Youth workers do great things when they link young people into services that have programs targeted to their needs. How you know about these programs and services all comes down to your networking skills.
What is networking?
According to the dictionary, networking happens when people and services come together to share information, resources and programs. It’s based on the idea that more can be achieve by working together than on your own. In the modern day world of service provision, this is a necessity.
Many youth workers think networking drags them away from working with actual young people. It’s better to see networking as enriching this work, not replacing it. By knowing who else works in your community, you’ll be able to provide a better service. Linking young people with the best services to meet their needs also gives you time to focus on your own job.
One essential element in networking is being clear on what your job and services are. Having a clear idea of your values and the young people you’re concentrating on helps you to tell others what you do.
Setting aside some regular time to network can pay big dividends in your work. Even if you don’t see the impact until much further down the road. If you’re starting out as a youth worker or chaplain, making time to network clarifies your role and identifies service gaps you can fill. I have a workbook for new school chaplains, along with a 10 week program, that’ll take you through this process.
For those of you who’ve been in the game longer, but need a refresher, check out my article on purposeful practice.
What networking looks like
Just like all aspects of purposeful practice, networking should have some intentionality about it. But you can also grasp opportunities when they pop up. Here’s four things to keep in mind to build great networks:
- Be brave. When you go to meetings, workshops or events it can be easy to stick with your friends. Step out and introduce yourself to others and find out what they do and you might just find a useful connection.
- Join existing networks and groups. Most communities have existing interagency meetings or networks. Ask around and see if you can join in. This is a great way to meet the major movers and shakers and hear what issues are pressing buttons where you work. I’ve dedicated a whole article on making the most of networking meetings to give you even more tips.
- Be responsive. Networking is all about relationships. Make time each day to respond to emails and return calls and texts.
- Be useful. Like all relationships, you need to give as well as take. Be willing to share information, contribute to a shared cause or help others.
Networking is a fantastic way to get to know your community better. You can learn a lot about the resources and services also available. It allows you to connect young people you’re working with into existing support systems. Leaving time for you to focus on areas of need that still need attention. That’s a great use of your time and a real contribution to the context of community work in your space.
What are your tips for building great networks as a youth worker? I’d love you to share your thoughts below.