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Mentoring matters

Local mentoring program helps immigrant professionals advance their careers

January 2010
Good News Toronto

Natalia Dobrynina and Emily Mills

Kenneth and Alan_sm_for site

Kenneth Chiguvare, with his mentor Alan Keith.

Professional networks are invaluable to job seekers, but most skilled immigrants do not have access to such networks, or understand how to navigate their job search in Canada.

Skilled immigrants have high levels of education, but many may not know enough about the job market in Canada, or understand how to translate and sell their international skills and experience.

Mentoring can make a difference.

Just ask Kenneth Chiguvare, a business analyst from Zimbabwe who arrived in Toronto in January 2009.  Kenneth has struggled to find employment in his field although he holds a Master’s degree in management studies from the United Kingdom and brings global experience in sales and business analysis, data management and quality assurance.

He has produced sales forecasts for major corporations such as Cairns Foods, monitored mass product orders for clients including Hilton Hotels, and analyzed data to inform national governments about importing goods.

Despite his solid professional background, Kenneth needed advice about how to learn and adapt to the local job market in Canada. He then signed up for The Mentoring Partnership, a program of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).

Kenneth was matched with Alan Keith, Vice pPesident of 20|20 Assessment™, by JVS Toronto, one of several community partners that deliver the mentoring program in collaboration with TRIEC.

With Alan’s guidance and support, Kenneth gained insight about the Canadian labour market and attended job fairs to interact directly with employers.

“The biggest challenge I have faced is lack of Canadian experience and I have learned a lot from my mentor on how to answer related questions from employers,” Kenneth says.

Kenneth welcomed tips about how to improve his resume and how to better prepare for job interviews.  Based on his Alan’s advice, Kenneth even conducted informal market research before his interview with a Canadian garment distributor by visiting local retailers in Toronto to learn more about the product and how the company might improve sales.

“I have never met a person so happy, positive, energetic, and understanding [of] what he needs to do to follow an effective job search formula,” says Alan.

Kenneth has also mastered the art of “cold calls” which is how he found his current customer service position, where he often works nights. It’s a promising start but Kenneth still has bigger dreams to work as a business analyst again, so he continues his job search each day.

Kenneth’s “unrelenting thirst for self-improvement” and proactive attitude is truly inspiring. “Kenny believes the past does not equal the future,” Alan says.

The pair’s one-on-one professional relationship has not only enriched Kenneth, but Alan has gained new perspectives and experiences as well. As a professional development expert and executive coach with 20 years of experience, Alan serves several corporate clients in Africa but has never mentored a business professional from the continent. For example, through this mentoring relationship, Alan learned how communication styles in Zimbabwe – from mannerisms to everyday phrases – differ from the norms in Canada.

“We need to truly understand why people are different and celebrate things that make them unique.  For Kenny, we also needed to understand how to adapt his skills to the Canadian workplace,” Alan says. “But before you can coach people for success, you need to understand them.” Mentoring is one way to increasing cross-cultural understanding.

To recognize Kenneth’s determination and effort, Alan nominated and presented Kenneth with the 2009 Mentee of the Year Award at TRIEC’s 4th annual Mentoring Partnership Awards, sponsored and hosted by TD Bank.

“A great mentee is one who is resourceful, who is wiling to take risks and try out, act on, the advice that’s been given to them by their mentor and really leverage the opportunity that has been presented to them,” said Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of TRIEC.

Natalia Dobrynina and Emily Mills are part of the communications team at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).

Reference: Good News Toronto

Photo credit: Mansa Photography