4PM the older ones can come. In our Armenian Youth House, all youngsters aged 13-18 can come from 2-6pm. Our house also organizes summer day camps for kids of age 10-13. The leaders of the camp are “older” young people who visit the youth house. In Finland, the youth houses are closed during summer holidays.

What we liked a lot in Finland is the concept of Youth councils which is great for the communication between youngsters and local government. In Armenia, the term “Youth Council” exists only on paper but not in practice. And so it is again the NGOs that implement many projects and activities where voices of young people can be heard and where youngsters are encouraged to participate and contribute to the life of their community.

And then there is the education and training of youth workers. In Finland, there are several study programmes providing qualifications for work in various positions in the field of youth work and leisure activities. The situation in Armenia is a bit contradictory. On one hand, there is a number of people who work with young people on professional basis and according to their qualifications can be considered as youth workers. On the other hand, the terms “youth work” and “youth worker” are not defined in any of the political documents regarding the National Youth Policy. So in reality, there are experts working in this field but they are politically invisible. This situation makes defining quality standards for youth work more difficult and creates possibilities for double standards and low quality services. At some Armenian universities, it is possible to study social work which in some ways can be close to youth work but anyway, the current situation requires a more systematized approach in the youth work field. Also because now the issues of quality and recognition are much more important than before.

Thanks for the great opportunity! 

Gayane and Angela took part in the job shadowing project for youth workers funded by Erasmus+ programme. Learn more about the opportunities for networking and training for youth workers here.

Page modified: 13 May 2024

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