Friday, March 25, 2011

Mentoring new immigrants

Mary Teresa Bitti, Financial Post · Mar. 18, 2011 | Last Updated: Mar. 24, 2011 11:53 AM ET
Gautam Nath is very active in Toronto’s immigrant community. In addition to being director of Cultural Markets Research at Environics Research Group, he is a director on the board at Multilingual Community Interpreter Services (MCIS), has been invited to join the advisory board of York University’s Internationally Educated Professional (IEP) Bridging Program and mentors newcomers through the TRIEC's mentoring partnership.
He brings something to his role as mentor that many of his counterparts do not: Mr. Nath is a newcomer himself. He moved to Canada with his wife in November 2008 and, like many of the people he guides, had to restart his life and career.
“I built a career over 25 years in India with corporate multinationals in a variety of roles including marketing, corporate communications, change management,” says Mr. Nath. “But I had no network when I landed in Canada. When I talk to people, they relate to me because the experience is so fresh and it is one they are living. As a tourist, you know you have a safety net back home. As an immigrant you have moved life. There is no network, no brand image. You walk down the street and you are as strange to yourself as you are to every one else.”
For that reason, Mr. Nath says it’s important for new immigrants to move fast and start meeting people and building connections. This is particularly true for foreign educated professionals, less than a quarter of whom find employment in their field.
“They land here and realize although they have education and experience, they are essentially starting from scratch with respect to getting placed in a career commensurate with their education and training. And that can chip away at confidence. On the flip side, all that knowledge and expertise is going to waste,” says Nora Priestly, project manager, Internationally Educated Professional Bridging Program, York University. “Then there is the challenge of settling their families into a new city, new home — all the aspects of starting a life in a new country.”
While many of the attributes and benefits of mentorship apply to everyone, mentoring is a critical leg up to new Canadians, says Ms. Priestly. The bridging program was designed to offer new immigrants two types of mentorship. “Professional mentorship gives them the opportunity to be connected to, or sitting in, the industry where they want to be,” says Ms. Priestly.
“They get an inside take about common practice in Canada, very pragmatic suggestions about how to get to where they want to be, as well as a quiet reassurance about knowing the cultural terrain. It builds confidence and shows individuals they are not the first to tread this trail and that it is possible for them to succeed here.”
The Bridging program also offers peer-to-peer mentoring, where new participants are paired with other IEPs further along in the program. “They are helping them to feel like they belong. And they can work together so that the relationship is equally valuable. The faster you get settled in and feel connected, the more chances you will be successful,” says Ms. Priestly.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles facing new immigrants is lack of Canadian experience. “Employers want Canadian experience. And when you have someone coming in whose first language is not English, whose name is difficult to pronounce, and who has worked in organizations Canadian employers may never have heard of, that’s tough,” says Mr. Nath.
“One of the key messages I give to the people I’m mentoring is that you have to make your own opportunities. Netgiving or volunteering in a way that you can use your wisdom and experience is a way to get the Canadian experience employers want to see and to build a network.”
Mr. Nath’s own volunteer efforts as a marketing advisor led him to a meeting at Environics and his current role. His efforts on behalf of other new immigrants have led him to be shortlisted for the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants award for 2011. “Imagine, just two years in the country to be recognized in this way. Thanks to God’s support, my network of friends and a bit of hard work.”