Students working at Cox Communications. Photo courtesy of Cox Communications

Students working at Cox Communications. Photo courtesy of Cox Communications

As advocated by the San Diego Regional EDC, 20,000 skilled workers will need to enter the labor force each year to ensure the region remains competitive in the global economy. Developing a diverse and inclusive local talent pipeline is critical in filling the jobs of tomorrow and building a robust economy in which all community members can thrive. By providing social capital and experiential learning opportunities to young people early, students cultivate the skills and mindset that propel them into future success and reaching their professional goals.

Nurturing Talent Early

Early career exploration experiences encourage students to discover their career interests and strengths. They realize the possibilities available to them in their local economy and learn the steps needed to reach those positions. When students have time to discover their interests and cultivate their strengths and skill sets, they better understand what careers they want to pursue and have a stronger sense of how to attain their professional goals.

A recent study from Harvard University highlights the value of social capital and “cross-class interaction” as a driver of economic mobility. Developing relationships with people outside of their socioeconomic class is correlated to improved life outcomes such as increased high school graduation rates and an increase in future earnings.

Students receive personalized guidance on achieving their goals when career exploration pairs with intentional professional mentorship. These experiences and relationships build students’ confidence in their abilities and future potential. It also enables students to develop their professional networks and make lasting connections with individuals in their prospective industry.

Private Sector Commitment

Internships and, more broadly, work-based learning have long been regarded as the bridge between academic learning and real-world application. By extending these opportunities to high school students, many private sector companies across industries and sizes contribute to the growth of these young minds and fuel the evolution of a dynamic and diverse future workforce.

Students working in Vertex’s San Diego Learning Lab. Photo courtesy of Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Three examples in San Diego include Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Cox Communications, and Maya’s Cookies. While each is different in industry, staffing size, and functions, they share a common recognition of the professional and personal development these programs provide to historically underrepresented students and the organization’s existing employee base.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is working with schools and community partners to create opportunities for historically underrepresented students in STEAM professions through 8-week summer experiences at their Learning Lab in the company’s office at Torrey Pines. For Cox Communications, this has meant supporting/shadowing various functions at their administrative headquarters and retail locations, from public affairs to field operations. At Maya’s Cookies, students participate in all aspects of a retail bakery with a national customer base, including e-commerce, fulfillment, developing new cookie flavors, and customer service.

These pivotal and paid experiences allow students to explore their career options, establishing a solid foundation to uncover their professional passions through exposure to different aspects of a company’s business.

According to a study by American Student Assistance, more than half of the students confirmed their interest in a career they previously wanted after completing an internship. These programs provide students with an inside look at business operations, empowering them to make well-informed decisions about their future.

By empowering the next generation of scientists, professionals, and entrepreneurs, companies like Vertex, Cox, and Maya’s Cookies are making an investment that transcends the realms of their respective industries. Through paid experiences for youth in historically marginalized communities, they are nurturing a legacy that extends into the core of progress and innovation, igniting a brighter future for a truly inclusive economy and empowered communities.

Making It Work Through Partnership

And yet, solely connecting students to employers – without support, mentorship, and preparation – has often proven inadequate. Central to the success of these unique and diverse experiences is the commitment of the businesses AND the support network of key community partners.

Programs such as Junior Achievement of San Diego County JA Fellows exemplify the power of collaboration and the benefits of providing young people with access to social capital, skill development opportunities, and immersive experiences before an internship or work-based opportunity. Implemented at schools in Chula Vista and Southeast San Diego, nearly 130 hours of instruction (between 3-6 months) and time with industry mentors are intentionally provided to students in historically marginalized and underserved communities before participating in a paid internship.

Common challenges like transportation, insurance/liability concerns, and program quality/oversight can be identified and collaboratively addressed through this ecosystem of partners. Where funding and staff capacity are often barriers, collaboration has fostered an environment that has effectively turned challenges into philanthropic opportunities.

Students working alongside Maya Madsen at Maya’s Cookies. Photo courtesy of JA of San Diego County

By building an ecosystem through inclusive, multi-sector collaboration (public-private-nonprofit-philanthropy), young people are introduced to career pathways and professional networks early on and receive critical access to the tools and opportunities that enable their success.

A Future Full of Promise

These types of programs and initiatives support student development while advancing the inclusive economic growth of the greater San Diego region. Preparing young people for tomorrow’s jobs strengthens the local economy and addresses the regional talent shortage in the San Diego workforce. Connecting students to career pathways earlier is vital to meeting expected labor force demands.

Providing young people with work-based experiences benefits students and businesses. By offering internships to high school students, companies gain new ideas and find future college interns, as reported in a study conducted by and Millennial Branding. Furthermore, nearly three-fourths of employers surveyed say their high school interns would likely secure a college internship with their company. Almost half of employers say they are likely to become employed full-time. Such is the case for Bryan Benavides, a graduate of Lincoln High School who interned with Vertex as a high school senior in 2022 and returned as a college intern in 2023.

Five students in the JA Fellows cohort at Lincoln High School were offered permanent positions after completing their semester-long paid internships. These success stories testify to the value of early work-based learning experiences and connecting young people to opportunities in their local community.


The power of work-based learning experiences and collaborative programs cannot be overstated. By actively engaging with historically underserved communities, these initiatives foster social mobility and nurture a diverse and talented pool of future professionals. These collaborative efforts among community organizations, corporations, and the education sector help to ensure the local region’s competitiveness on the global stage. Empowering the future generation through experiential work-based programs will positively shape careers and communities – creating a brighter future for all.


Sidd Vivek is the President and CEO of Junior Achievement of San Diego County

Britt Davis is the Senior Director and Site Head of Human Resources for Vertex Pharmaceuticals San Diego and a board member for Junior Achievement of San Diego County