Emotional Intelligence As Competence For Young People

During the past 10–15 years, there has been a striking increase of conservative governments in Europe, often pushed further to the right by the massive emergence of right-wing populist parties. This has had a direct effect on national and international youth policies. The emphasis of the conservative governments in Europe in the last 10 or 15 years has changed youth work from empowering all young people to be active citizens, and from promoting non-formal learning to improving young peoples’ employability, measuring the effectiveness and quality of youth work.

The latest trends in youth work as seen in some of the references in further reading, show an increasing importance given to: youth policy; evidence-based youth work; new and different formats of youth work with greater diversity in forms of youth work; changing interests amongst young people; professionalisation of youth work and new ways of funding and increasing collaboration. The outcomes of non-formal education are seen mostly (but not only) in the labour market and employability, as well as through social inclusion of youth in society, which for sure should be two of the priorities of youth work. But as Otten and Ohana (2009) argue, other targets of European youth work and youth policy should be “developing an autonomous personality, learning to take on responsibility for oneself and fellow human beings, making commitments, developing a culture of reflection and clarity of expression, enabling emotional competence and supporting a positively critical approach to cultural heritage”.

Emotional intelligence has long been neglected within the development of competences for both youth workers and young people. Youthpass and the 8 Key Competences clearly show us the recognised position that emotional intelligence has in youth work: there is no real evidence of the use of emotional intelligence at all. However, we can see some traces of emotional competence learning, such as personal and social well-being, or skills and attitudes essential for conducting intercultural learning activities: empathy, distance from social roles, tolerance of ambiguity (and the ability to represent one’s own identity) or even capacity to use the psycho-social functions of culture in learning processes (Otten and Ohana, 2009).

Some of the impact studies we have checked for this article still have no mention of emotional competence, let alone emotional intelligence. Others went further than just describing what emotional intelligence is.  In the study “Value of youth work” the authors argue, that: “it points to the fact that the development of emotional skills can help societies, if not to fully close, at least to narrow the gap created by socio-economic disadvantage.”

These emotional skills are often described as skills that:

  • Promote bonding; foster resilience; promote social, emotional, cognitive, behavioural, and moral competence; foster self-determination; foster spirituality; foster self-efficacy; foster a clear and positive identity; foster belief in the future; provide recognition for positive behaviour and opportunities for pro-social involvement; foster pro-social norms (healthy standards for behaviour);
  • Emotional skills support:
  • Social skills: communication skills, influencing skills and other inter-personal skills, such as rapport, tact and empathy.[1]
  • Self-regulation: affective capacity – moods, feeling and emotions; self-efficacy – belief in one’s ability to organise and carry out the actions required to achieve personal goals; locus of control – the extent to which one believes s/he has control over the achievement of these goals; motivation; aspiration; application; and persistence.[2]

These are all skills that youth work aims to develop. Spreading and supporting emotional intelligence can seem a difficult task for a youth worker, because it has such a ‘personal’ element. Soft skills are still a bit of a second-class topic, because they don’t produce an immediate and direct response or result. This is also true because we are still not aware enough about the importance and strength of emotional intelligence and emotional balance in our lives.

Interestingly, in the study, Carneiro [3]  also explains that for people from low socio-economic backgrounds, the influence of non-cognitive skills on their later outcomes is greater than for people from higher socio-economic categories. These findings suggest that disadvantaged young people, in particular, can benefit from activities that help them improve non-cognitive skills. These skills lead to better academic outcomes and higher qualifications. Youth work offers such development opportunities.

[1] Catalano et al. (2002) Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs in Prevention & Treatment, Volume 5, Article 15, posted June 24, 2002.

[2] Department for Children, Schools and Families Publications (2010) Aiming High for Young People - Three years on: Evidence annex, [online] Available at: <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DCSF-00336-2010>.

[3] European Commission: Working with young people: the value of youth work in the European Union. 2014. European Commission.


Otter and Y. Ohana: The eight key competencies for lifelong learning: an appropriate framework within which to develop the competence of trainers in the field of European youth work or just plain politics? 2009. European Commission.

European Commission: Working with young people: the value of youth work in the European Union. 2014. European Commission.

Džigurski S. and Marković M.:  Study of the impact of non-formal education in youth work on acquiring competences for better employability of young people. 2014. Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Serbia

Nöjd T. and Siurala L.: Youth work quality assessment: The self and peer assessment model. Kanuuna Publications. 2015.

@Karmen Murn

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