Sustaining Passion for the Out-of-School Time Field
March 16, 2020
Out-of-school-time (OST) professionals place great importance on a passion for their work, building relationships with children, and fostering their positive, healthy development, according to a new study by NIOST researchers. Yet financial instability and a lack of competitive pay may be hindering workers’ satisfaction and longevity in the field.
“A deeper and updated understanding of the OST workforce is crucial to supporting and sustaining the quality and impact of OST program learning experiences for America’s children,” say NIOST researchers in “Sustaining Passion: Findings from an Exploratory Study of the OST Program Workforce,” published in the Journal of Youth Development, Vol. 15 Issue 1.
OST workers “need to feel supported, well-trained, compensated, recognized, and hopeful,” the authors assert. Yet “information on the current OST program workforce is outdated and understudied.” They therefore conducted a study to look at how OST workers perceive their profession and how well its benefits align with their professional needs.
The researchers asked a national convenience sample of 264 OST workers to complete an online survey about the perceived features of the OST field and the relative importance of these features.
Many participants said that what they value most about working in OST is building relationships with children and seeing them change and grow over time. Other respondents said they valued the sense of connection and camaraderie with their co-workers and the opportunity to give back to the community. One commented, “I'm getting older now so the long days are taking a toll, but I stay because I have the passion. Passion doesn't get old.”
Yet respondents said they do not see foundational workforce elements, such as financial stability, a competitive level of pay, and availability of benefits, as being widely available in the OST field. While supports such as training, higher education opportunities, and career pathways have increased over the past decade, wages may not have increased to reflect this growth, the authors say, noting, “Further investigation is needed to determine how wages have shifted over time for frontline workers, and if commensurate with experience, education, and training.”
The authors assert that the continued investigation of OST workers’ “background, experience, perceptions of, and persistence in the field” is “critical to the quality of OST learning and growing experiences for children and youth.” They urge future, larger-scale surveys that make intentional efforts to reach frontline staff and a more diverse national population.