Lindork’s Lists: Q&A #19: Shawna Bourke
Note: this is the public version of my email newsletter Q&A that gets sent to paid subscriber inboxes first every other Sunday. You can get these Q&As in your inbox first by becoming a paid subscriber.
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on Dec 12, 2021
The nineteenth person I’m profiling in my newsletter subscriber Q&A series is:
Shawna Bourke, WorldSkills International Marketing & Communications Director
Getting to know Shawna Bourke:
I am so excited to tell you about Shawna Bourke, the Alberta-based Director of Marketing and Communications at WorldSkills International, a NGO (non-governmental organization) that works to raise the profile and recognition of skilled people (skilled youth) in trade and technology careers around the world.
I first started working with Shawna and WorldSkills just over a year ago supporting her with social media strategy and content management, but have been a big fan of the work of WorldSkills and its 85 member countries and regions for years—having previously been invited to judge a provincial Skills Alberta competition, and working at NAIT—which is a huge training hub for polytechnic, skills education in Alberta.
The more I worked with Shawna, the more in awe I was at the important, literally life and economy-changing work she does via WorldSkills. And how cool it was that she’s doing this work from her home in Edmonton. I mean, pre-pandemic, the job included a ton of travel too, which is also really cool, but seeing what people like Shawna can do remotely these days, that has such a global impact, is just amazing.
“I believe that our global education systems need to better support students discover, find fulfillment, and have equitable opportunities in their chosen career path. My work aims to share their stories and challenge stereotypes. Too often bureaucratic systems, governments and educators talk at youth rather than with them. My favourite element of my work is supporting young people find their voice to challenge the status-quo.”
Shawna truly believes in the power of skills and the value of youth, as well as smashing the patriarchy, which we can all appreciate, lol. I’ve been fortunate to learn from her over the last year and appreciate her humouring me and my repeated suggestions that WorldSkills needs to hire BTS for a future WorldSkills Competition Opening or Closing Ceremony, lol.
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Shawna Bourke:
Can you describe the work you do for WorldSkills International? What the organization is and what you do for it.
WorldSkills is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that raises the profile and recognition of skilled people in trade and technology careers. We work with 85 countries and regions with the goal of showing how important skills are in achieving personal and economic growth. We are best known for our skills, trades, and technologies competitions, which create a platform for skills development at the local, national, and international levels.
WorldSkills International works like the IOC (International Olympic Committee) which oversees the Olympics, we oversee the WorldSkills Competitions.
As Director, I am responsible for the WorldSkills International marketing and communications strategy and brand development. For the WorldSkills Competitions, I work with local teams within the host country for the Competition, overseeing their communications, social media, brand and marketing activations, media operations, ceremony content, and the broadcasting, photography, and video teams.
How did you get involved with the skills movement? How long have you been working with WorldSkills?
In 2004, I was working for the Government of Alberta, supporting their Apprenticeship and Industry Training division when I went to my first Skills Alberta Provincial Skills Competition. I was blown away by the logistical elements and the energy of the students who were taking part.
At the time together with the Government of Alberta, Skills Canada was preparing to host WorldSkills Calgary 2009, the international skills competition. Big events, community building, and supporting young people seemed like a perfect fit for me and I quickly joined the Skills Canada Alberta team. In 2016, I left the provincial organization to join WorldSkills, the international organization that Skills Canada belongs to.
Why do you do what you do? Why is skills development important? Why are you passionate about skills and empowering / educating skilled youth?
I believe that our global education systems need to better support students discover, find fulfillment, and have equitable opportunities in their chosen career path. My work aims to share their stories and challenge stereotypes. Too often bureaucratic systems, governments and educators talk at youth rather than with them. My favourite element of my work is supporting young people find their voice to challenge the status-quo.
What’s something that people might know about, that may be surprising, about working for a global organization?
The dynamics within organizations that operate locally, regionally, or nationally remain the same. Implementing a program across Alberta or across the world will face similar challenges; internationally we just also face timezone, deeper cultural differences, multiple languages, and occasional jet lag.
Finding the path forward remains the same – formulate a bold vision, communicate it, listen to others as though that vision is completely wrong, and find successes to celebrate along the way.
Can you share some memorable moments or ‘successes’ or something you’ve been proud of happening or doing in your time with WorldSkills?
When we were packing up Stampede Park after WorldSkills Calgary 2009, and saying goodbye to all the international organizers, I remember making a conscious statement to everyone that I would see them in London for WorldSkills Competition 2011. I had no particular reason to believe I would be going and no obvious path to get there, yet I could see myself there.
Two years later, I was given an opportunity to volunteer to support the Director of Marketing and Communications at the London competition and at two further WorldSkills Competitions in Germany and Brazil, before applying to work for the organization in 2015.
By that time I had launched many new programs and events, had more experience managing people, earned my Masters in Communications, and gained more behind the scenes experience in hosting the Competitions than anyone else.
What I am proud of is the ability to maximize each opportunity, not for a specific end goal but to be in a constant state of exploration, learning, and self-development.
At the end of a week-long series of planning meetings in Russia, I had multiple members of my talented team reassuring me, my motto of “thrive and not just survive” had resonated. I felt tremendous pride in planting a thought that centred on abundance and wish to bring that concept to more people I work with around the world.
Can you share challenging moments, obstacles or even failures, you’ve had to overcome during your time with WorldSkills (or Skills Alberta—or both!)
