Building Partnerships to Improve Employment Training Programs for Young Adults in Cleveland | Cuyahoga County

Research BriefYouth & Young AdultsApr 21 2021

Employment training organizations and agencies often work independently of each other, for reasons that may include interorganizational competition, limited knowledge of each other’s strengths, separate funding streams, and lack of resources (both time and financial). To more effectively serve youth and young adults, many organizations could benefit from opportunities to develop collaborative approaches. For its Generation Work project (see textbox at right), the Annie E. Casey Foundation focuses on increasing organizational collaboration across the employment training system. This case study focuses on how the local partnership in Cleveland|Cuyahoga County established a coalition across two organizations to better serve youth and young adults in the region.

Before 2015, Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) and Towards Employment (TE)—two well-established employment training organizations in Cleveland—had not worked formally together. YOU is known for its focus on serving disadvantaged young adults in developmentally appropriate ways across the region, whereas TE offers a comprehensive set of occupational training programs across a large network of local partners. The Cleveland Generation Work team recognized that this partnership could build on the strengths of both organizations, thereby increasing their programming possibilities and allowing them to better meet young people’s myriad needs as they try to develop stable and strong careers.

About this case study


This case study describes the relational factors that helped YOU and TE jointly develop a local Young Adult Resource Center (YRC). It also highlights how the YRC implemented positive youth development (PYD) approaches to better serve youth and young adults; PYD approaches are the focus of Child Trends’ involvement in Generation Work. The partnership between YOU and TE was built on the development of shared goals, joint meetings, and trainings, with a particular focus on the racial and ethnic equity and inclusion (REEI) trainings. Through the application of PYD principles, the YRC aimed to improve how staff from both organizations support youth and young adults—especially by emphasizing the importance of positive relationships with young adults and improving service linkages and referrals aligned to young adults’ needs.

This case study is one of five that examine how local partnerships in the Generation Work initiative have scaled up and supported the use of PYD approaches in training programs for young people who seek high-quality training and employment. The case studies grew from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s interest in learning more about how the five local Generation Work partnerships integrate PYD approaches in workforce training settings for youth in order to generate systematic knowledge about PYD that other workforce training practitioners can apply.

Key findings

Our team identified five key findings focused on how the partnership was developed and how, through that partnership, both organizations were better able to serve young adults through the implementation of PYD.

  • The two partner organizations, YOU and TE, developed a common mission by participating in joint meetings and trainings. The meetings helped YOU and TE operate as a collective entity that more efficiently serves young people, rather than two separate entities that simply share a physical space.
  • Interorganizational relationship-building fostered common goals and a productive partnership in the YRC. Intentional communication and a shared vision strengthened relationships throughout the initiative.
  • YRC staff who were trained around racial and ethnic equity and inclusion felt empowered to more directly address issues around racism and opportunity for the young people they served. Both organizations built capacity for staff to have difficult conversations about systemic and historical racism. This experience, though difficult for many individuals, brought the partnership team together and built trust by helping members more clearly identify their common mission and each of their roles in effectively supporting young people at the YRC.
  • The Cleveland team—especially staff working with young adults—used the PILOT tool to ensure that the training, employment placement, and other services offered through the YRC were implemented with age-appropriate supportive strategies. Child Trends created the PILOT tool for the Generation Work initiative to facilitate discussions about implementing PYD practices and to identify strategies for improving services when needed. Staff discussed their focus on building respectful, safe relationships with young adults and partnering with them to promote their sense of agency and individual goals in selecting their trainings and placements.
  • To improve recruitment and retention of young adults for training and employment programs, the Cleveland partnership developed linkages between the YRC, other community-serving organizations, and the residents in the broader community. These efforts also helped link young people to services to meet their complex needs.