Generation Work is a national initiative spearheaded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to explore innovative ways to connect young people to training, support systems, and employment opportunities. The program, which was launched in 2016 in Cleveland, Hartford, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Seattle, was conceived to fill a gap in workforce development programs, Allison Gerber explained. “We didn’t feel that there were enough workforce development programs that served young adults. Programs that were developed to serve those who are 18 and over were not well positioned to meet the developmental needs of younger people. At the same time, programs that were serving younger populations typically did not have strong connections to employers. We needed to braid youth development and demand-driven practices together so they work in tandem,” she said. Generation Work has set out to tackle this challenge, as well as growing racial inequities in the workforce training and employment realms.
Public Works supported the Casey Foundation by designing and running a grantee selection process for the initiative. We analyzed and framed outcomes and performance data from a high-performing set of youth workforce partnerships and used this information to inform how the initiative could most effectively increase the impact of demand-driven workforce strategies in youth employment programs. We also worked to ensure that the goals we investigated aligned with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s mission. Managing the initial approach to the selection process was important to the Foundation, Gerber said, because rolling out an RFP at this scale was a “mind shift” for Casey, which had not typically used an RFP process to make multi-year, multi-site grants before this project.
Public Works also wrote a request for proposals aimed at understanding each applicant’s sense of opportunity and vision, their ability to implement, and their overall fit. Throughout the proposal period we provided technical assistance to proposers to advance their understanding of the goals of the initiative. Ultimately, the Annie E. Casey Foundation was “able to make some hard choices in a way that felt comfortable. They were good choices and we picked partnerships that have made a contribution to the field individually and collectively,” Gerber said.
The choice of these partnerships has undoubtedly contributed to the effectiveness of the program to date. “We went with really high performing partners because we believed they would be able to maintain completion and placement rates while scaling to incorporate additional partners and serve more young people. For the most part this idea has been supported. Most workforce development programs are meant to be relatively short-term, but young people often need additional time to complete it. Our partners have kept them engaged while scaling up their programs, so that’s great.”
While the goals of the initiative have remained constant, strategies have shifted as the partnerships grew into their roles. Gerber pointed to of centering racial equity as a turning point in the initiative, saying, “We became aware that if we did not build the capacity of local partners to use a racial equity lens, the program would not work. Coming out of the Great Recession providers became really focused on moving young people to work. Service providers often felt that they did not have power to influence employer practices. At the same time, employers struggled to on-board and retain young people of color. We saw an opportunity to reframe the power dynamic and teach providers to recognize their value proposition.”
She also said that this program has differed from many workforce programs because of the length of each engagement. Providing the emotional and developmental support that is central to the program takes time, understanding, and flexibility, and the partners chosen through the initial RFP process have excelled in this area. Not only have the partnerships been “able to work with young people to support them as they find work and go to school,” Gerber said, they’ve also understood and incorporated “the idea of taking a pause – not exiting a young person from a program because they need a break from their education or training, but working with them and maintaining contact. The relationship with a caring adult is so important. We’ve heard again and again and again, the ability of staff to be able to bend over backward to extend themselves to young people is a policy challenge but is also essential. We need to support ongoing engagement in a less structured way.”
The fact that partners have been able to implement racial equity trainings and support more fluid and caring outreach, all while scaling up programs and advocacy at a policy level, is viewed as a big success for the initiative. “Our partners are doing a tremendous job,” she said, “[they’ve] learned a great deal about youth development techniques, racial equity, and program building that will continue to be valuable.”
To learn more about Generation Work, read the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report on the initiative: Generation Work – Equipping Young People with In-Demand Employment Skills and Credentials