Evaluation of Generation Work


To improve the equity and effectiveness of workforce systems for young adults, the Annie E. Casey Foundation launched Generation Work to connect more young adults—especially young people of color from families with low incomes—with meaningful employment by changing the way public and private systems prepare them and support their job search. Partnerships of key workforce organizations in five cities were asked to change how their workforce systems operated by better aligning education, training, and support services across organizations; weaving into their systems best practices related to employers and youth training; and incorporating a racial equity lens into their organizations’ work.  

MDRC conducted an evaluation that focused on understanding the process the cities undertook to change and align their workforce, educational, and youth program systems; the strategies they used to infuse a racial equity lens into their work; and the role leaders and funders played in changing the workforce system. The research also documented how young adults experience training programs that contain both strong youth development practices, such as coaching and individualized attention, and strong employer-driven practices (such as sectoral training strategies). 

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

Generation Work focused on helping young people in their first decade of adulthood (ages 18 to 29) who had not yet found their career path. The initiative explicitly took a systems-level approach to change. Rather than create a new, separate program to address issues related to unemployment among young people of color, for example, the initiative asked key workforce organizations and systems (training programs, funders, government agencies, employers, trade unions) in each locality to form a partnership to change the way existing organizations and agencies interact with and serve young adults.

Generation Work partnerships were expected to serve the young people by better aligning the education, training, and support services across organizations; addressing structural barriers related to race and ethnicity that young people face; and weaving into the system best practices around employer and youth engagement (deeper connections with employers and positive youth development, respectively). The Casey Foundation piloted Generation Work in five metropolitan areas: Cleveland, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Indianapolis, Indiana; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Seattle, Washington.

The evaluation of Generation Work has three major goals:

  • To build knowledge on how the partnerships were able to change their systems and the services they provide to young adults
  • To examine the strategies the partnerships used to infuse a racial equity lens into providers’ work with young adults and employers
  • To document how young adults experience programs that firmly have in place both strong employer practices (such as sectoral training strategies) and strong youth development practices, such as coaching and individualized attention. 

While it was hoped that the evaluation would be useful to the partnerships, the ultimate purpose of the study is to inform the field. Findings will be of interest to a wide array of funders, policymakers, and practitioners who wish to increase the job opportunities for young adults and will provide guidance to other entities who wish to achieve similar changes.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The Generation Work evaluation consists of two studies:

  • Implementation Study of System Change describes what system-level changes the local partnerships targeted, what system-level activities and levers they used to achieve their Generation Work goals, and what factors promoted or hindered progress on their goals at the program and system level.
  • Youth Experience and Outcomes Study combines quantitative and qualitative data to describe young adults’ program experiences and outcomes when education and training organizations they are enrolled in robustly incorporate both positive youth development and strong employer practices.   

There are also two blog posts associated with the evaluation: one summarizing what partnerships did to change their workforce development systems to improve the outcome for young people of color and another one about how partnerships tried to make their systems more racially equitable and inclusive.