Working Conditions for Youth Sector Workers in Estonia in 2023
Estimates suggest that Estonia has approximately 12,300 youth workers, categorized as follows: 43% are recreation school teachers, 28% are coaches, 15% are leisure instructors, and 14% are youth workers. Of these, 67% are women, and slightly less than half have a master’s degree or higher. The survey was the first in Estonia to identify the size and composition of the youth workforce. It also provided an in-depth overview of the working conditions, environment, and organization of professionals working with young people, work motivation, self-development, and feedback system practices.
The study revealed that individuals in the youth field are primarily motivated by intrinsic factors, valuing the significance of their work’s content, the growth of young people, and/or their interests. However, low pay, inflexible working hours, overwork, and stressful work are problems. Concerns also include the lack of recognition and the sector’s poor image.
The survey shows that only a third of workers are satisfied with their pay. Low wages and lack of fringe benefits are the main reasons why they have thought about changing jobs. Most youth workers earn significantly less than the Estonian average: 70% of full-time employees receive a gross salary of under €1500, and 55% receive less than €1300. Additionally, the need to secure extra funding and continually persuade funders and the public about the value of their work contributes to their dissatisfaction.
There is a lot of room for improvement in providing feedback on work and in supporting performance through training, coaching, and education. Youth workers receive the highest number of self-development opportunities, whereas teachers and supervisors of recreational activities receive the lowest number. According to the survey, employers gave very low priority to developing their competences in supporting staff self-development.
The different professions and fields of interest in the sector have very different identities, and many staff, employers, and representatives have doubts about the justification for treating youth work, recreational education, and leisure activities as a single youth field. Youth workers have a clear and growing identity, while those working in recreational schools have a strong but tense identity: they do not feel part of the youth field but of the education field. Recreational instructors are the most uncertain and weakest, as they do not have a coherent pathway, no professional qualification system, no job security, and many unstable contracts.
The authors of the study put forward the need to increase the national and local youth budget as a central recommendation. This would make it possible to increase the salaries of staff, which would make it easier to recruit skilled workers, to take part in paid training, including management training, to improve the working environment, to develop a motivating package of fringe benefits, and to set up a replacement and support structure for staff.