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What Artificial Intelligence can teach us about youth work.

a 1970's robot sitting around a campfire with a group of youngsters.
What can artificial intelligence tell us about the delicate art of youth work.

Machines are rapidly surpassing humans in their ability to process information and make decisions, so it might seem like a futile endeavor to seek advice from artificial intelligence on the delicate art of youth work. After all, what could a cold, calculating machine possibly know about fostering meaningful connections with troubled teens?

I wanted to find out.

So I asked the following question:

What are the five most important skills that a residential youth worker should either have or develop?

Turns out, even a machine can offer valuable insights into the essential skills that make a residential youth worker truly effective.

Who needs years of experience and emotional intelligence when you can tap into the vast knowledge of a sentient robot?

Our AI guru has synthesized a list of five must-have skills that will elevate any residential youth worker from mere mortal to superhuman status.

The reason behind this idea was a challenge to myself, after all I claim to be able to enhance the skillset of youth workers. If artificial intelligence can enlighten us as to the skills we need to be better, then surely I have something in the bag that could help you enhance those skills?

Before we get into that let’s look at what artificial intelligence had to say (unedited): After each comment I can add my own personal thoughts and tools.

A group of youth workers and a robots face off in the street.
My AI guru synthesized a list of five must-have skills for residential youth workers.

Skill Number 1.

Empathy and Compassion: Residential youth workers need to be able to connect with young people on an emotional level, understanding their struggles and challenges. They should be able to listen attentively, validate their feelings, and offer support without judgment.

Michael's human reaction:

This reminded me of a part in the Solutions Toolkit (free version available) which is central to everything we do. I call it the ‘Curious Inquisitor’ and I illustrate this as follows. In NLP there’s a well known mantra which is the map is not the territory. This being the case then it fits in very well with one of my ‘8 laws of client interaction’ which states the client is the expert of their own life/problem. If we imagine both of these statements are true then there’s only one way forward, to ask the client to find a solution because they are the one’s holding their own map.

The possible routes out of their problem are fraught with dangers that only they can see, its then our job to be curious and navigate their response. If you’d like to know more then you can listen to the free NLP course on my podcast ’NLP in residential youth work.’ here.

I also have an audio course that accompanies the ‘The Solutions toolkit.’ and you can listen to this session for free below.

Answer Number 2.

Strong Communication Skills: Both verbal and nonverbal communication are crucial for building rapport with young people and effectively delivering support. Residential youth workers should be able to communicate clearly, concisely, and respectfully, adapting their approach to the individual's needs and understanding.

Michael's human reaction:

As part of the free course mentioned above we cover communication methods. Although we cover the traditional methods of opening up the door to understanding such as pacing and leading I felt we needed something a bit more natural. Having the aduacity to suggest that I had a better way of working than most body language tutorials I came up with a different idea. It’s designed to strip away any conscious manipulation of the subject and create a path to better communication and trust.

I will also link to the audio session which explains in more detail here.

A young boy does his homework, aided by a 1970's robot
Residential youth workers need to be patient, understanding, and resilient.

Answer Number 3.

Patience and Resilience: Working with young people often involves dealing with difficult emotions, challenging behaviors, and unpredictable situations. Residential youth workers need to be patient, understanding, and resilient, able to maintain composure under pressure and navigate complex situations effectively.

Michael's human reaction:

In my Solutions Toolkit training I talk about the 8 Laws of client interaction. These are laws or assumptions that we can try and adopt with our clients to enable better relationships. One of these laws is “It’s not your problem.” This seems harsh at first but let me explain.

I’ll argue that like a doctor you should be detached from any responsibility for the clients problem. Yes it hurts, yes it’s frustrating, yes we care. However by adopting this as one of the 8 laws we will be able to approach every problem calmly and effectively.

Secondly, also a mantra that I seem to say every single day, that if you are a residential youth worker then you have the greatest job in the world. If you don’t believe that yet then maybe we haven’t known each other long enough.

a surgeon in a t-shirt that says: problem paramedic.
The residential youth worker is the problem paramedic

Answer Number 4.

Ability to Build Relationships: Residential youth workers play a pivotal role in establishing positive and supportive relationships with young people. They should be able to foster trust, encourage open communication, and create a safe and nurturing environment where young people feel valued and respected.

a man and a robot joyfully chatting
Residential youth workers should be able to foster trust, encourage open communication.

Michael's human reaction:

In my training I have a mental exercise called a child audit. This has absolutely nothing to do with policies or procedures tick sheets or cleaning regimes. Instead it’s a way to consider a way of calculating how and why we should have faith in our young people, especially those who are most challenging. The child audit was designed to ask some questions about them and provide an honest assessment of their positive states.

If you missed it the download is here. It can be used on any device or it can be printed, feel free to share it with colleagues.

Answer Number 5.

Adaptability and Flexibility: Residential youth work settings are dynamic and ever-changing. Young people's needs and circumstances evolve, and residential youth workers need to be adaptable and flexible to adjust their approach and interventions accordingly. They should be open to new ideas, willing to learn from young people, and able to modify their strategies based on individual circumstances.

a classroom where all the students are vintage robots sat at desks.
Residential youth workers need to be adaptable and flexible to adjust their approach.

Michael's human reaction:

If you have been to the home page of my website you will see a quote by Bruce Lee:

'Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.'

This struck me so hard because it encapsulated the principle of the Solutions Toolkit. A working framework for residential youth workers that’s designed to work in any environment without effecting your regime or working practices. It does this by implementing what I call the three A’s.

These are Adopt, Adapt and Abandon. I share principles from the greatest change therapies ever devised and yet I believe we should be loyal to none.

Three A's overlapping logo - the action factory
The 3 A's - Adopt - Adapt - Abandon

  • Adopt - Take these strategies verbatim and build them into your work.

  • Adapt - Together we can make changes to help these strategies fit into your own personal job role.

  • Abandon - Permission to fully abandon ideas that don’t work for you. (after trying them.)

a schoolboy walks along with a 1970's robot friend.
Artificial Intelligence wasn't around in my day.

I have to admit I’m impressed with the illusion that artificial intelligence which is exactly what it says 'ARTIFICIAL' created a set of skills that I broadly agree would certainly enhance our work.

I hope that my humble bit of human intelligence and experience was able to create a handful of tools or snippets you can take into your working day.

There’s always lots more information, ideas and resources on my website at


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