Work: Do We All Need a Mentor?

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By Claudio Munoz

When Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Eric Hoskins decided to get into politics, he found himself lost. He was a doctor and activist, always interested in politics. But when he decided he wanted to be politician he had no idea how to actually do it. So he decided to look for help, for somebody with more experience to talk about politics, strategies and how to succeed in a new field.

The same applies to anyone starting anew; recent graduates, employees changing careers and of course immigrants. Everyone who just starts at something needs a little bit of counselling, guidance and encouragement. In other words everyone needs a mentor.

Most institutions like schools or professional associations offer some type of mentorship, like alumni reunions for students or networking events for workers. If you are a Canadian changing careers, chances are you might have a friend (or the friend of a friend) who can help you navigate the path towards success in your new career.

If you are a newcomer you can have a mentor too. Since 2004, TRIEC has been bringing together skilled immigrants with established professionals through The Mentorship Partnership program. Mentors provide immigrants with local insights and access to professional networks, guidance and companionship. Most of the time, the mentor-mentee relationship transforms into plain friendship but the focus is on helping newcomers resume their careers.

According to Anirudh Vij, one of the thousands mentees, the program works. “(It is) very, very effective“, he says. “There are things you don’t know, things that are not appropriate. There are words that you might use back in your home country that are not right here. Especially in the workplace, the language might be slightly different.”

But it is not only the language. Anirudh soon discovered about the little differences that make all the difference. “Somebody who was working as a manager back home might come here and start looking for work at a managerial level. But his or her resume would match a senior role – it is the same job, it is just a different name. Those are the little differences”.

Anirudh got matched with Raees Hussain-Aamir, a senior consultant at Deloitte, one of the companies that partnered with TRIEC (see sidebar for a complete list). The company encourages its employees to get involved within the community, and Raees decided to participate in the program after reading Yezdi Pavri’s newsletter (he is the Vice Chairman of Deloitte). “We got matched (with Anuridh) through Job Start. They sent me his resume, I went through it and it matched my expertise. I thought I could bring some value to him. He has similar technical and analytical job experiences as I what I did, as with my current role at Deloitte.”

It is all about networks.

So far, the program has established more than 5,300 mentorship relationships, a number that keeps growing. It could only get better considering that the matching process got revamped and a new IT system was developed, with more powerful search capabilities. Now it should be faster to match mentees with mentors. Part of the program’s success resides in the efficiency of the matching system: volunteer mentors are matched with the right mentee, not just any mentee.

According to Elizabeth McIsaac, TRIEC’s Executive Director, this year the plan is to continue to grow. The Mentorship Partnership program has been crucial in advancing the careers of new skilled immigrants through industry specific relationships between mentees and mentors. “It is specifically targeted and so it is very effective. It can be the tipping point for an immigrant,” she explains.

The initial approach of the program has been to partner with larger companies such as banks, governmental organization and consulting firms. McIsaac explained that these companies are often able to outreach to a larger number of employees with a range of specific skill sets and professional roles. They also often have the resources to manage and recruit more mentors, who come to the program with a diverse network of contacts and experience. McIsaac also sees a growing potential for small and medium size organizations to get involved in the program. Regardless of the size of the organization, the benefits of mentoring have had a huge impact on the professional and leadership development of staff.

Marta Rzeszowska-Chavent, a senior manager at Deloitte, explains how the program works in her company. “I hold information sessions, two or three times a year so people can learn what is it about, how much time it takes, what they get out of it. […] Our company encourages volunteerism; our employees are always looking for meaningful ways to contribute, to give back. A lot of our mentors are immigrants themselves, they were new immigrants at one time; the program fits nicely because they feel they can help someone else – maybe somebody helped them along the way, or maybe they had no help.”

Anirudh explain that he has been in Canada for four years. “I just recently get my permanent residence; that’s when JVS came in. I just finished my MBA at Schulich (York University’s Business School) and I wanted to work as a consultant. I met Raees, a consultant. I was interviewing when I met him so we start working together right away. His input was very valuable because I’m a newcomer to the industry as well.”

A program survey taken before the economic slowdown showed the rate of success of The Mentoring Partnership program was of 70-80 percent. Today those numbers might be a little less, but not dramatically. It is still a successful tool for immigrants to build a professional network, learn how their industry works here, and find meaningful work; or for companies to reach out to those skilled workers coming to Canada.

Companies are investing in relationships with Toronto’s immigrant population. ScotiaBank, for example, announced “a corporate sponsorship that will support thousands of skilled immigrants to establish and strengthen professional networks across the GTA.” The sponsorship includes an online platform to connect and support members of professional immigrant networks.

Based on their success with The Mentoring Partnership, Deloitte is expanding their mentoring program nationally, starting with Montreal as part of their commitment to local communities’ development.

More and more mentors are joining The Mentoring Partnership program, and more skilled immigrants are being matched. Finding a job is still a struggle but with the right guidance, is just a matter of time.

To get involved, please visit TRIEC’s Mentoring Partnership website. This program is funded by CIC, MCI, Manulife Financial and the Maytree Foundation.

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