Due to economic inequality in society, millions of Latinx high school youth work after-school jobs and summer jobs in order to provide additional income for their families. The purpose of this qualitative study, conducted with transnational Latinx youth, was to identify the engineering-related skills and bodies of knowledge they developed and applied while in different workplaces. This study is framed in complementary theories of funds of knowledge, Vygotskian theories of mediated action, and theories of resistant capital. Specifically, this study is based in the premise that youth can develop engineering-related funds of knowledge through tool-mediated, goal-directed activities jointly conducted with family members and others, and that workplaces can be important sites for the development of funds of knowledge. Workplace activities are situated within sociohistorical contexts in which Latinx workers are often exploited and thus mobilize forms of resistance. A multiple case study was conducted with 20 transnational Latinx youth who currently or previously worked one or more jobs to supplement family income. Data sources included workplace observations, occupational interviews, and semi-structured interviews. We first divided the data by category of business ownership (family-owned businesses versus corporate-owned businesses) to explore whether different types of workplaces, characterized by different hierarchical relations, fostered different types of skills and bodies of knowledge. Constant comparative analytic methods were used to describe the engineering-related bodies of knowledge and skills, including critical resistant skills, that the youths applied in the context of workplace activities. Across different occupations, all youth developed and applied knowledge and skills related to industrial and operations engineering, including the iterative development of processes designed to maximize efficiency and to promote health and safety. While applying funds of knowledge toward their employers’ goals, they also applied these funds of knowledge to make counter-spaces that were more humane, and they expanded technical processes to include a deep consideration of the emotions and well-being of people and animals. Ultimately, the youth mobilized and hoped to mobilize these funds of knowledge and forms of resistance toward more humane workplaces, better living conditions in their homes and communities, and more economically secure futures for themselves and their families. This study does not romanticize exploitative economic conditions experienced by suggesting that Latinx youths’ workplace experiences are positive, but it offers better understandings of the wide range of complex and rich engineering-related funds of knowledge developed in the context of different workplace activities. Educators who understand and recognize these funds of knowledge as assets may be able to design more equitable learning environments that position working youth as experts and core contributors. Educational implications include recognizing youths’ workplace experiences as epistemological resources, and critiquing and transforming systems through expanded visions of engineering. These visions of engineering can include but extend beyond the design of physical technologies, to encompass the design of interacting processes, technologies, and systems. Ultimately this type of education could repurpose workplace-derived funds of knowledge (from serving employers or corporations) toward more equitable futures (serving youths’ personal trajectories and communities).
Transnational Latinx Youths’ Workplace Funds of Knowledge and Implications for Assets-Based, Equity-Oriented Engineering Education.
Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER), 11(1), Article 7.