WPTI’s Sabeen Pirani Reflects on the Importance of Lifelong Learning

We are pleased to share the first article in a series of reflections from members of the WPTI team on workforce development policy and practice, their specific areas of expertise, and lessons learned throughout their careers. Over the coming months, we will share articles developed from conversations with WPTI team members on a range of topics. We recently spoke with Sabeen Pirani, WPTI’s Senior Director of Learning and Consulting, about her career journey; her work leading WPTI’s training and consulting initiatives and supporting the growth of workforce professionals, leaders, and organizations; and advice for workforce professionals looking to advance within the field.

From Workforce Provider to Facilitator and Learning Leader

Like many workforce professionals, Sabeen Pirani did not initially intend to enter the workforce field, having studied and begun her career in the field of public health. However, after working in youth social entrepreneurship at Ashoka, and supporting young changemakers, she realized her work was increasingly incorporating elements of career development, and she became increasingly interested in this work. After a chance encounter led to mention of an open sheltered internship coordinator position at FEGS, Sabeen applied, and was ultimately chosen for the role. As a sheltered internship coordinator, Sabeen was responsible for designing an internship program for young people with a dual diagnosis who were seeking to gain work experience. At the time, the model for youth services did not generally include job coaching or wraparound support, but the participants in the program – many of whom were aging out the foster care system – required such support. As a result, Sabeen designed and implemented a model of small cohorts of young adults, working at internships sites, with participants receiving a job coach and ongoing supportive services.

While Sabeen entered this role with limited formal training in workforce development, she was empowered to learn and build the program, ultimately leading to successful outcomes, as more than 70 percent of participants moved on to an independent internship, workforce training program, or employment. As Sabeen advanced into managing internship programming at FEGS, and shifting to programming for out-of-school youth, she began attending trainings at WPTI, beginning in 2010 with Keep It Live: Connecting Learning and Work Practitioner Network, a six-month learning group co-facilitated by WPTI and Development Without Limits. According to Sabeen, “That’s when I started realizing there’s other people doing this, with common challenges around this work. Lots of people haven’t had formal training on this.” She continued to learn, both from WPTI and from leaders such as Bruce Carmel and others at FEGS, who invested in her professional development and helped her grow as both a workforce professional and a facilitator of training sessions. To this end, Sabeen became a member of the professional development steering committee at FEGS, where she helped select professional development courses, providers, and more. She also helped form an onboarding committee for her division, establishing new onboarding procedures and trainings for new staff.

After leaving FEGS and working at The Door, where she continued to send members of her team to WPTI trainings, Sabeen ultimately joined WPTI in 2016, where she has grown to lead all of our training and consulting work, including multiple learning communities and cohort trainings, as well as an increasing number of e-learning initiatives.

Continuing to Learn and Grow

While she has advanced into a role in which she is responsible not only for training workforce practitioners, but also designing and developing training curricula for both individual professionals as well as programs and organizations, Sabeen has remained committed to her own professional development and growth. She describes herself as “always learning,” and is constantly reading up on emerging best practices, tools, and strategies for both workforce development and facilitation. She is a member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), and attends ATD trainings and conferences, in addition to staying up-to-date on the resources they provide. In addition to training and facilitation, she has become increasingly involved in strategic planning and program design, and is increasingly looking for opportunities to get involved in work at the systems level. Sabeen was recently selected for the 2021-22 cohort of the Workforce Systems Leadership Program (WSLP), a program designed for emerging senior leaders from New York City’s workforce development system, focused on leadership development and systems change. WSLP is a joint initiative of WPTI and Coro New York.

Advice for Practitioners

Sabeen frequently works with frontline-level workforce development professionals, as well as managers at all levels. She often encounters practitioners at earlier stages in their career, looking for opportunities to develop their skills and advance in their workforce development careers. One of the key recommendations she often makes is for workers to actively seek out opportunities, and to engage colleagues in the field, ultimately tapping into their knowledge and expertise. “Make those connections,” she says. “Talk to people when you’re in spaces and meetings where there are senior leaders. Talk about your accomplishments.” This includes colleagues, both within one’s organization and outside of it, doing similar work in different locations and contexts, in order to better understand both the work and the broader field.

Sabeen also recommends finding a mentor or champion within your workplace, often someone in a supervisory or more senior role, who can serve as an advocate for you, as well as a guide. Lastly, she emphasizes the importance of responsiveness, and how responsiveness can set you apart and lead to increase responsiveness from colleagues, supervisors, or other individuals that could ultimately serve as allies and advocates. “If someone emails me or calls me, I follow up. I don’t let it sit.” And, of course, she encourages professionals to continue pursuing training and learning opportunities throughout their careers, as one should always continue learning and developing skills, as well as remaining informed of emerging best practices in workforce development.

Sabeen continues to be an advocate and supporter of colleagues as well as the practitioners she trains, and is always willing to provide guidance to both individual practitioners and organizations looking to develop their skills, improve programs and outcomes, and advance. To contact her, please email her at spirani@workforceprofessionals.org.