Chris Harper, the RLSS UK’s Youth Advisor to the Management Board, has given us an insight into the Youth Development Officer’s role…

One of the complaints I regularly hear is that young people are simply unwilling to fill the roles that are available on committees. The question this brings to my mind is not “what’s wrong with young people today?” rather I wonder what could be changed to alter that trend.

The first thought relates to why young people might be different to their experienced colleagues. It strikes me that the positions that are not being filled by young people are the ones that remain when longstanding members are unwilling to perform them. Possibly then, it is not a concern about young people but rather one of the positions as they stand. This is a concern for another post and a whole new conversation.

This is also, not a very satisfactory answer in terms of attempting to reverse this apparent trend. I wonder then, are young people being asked to take too large a step? What incentive do young people or people generally, have to sit on their local committees?

I think of the reasons for taking on a role as being split into two categories. The first is having the confidence and experience to fill that role effectively. If someone does not feel they will be able to perform a role well, they are unlikely to be willing to take it on. The second is a selfishly altruistic approach to benefiting one’s own peers.

Often the reason that people move into organisation and management at club level is to help their peers and their friends. They feel that they can provide some input that will change the way those people experience their time in the club. This step is the first step to organise and affect local lifesaving; similar models can be ascribed as local people begin to show an interest in branch and regional activity. They gain the experience and confidence from their involvement at club level and feel that they can provide positive input to help affect decisions that affect themselves and their peers locally.

I draw on my own experience in considering what drives someone to greater involvement in the Society. I joined my branch management committee at 14 as the “Junior Representative”. My motivation was twofold, first I knew people who were current members of the committee and had often heard them speak positively of it.  Secondly, I felt I could genuinely represent the interests of my peers and other young people in the branch, particularly at my club. At that stage I had no desire to take on a greater role. I had neither the experience nor knowledge to progress. I now represent the views of my peers and the young people across the society on Management Board. This progression can be attributed to the mentors that I had locally. This support provided me with the knowledge and empowerment to gain the valuable experience. As I gained experience I gained confidence and discovered that I could progressively affect the way local lifesaving was delivered.

This is where the importance of the Youth Development Officer and Youth Mentor positions becomes clear. The YDO works for the benefit of their peers and their experience as a young person, often seen as a disadvantage, is a key aspect. A Youth Mentor is able to boost the YDO’s confidence and provides them a link to the existing committee, building relationships that lead to that young person being more likely to take on a more senior role to benefit the branch and their committee colleagues.