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The Magic of Mentoring

Introducing People to Possibilities!

Canadian Newcomer Magazine
November – December 2009

Teenaz Javat

Year 2007: Six bags, two teens and a single mother land at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. They are landed immigrants from post-war Iraq. They have no friends in this new city.

Year 2009: A small home, teens on their way to university and their single mother, Aseel Abdulrazzak, now has a prestigious designation to her name, Centre Coordinator, Sheridan Centre for Internationally Trained Individuals, Oakville, Ontario. She also has a lifelong friend in Janice Sidney, Benefits Manager, Halton Region, Ontario.

How did that happen in two short years?

The magic of mentoring had a lot to do with it. For Antony Vadakkanchery, Program Coordinator at Halton Mentoring Partnership Program, Abdulrazzak’s accomplishments is the gold standard of what the program should achieve.

Having lived in Kenya, Tanzania and the United States, before settling in Canada, Vadakkanchery has been through the grind. “It does not always turn out this way,” he says, “Not everyone is as easy to place, nor do they succeed so quickly.”

Concept of Mentoring

Mentoring is all about empowering newcomers.

When we begin the process of immigrating to another country, the immigration counsellors andlawyers who are in a position to advise us, tell us to make sure we have enough capital (money) to survive in a new country for at least six months, as it usually takes that long to get settled. But nobody talks about the social capital we leave behind.

“I left everything behind when I came here. Where to go and what to do with my degrees and third world experience was the million dollar question?

“Everybody wanted Canadian experience. I was lucky that I was directed to the Halton Mentoring Partnership Program and there I met Anthony,” says Abdulrazzak.

For Vadakkanchery, it was not very difficult to match Abdulrazzak to a mentor. On evaluating her, he knew she was capable of performing; all she needed was the right break into the labour market.

“In Aseel’s case, she was armed with degrees in computer science and management and having worked as a resource manager in the British Council in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, she had a fairly good command over the English language. What she lacked was social capital.

“We matched her up with Janice Sidney, from Halton Region who had signed up to be a voluntary mentor with our program, and for Aseel, there has been no looking back,” he adds.

The Mentoring Process

The Partnership Program facilitates the mentoring process. They bring in professionals new to the labour market and try to match them up with a more experienced partner. Newcomers need to build up their social capital, and networking is that tool that will enhance it for them.

“You are only as strong as your network,” says Michael D’Souza, a Producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto. He has mentored several newcomers and has seen their careers blossom, both within and outside of his organization.

“I cannot emphasize it enough, that you may be hired for your skill set, but to retain the job you must know how to conduct yourself. Workplace protocol and etiquette, is what will help you keep your job,” says D’Souza.

This is where the process of mentoring comes in. It provides social connectivity to the profession we are in.

The two variables in the process of mentoring are:

  • The mentor
  • The mentee

Who can qualify?

  • Landed immigrants in Canada for three years or less
  • Bachelors degree or better
  • Three years work experience in country of origin
  • Not born or schooled in Canada
  • Canadian Benchmark Level (CBL) 8 or more in English

The mentoring partnership pairs people according to:

  • Similar interest
  • Similar career
  • Similar education background

The advice imparted to the mentee is lived on and worked on, as the mentor essentially has been down the similar road and is in a position to share both the success and pitfalls. Their role is to show you what you have to do to get to your goal.

The program is spread over:

  • 16 meetings
  • Four months
  • 1.5 hours sessions each
  • For a total of 24 hours

The mentor helps you with:

  • Obtaining memberships to trade organizations if it is important to the work you do
  • Protocol licences
  • Negotiate work place contacts
  • Introduces you to others in your occupation
  • They are not in a position to offer jobs.

“Newcomers usually know the job, but how to go about executing it is intrinsic to their success,” says Susan Carpenter who has so far mentored three mentees and finds it a source of immense satisfaction.

“I have established a lasting relationship with them, long past the designated 16 weeks of official mentoring; I still meet my mentees who are now my friends, over coffee.”

According to Carpenter, who is Manager, Community Employment Services, Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Oakville, “The relationship works both ways, the mentee no doubt benefits, but so does the mentor. Sheridan College was the first educational institution to get on board the mentoring program when it started in 2006 and we have since not looked back.”

Carpenter knows all too well the difficulty newcomers face in navigating through different cultures, bureaucratic red tape, work place dynamics, and much more.

“Everything is just so new, that I have begun to appreciate their efforts much more, ever since I have become a mentor. It is truly rewarding for me. Mentoring has, without a shred of doubt, enriched my life many times over.”

By and large the program is deemed a success. However, it does have its pitfalls.

“I see lots of newcomers looking for the right thing in the wrong way. Not all partnerships are successful, as some mentees are simply looking to land a job from their mentor. This was never meant to happen, as nobody can give you what they don’t have,” says Vadakkanchery.

“What we try and do is empower two individuals to share the best practises in the profession and share the cultural reality of the work place.”

The word mentor may have its roots in ancient Greece, but in 21st century Canada it has taken roots and is here to stay. The Greek Gods may just be smiling!

Reference: Canadian Newcomer Magazine