Monday, March 21, 2011

Immigrants create networks to help them help themselves

Sailboat passes in front of the Toronto skylin...Image via Wikipedia
Suzanne WintrobSpecial to the Star
At 15, Tina Tehranchian graduated from high school and left her native Iran to study at an American university. After receiving a BA in political science and commerce and a masters in communications, she and her new husband returned to Iran. When their son was born, the couple decided to relocate again, to Canada, to build their son’s future.
The 1990 recession was a difficult time to find a job in communications, and even more so for a new immigrant. Tehranchian wasn’t familiar with any employment agencies and “all I kept hearing the same old excuse all the time, ‘You need Canadian experience’ — even though I had U.S. experience.
“But it didn’t seem to count for much.”
To make ends meet, she snagged a job in the financial industry and hoped for the best. “It suited my personality,” she said. She retrained as a Certified Financial Planner and a Chartered Financial Consultant and started building her new career.
About 10 years ago, Tehranchian began volunteering with Family Service Association of Metro Toronto, which was examining employment issues in the Iranian community.
She was thrilled to learn about the many employment agencies helping new immigrants learn the ropes in Canada.
Soon after the Iranian-Canadian Network for Employment and Entrepreneurship Mentoring (ICN) was born, uniting newly-arrived Iranians with Iranian-Canadian business owners and professionals to provide mentoring and help them secure employment.
“One of the biggest challenges immigrants face is how to translate their experiences and their education from back home to the realities of the job market in Canada, and that’s why having a mentor who’s got the exact same background as themselves can be a big help,” says Tehranchian. “It takes all of the cultural differences into account.”
Today, Tehranchian is a branch manager and financial advisor at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Toronto.
She also sits on the advisory committee for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Professional Immigrant Network (PIN), a collection of volunteer-run groups for internationally-educated and experienced professionals. Tehranchian is PIN’s co-chair.
The 70 groups collectively represent more than 25,000 people, and host lectures, workshops and social events throughout the year to help immigrants network with their peers, find jobs in their area of expertise, and give back to the community.
Elizabeth MacIsaac, TRIEC’s executive director, says one of the obstacles new Canadians struggle with is leaving behind their professional connection, and that’s why it’s critical they build a new one quickly.
TRIEC reaches out to immigrants through community agencies, she says.
Yet few immigrants avail themselves of those services when they arrive.
They connect first with professional colleagues who share their culture, history and experiences. It’s about familiarity and trust, says MacIsaac.
This is why TRIEC united all of the groups under the Professional Immigrant Network banner recently.
“Just as one group might be doing mentoring, another might be linking to affinity groups at big corporations,” says MacIsaac. “Another might be holding regular networking and information sessions.
“They can learn from one another.”
The initiative is funded by Scotiabank, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and ALLIES, a project of the Maytree foundation.
MacIsaac says companies have expressed interest in tapping into the groups to recruit employees.
Paula Calderon, president of the Canadian Colombian Professionals Association, came to Canada from Bogota in 2001. She urges new immigrants to spend time researching opportunities and programs outside their own communities, too. She mentions TRIEC’s “networking-beyond-boundaries” event at the Toronto Board of Trade Mar. 31, which unites many Hispanic groups to network with human resource departments from top corporations.
“Nothing has the magic formula, but [researching] will definitely help them save time on how to do things and how to best approach employers,” says Calderon, client relations manager and applicant screener at Career Edge Organization.
“Doing the research on presentation and job search skills is definitely something that takes time. Being well prepared actually saves time in the search. The better prepared you are, the better you present yourself, and the easier it is to secure employment.”
Tehranchian recommends prospective new Canadians start their research well before arriving.
“Do as much homework as possible to find the community groups, to find the service agencies and the programs that you could benefit from, because there are so many free programs available!” she says.
“Try to leverage your contacts and build a network as soon as you get to Canada!”