Q&A With Shannon Block: PAIRIN’s Newest Team Member And New Chief Strategy Officer

Q: Shannon, tell us a little about what brought you to PAIRIN.

I joined PAIRIN because I saw an extraordinary opportunity to align my passion for fostering equitable and personalized education and career pathways with the company’s innovative approach, making these not just aspirational goals but accessible realities for all. PAIRIN’s technology and strategies offer practical solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in education and career development today. This alignment of values and the potential for impactful change is what motivated me to be a part of PAIRIN.

I was drawn to PAIRIN’s commitment to empowering visionary leaders across various sectors, including government, civil rights organizations, non-profits, trade associations and educational institutions. One of the key aspects that impressed me about PAIRIN was the team’s agility and ability to swiftly respond to the evolving needs of these sectors. Their insights and data-driven approach enable informed decision-making, which is crucial for innovators dedicated to transformative change. PAIRIN’s unique blend of speed, insight and commitment to equity resonated deeply with my own professional aspirations.

Q: What did you do before you joined the PAIRIN team that set you up for this new role as Chief Strategy Officer?

Before joining the PAIRIN team, my tenure at the Markle Foundation played a pivotal role in preparing me for the position of Chief Strategy Officer. In my various executive roles at the foundation, I was deeply involved in driving systemic change aimed at increasing access to quality jobs. This experience was instrumental in shaping my understanding of the complex challenges and opportunities within the workforce development ecosystem.

At the Markle Foundation, I had the opportunity to engage with a diverse range of stakeholders. This included listening to and understanding the hopes, dreams, fears, and realities of individuals from various backgrounds – whether it was delivering on goals for governors, aligning funding support, or addressing workforce challenges. Such interactions enriched my perspective and honed my ability to empathize with and address the needs of diverse groups.

Moreover, my role required me to navigate and lead complex projects, often involving cross-sector collaboration. This experience will help me at PAIRIN, where strategic thinking, coalition building and the ability to drive transformative change are essential. 

Q: As the Chief Strategy Officer what are your main responsibilities?

In my role as Chief Strategy Officer at PAIRIN, I help accelerate the impact of our initiatives in the education and workforce sectors. This includes actively supporting the needs and aspirations of our stakeholders, which include educational institutions, workforce agencies and policy makers. My approach involves developing and implementing strategies that not only align with their objectives but also expedite the achievement of meaningful results.

By addressing the unique challenges within these sectors head-on and identifying innovative solutions that can be rapidly deployed and scaled, we can facilitate opportunities for growth and development, not in incremental steps, but through significant leaps that bring about substantial and lasting benefits for all involved parties.

My responsibility extends to ensuring that these strategies are adaptable and responsive to the evolving landscape of education and workforce development. This involves a continuous process of evaluation and refinement, allowing us to stay ahead of trends and effectively respond to the dynamic needs of the communities and individuals these sectors serve.

Through a collaborative and service-focused approach, my goal is to contribute to creating effective, sustainable solutions in education and workforce development, ultimately impacting state policy and community outcomes positively.

Q: How do you stay informed about industry trends and developments?

Staying informed about industry trends and developments in the workforce and education sectors is a multifaceted process that requires both a broad perspective and a deep understanding of the nuances within these fields. My approach to staying informed is as follows:

  • Focusing on the Job Seeker’s Perspective: In all of these endeavors, I ensure that the perspective of the job seeker remains central, especially job seekers that don’t have a 4 year degree. Finding common ground among partners in these trends is essential for driving collaborations that truly benefit those seeking education and employment opportunities.
  • Engaging with Diverse Stakeholders: I actively engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including educators, workforce professionals and policy makers. By discussing their strategic plans and visions, I gain valuable insights into the current state and future direction of these sectors. This approach helps me stay grounded in the realities of the field and aware of the evolving challenges and opportunities.
  • Participating in Strategic Planning Sessions: Collaborating with other organizations during strategic planning sessions is another key method I use to stay informed. These sessions are valuable for understanding the broader landscape, identifying common challenges and exploring potential solutions. They also offer opportunities to build partnerships and collaborations that are grounded in a shared understanding of industry trends. This alignment ensures that our strategies are not only informed by but also contribute to broader objectives.
  • Continuous Learning and Curiosity: My commitment to staying informed is underpinned by an attitude of open-mindedness, curiosity, and a willingness to continuously learn. This involves being receptive to new ideas, perspectives, and approaches that challenge my existing understanding and push me to expand my knowledge base.
  • Engaging with Thought Leadership: I regularly listen to podcasts, participate in webinars and attend conferences that focus on the latest trends and innovations in education and workforce development. These platforms offer a wealth of knowledge from thought leaders and practitioners in the field, providing me with diverse perspectives and cutting-edge information.

Q: How do you plan to foster innovation within the PAIRIN team?

PAIRIN’s existing culture of innovation is one of the key reasons I was drawn to this organization. The team has already demonstrated a remarkable capacity for innovative thinking and problem-solving. My plan to foster innovation within PAIRIN is about building on this solid foundation and introducing strategies to amplify impact.

