Age is just a number. (Chris Moyles, Radio1 and Youthwork)

Whats the perfect age of a youth worker? Why is youth work build on a conveyer belt of young adults? What does a youth worker need to be effective? I am a youth worker. And I am 35 years old. This is old for a youthworker. I feel a bit like the Danny Glover charactor Roger Murtaugh in the Leathal Weapon series of films. (His catchphrase “I’m too old for this shit”)

So what to do? There are three main routes open to old youth workers.
1 Management of other youthworkers. – one such model I have studied is build on older experienced youthworkers, managing the face to face time and activites of other younger sessional workers (generalisation I know, but generally true.)
2 Academia – go into studding more and researching, finding a space to ask good questions and find answers.
3 Transfer to a related field – ministry, counseling, community policing, formal education, charity work.

Was think about this with the news that Mr Chris Moyles, aged 40, has decided to move on from the BBC radio1 breakfast show slot. What provoked these questions and thoughts was the interview between BBC radio1 Controller Ben Cooper and BBC radio4 media show host Steve Hewlitt. (transcribed below for you, broadcast Tuesday 10th July 2012, the same day it was announced Mr Moyles would be moving on.)

SH – So why is it right to move on then, in your view?

BC – In my view, I think what I need to do in my role as controller of radio one, is get a new generation of presenters on to the schedule to attract a new generation of listeners. and so toady is part of that wider strategy of altering the schedule.

SH – now, the BBC trust have pointed this out, they have a target for radio one of listenership between 16 and 29, now that’s what they think its key demographic should be. At the moment the average age of listener is 32. more worrying is a sense is that the number of young viewers is going down and the number of old listeners is going up. Do you think dropping Chris Moyles will help you with this?

BC – OK there’s about three things there to try and unpack. Y’know I think. The trust have asked me to get the average age down. as you correctly say from 32, into that bracket of 15-29 year olds. Today’s announcement is part of that strategy, and I think it is right that if the trust are asking me to do that as controller, I make every effort I can to do that.

SH – I suppose the point i was trying to get at was, do you think the age of the DJ per say is a key issue?

BC – Not the age, I think its about your ability to relate to an audience, (being talked over)in general terms, about a schedule, for example

SH – (interrupting) – and he doesn’t?

BC – (continuing) – John Peel was a certain age but still very relevant and very cutting edge in his new music. When you are talking about, and if you want to be more specific about Chris, what I had in mind was he had done this very successfully over 8 and a half years but he couldn’t do it forever. What I wanted him to do was for him to go out at the top of his game.

SH – So in terms of, whats the key then to to attracting young listeners do you think? Is it personality or playlist, is it music or presenters?

BC – Well you’ve got I think, two key ingredients in music radio. so it’s the music you play, so we have looked at our playlists and made some alterations there. Its the people who play those records and whether or not they can engage and get into the zeitgeist of being young in the UK. And then its also about the events that we put on, and i think the combination of those three are the levers of the control that you can play with.

(Click here for programme information)

Mr Cooper makes several key points in relation to what it takes to work with young people.
– Age isn’t important, but your engagement and ability to get into the zeitgeist of being young in the UK.
– Age isn’t important but if you want to work with younger people, you need to employ younger workers.
– You cannot go on forever in the same roll, a new generation of young people needs new people to engage with.
– The main things you can control when working with young people, what you do normally (for radio1 play music), staffing (for radio1 presenters), the things you build towards (for radio1 the events they put on).

I am not sure I agree with everything he says.
I do agree with the first thing in any youthworker is you ability to engage and get into the zeitgeist of being young. I don’t agree that need younger workers to work with young people. Nor that in order to appeal to new young people you need new people in a new roll. The reality is that the perception of youth work as a job for the youth is long standing and wide spread. I also believe that being 35, and having been involved in youthwork as a volunteer and paid worker for the last 19 years i still have something to offer to young people. I have skills and abilities which can be used well. I think there is alot in this and will return to it.

But i wonder why this strikes me now. Is it that I am a 35 year old youth worker. Perhaps my impending move beyond the first half of my life is weighing heavily upon my thoughts, influencing the way I am seeing things. Perhaps seeing my primary self identifying role as direct contact worker with young people disappear from my employment options. Perhaps.

Who better to work with young people than young people?
Perhaps others. Maybe you?