Years ago after leaving meeting a particular challenging meeting I took out my notebook and starting piecing together my thoughts on the group dynamics. I started seeing clearly connections on how others were responding, noting unclear messages, and mood changes. After a while I shared by insights with a co-worker who said, “why didn’t you say that in the meeting, you don’t need to be scared to speak up.” Immediately I had felt insecure about my contribution, self-doubt about why I couldn’t piece together those ideas in the meeting, while others seemed to effortlessly contribute (and probably over contribute if I’m being honest).
Shortly after that meeting I read the “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron which was like discovering an instruction manual for my brain. It completely shifted what I thought were my weaknesses into strengths. My observations take time to percolate, but I notice more than those responding in the moment. What I had felt for years as a slow response time, was really a deeper response needing time to formulate. Those insights are my superpower, and they only come when I give them the space, with judgement to formulate.
Something we’ve talked about before is tearing down the patriarchy and really trying to effect social change through WorldSkills work—pushing for diversity, equity, we regularly get rejected from Facebook for trying to talk about social issues, lol—can you talk about why these topics are important to you, and how you’re trying to integrate them into the work you do with WorldSkills?
In World War II, women started working in industries that had exclusively been the territory of men. This paradigm shift could have been the catalyst for systemic change but instead women were pushed out of those careers after the war and the current white male-dominated structures that we work within today were crystallized.
The pandemic could provide the next paradigm shift to address challenges we face today—the climate crisis, and race, gender, and class inequalities if those in power seek justice over comfort.
Can you talk about what it’s like to travel so much for your job? (Well—pre-pandemic). But my understanding is before the pandemic, you’d often be globetrotting for meetings, preparations, and of course WorldSkills competitions. Is it as glamorous as it looks?
Pre-pandemic every six weeks I would travel for a couple of weeks to at least one country for meetings and events. When the pandemic hit I was relieved to have more time at home, but almost two years in my dusty passport is ready for a workout.
I had found a rhythm in packing, airport lounges, long-haul flying, and hotel life that I hope will come back with ease.
The jet lag, hotel food, and lack of personal routine are no match for the adventures I’ve had. I never take for granted the amazing sites I get to see and the people I now call my friends.
When given a weekend in a new city my Poppy Barleys will always be on a Saturday morning walking tour, followed by a museum, a hunt for falafels, and enjoying people-watching at a cafe.
Can you share advice for those who may be working in or interested in working in the marketing and communications field? Is there a ‘rule’ you follow? Is there a recommendation you have to be successful in the industry?
My number one event rule is: “An event is not successful if the people who organized it don’t want to do it again.”
This is true for a family dinner or a major international event. As the teams I lead get bigger and the planning more complex, if I focus on improving my ability to support my teammates, and recognizing my own needs, the other KPI’s take care of themselves.
The constant urgency that communication professionals, particularly in the event space face make them particularly susceptible to burnout. A personal mission of mine is working on ways to address that challenge and create a sustainable path to thriving within the industry.
Can you share advice for those who my be working or interested in working remotely! I think it’s amazing that someone from Alberta can be doing important work with colleagues around the globe. It feels like there are much less barriers to remote work these days.
My working from home advice is rooted in first considering how does your work serve you? Is this a pay check or your life’s work? What sacrifices are you willing to make? What are your non-negotiables?
If you don’t know your “why” then every action becomes reactionary and not intentional.
Working from home is my dream come true. I was Zooming at all hours of the day and night long before the pandemic. I have now potentially over-embraced pandemic life, easily enjoying my introverted ways in comfy pants. To combat this every Friday afternoon, while the rest of the world is firmly in weekend mode I reflect on my week and map out a schedule to make next week “ideal”. Not productive or focused but enjoyable and nourishing (which ultimately leads to productivity and focus, but shhh that’s top-secret). Within the schedule of meetings and commitments, I identify the week’s life and works goals, develop a walking schedule that ensures I see sunlight, even in Edmonton’s winter, and have time for strategic thinking and dreaming.
I’ve found the week doesn’t have to go perfectly to the plan, to start seeing improvements. When my mindset is spiralling negatively instead of positively I reset with an iced latte and an extra shot of grace for myself.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work professionally, personally, or anything that I’ve missed that you’d like mentioned as part of this profile on you?
I am the product of a hard-working, entrepreneurial, community-minded family. Earlier in my career I leveraged that work ethic into confidence but I also started connecting my self-worth to my productivity. A few health challenges later, the toll started compounding, guiding me to seek out a more sustainable way of achieving my goals.
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix (or other streaming services) and why?
Love on the Spectrum on Netflix. Essentially a dating docu-series that follows people on the spectrum finding love. The honesty and vulnerability they display as they look for love matches can teach everyone many lessons on building relationships.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
“The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron. Discovering this book felt like getting an instruction manual for my brain. It completely shifted what I thought were my weaknesses into strengths.
“Flow: the psychology of optimal experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – offers foundational insight into consciously creating happiness by focusing on what motivates us.
“Women who run with the wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the relationship between the divine feminine and the patriarchy, which I wish was everyone, lol
What is one of your favourite restaurants or stores you’d recommend in Edmonton?
Sofra Turkish Cuisine. Turkey is one of my favourite places to visit and Sofra captures the countries spirit beautifully.
If you’ve ever wanted to tour Mediterranean islands in a non-cheesy way, get yourself some Sofra takeout, google gulet cruises, prepare for delicious cuisine, and thank me later.
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
My favourite festival each year in Edmonton is Symphony Under the Sky. Beautiful park, red wine in cute tiny bottles, cozy blankets under the stars, and music lofting around the park—yes please.
Thank you Shawna for sharing your story!
You can connect with WorldSkills on:
You can connect with Shawna on:
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