My tenure leading Global Innovation initiatives at Deloitte has been instrumental in shaping my approach to nurturing innovation. This experience taught me the importance of blending creative thinking with strategic execution. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Engaging with our users, partners and other stakeholders can provide valuable insights and inspire new ideas. 

Q: What are you most excited to work on in this role at PAIRIN?

In my role at PAIRIN, what excites me the most is the opportunity to work on initiatives that have the potential to create impact at scale, particularly in personalizing and democratizing career pathways and making education more relevant and accessible.

I am enthusiastic about leveraging PAIRIN’s capabilities to expand our impact on a larger scale. This involves not just reaching more individuals but also deepening the quality of our interventions in the education and workforce sectors. The prospect of making a tangible difference in the lives of a substantial number of people is why I do this work.

  • The heart of my excitement lies in the development and refinement of personalized career pathways. I am eager to work on innovative strategies that tailor career and educational guidance to individual needs and aspirations. This personalization is key to empowering each individual, recognizing their unique talents, circumstances and goals.Ensuring that these pathways are equitable and accessible to all, regardless of background, is a critical part of my role that I am particularly passionate about. I am looking forward to tackling the challenges that come with eliminating barriers and creating inclusive opportunities, especially for underserved communities.
  • Another area that excites me is the opportunity to contribute to making education more relevant in the rapidly changing job market. This involves aligning educational programs with future workforce needs and ensuring that learners are equipped with the skills and knowledge required in the evolving professional landscape.I am also thrilled about collaborating with various stakeholders – from educators and policymakers to industry leaders – to drive systemic change. This collaborative approach is essential to ensure that the solutions we develop are well-rounded and effectively address the multifaceted challenges in education and workforce development.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is deeply rooted in empathy and understanding, focusing on building meaningful relationships and finding common ground. It’s characterized by a blend of self-awareness, social awareness, and a genuine care for the relationships I nurture. At its core, my approach is about understanding and connecting with people’s hopes and dreams and guiding them towards realizing these aspirations. My leadership style focuses on:

  • Empathy and relationships
  • Collaborative vision
  • Grateful, open and learning-oriented
  • Connecting personal growth with organizational success
  • Accountability and follow through

My leadership style is about inspiring and guiding our team to achieve excellence, ensuring that our actions reflect our high standards, and that our collective journey is marked by meaningful progress and impactful results.

Q: What PAIRIN Value do you most connect with?

In reflecting upon PAIRINs core values, I find a deep connection with all of them. However, if I were to identify one as foundational, it would be the first: “Value the whole person.” This value resonates with me profoundly because it embodies a holistic approach to both personal and professional development. It acknowledges the fast-changing nature of our world and the diverse ways in which individuals gain skills and improve access to quality jobs.

Appreciating diverse perspectives, skills, interests and lifestyles is crucial in today’s ever-evolving landscape. By respecting multiple life roles and accepting people where they are, while caring enough to encourage growth, we lay a foundation for all other values. This approach fosters an environment where every individual feels valued and empowered to contribute their unique strengths.

Q: What are some of your hobbies and interests?

Living in the beautiful state of Colorado, my hobbies and interests are deeply intertwined with the natural wonders this place has to offer. One of my greatest joys is being outdoors, embracing the serenity and adventure that nature provides. I particularly cherish hiking with my daughter and our two Bernese mountain dogs. These hikes are not just a form of physical activity; they are moments of bonding and experiencing the beauty of nature together. Another activity that I am passionate about is kayaking on Lake Dillon. The tranquility of being on the water, coupled with the picturesque views, offers a perfect escape and helps me recharge. It’s these moments of peaceful exploration that I find incredibly rejuvenating.

Away from the allure of nature, I have a profound love for dancing. Dancing for me is a celebration of life, an expression of joy and freedom. It’s a way to connect with others, share happiness and just let go in the rhythm of the moment. Laughter also plays a significant role in my life. I believe in the power of laughter to bring people together, to lighten the mood and to make even the ordinary moments memorable. 

Furthermore, I have a deep interest in understanding deeper consciousness. Exploring the realms of mindfulness and self-awareness is something that I find both intriguing and fulfilling. It’s a journey that has helped me grow and connect more profoundly with myself and others.

Lastly, I enjoy the simple pleasure of floating down a lazy river. It’s a metaphor for my approach to life – moving with the flow, enjoying the journey and appreciating the scenery along the way.

Q: What is one book, movie or podcast that you would recommend?

If I were to recommend a podcast, my top pick would be “Last Week in AI.” This podcast offers weekly audio summaries of the most interesting and significant news in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). It’s not just the news coverage that makes it compelling; the podcast also features insightful editorials that comment on recent events and developments in AI.

What I appreciate most about ‘Last Week in AI’ is its ability to distill complex topics into accessible and engaging summaries. It keeps listeners informed about the latest trends and breakthroughs in AI, while also offering perspectives on the broader implications of these advancements. Whether you’re an AI enthusiast or someone curious about how this technology is shaping our world, this podcast provides a concise and informative overview of the field’s current state. It sheds light on both the opportunities and challenges posed by AI, making it a valuable tool for anyone interested in the ethical, social and economic aspects of emerging technologies.