WQ-Workforce Intelligence Blends Rigor in K-12 CS Education with Work Experience

The rise of computer science education as an integral part of a comprehensive learning experience is framed as essential in opening access for all students to achieve success in an increasingly globally-connected economy (SBE adopted CS standards 2018). Research supports tying academic rigor through CS concepts and practices to work based experiences (WBL), spotlighting the benefits of honing communication, creativity, problem solving, and collaboration by doing. Through internships, co-ops, job shadowing, career exploration, on the job training, and mentoring students in high-quality WBL gain technical skills and academic credentials that lead to high-demand, well-paying careers. WBL “supports entry to postsecondary programs both by sparking interest in particular fields and by demonstrating the real-world value of classroom learning. This relevance, coupled with work-based learning’s role in reinforcing classroom learning and its potential to provide students with needed financial support, also supports persistence and completion” (Jobs for the Future & Cahill, 2016).  

Livable Wage Jobs (LWJ) developed a signature approach to WQ-Workplace Intelligence where youth are co-designers in paid internships that emphasize excellence in work produced, kindness, resilience, curiosity, risk, responsiveness, positivity, learning, written and verbal communication mastery, teamwork, adaptation, and the freedom to fail. WQ as envisioned by LWJ collaborators took shape six years ago, when the team began working with LA County’s Downey Unified School District to connect 11th graders to summer internships at local businesses. When the pandemic hit, the team shifted in-person internships (115 students in 2019) to paid virtual internships for 180 that focused on actively exploring potential occupations aligned to career interests. The internship model, recognized by Fast Company as a finalist for Innovation by Design in Learning in 2020, has since expanded from Downey —where 70% of K-12 students qualify for free/reduced price lunch and 89% are Hispanic/Latino—to districts around the state. Interns identify an industry-specific problem they want to learn more about, often linked to high school coursework, and are coached by mentors with expertise in experiential learning and tech specialty areas.