Project helps immigrants connect with workforce

TD Canada Trust Tower, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaImage via Wikipedia

Mentorship offers both learning and networking

There's an old saying in business that often it's not what you know but who you know when it comes to landing a job.
Era Wegad can attest to that.
Wegad, who came to Canada from India a couple of years ago, was able to secure a position in early September as a group sales representative for Equitable Life Insurance thanks to networking and connections her mentor, Mandy Lelke of TD Insurance, had in the community.
Wegad was one of 34 skilled immigrants who have completed a pilot project in the city through the Calgary Region Immigration Employment Council, which connected them with mentors in their fields to improve their chances for employment.
"It did help me in getting my self-confidence and self-esteem better because I saw people in the program believing in me. I thought, 'They believe in me, so I should believe in myself,' " said Wegad, who worked in the life insurance industry in India. "They helped me boost my confidence for sure and (gave) me direction.
"Mandy helped me as to the insurance licence I could get if I needed it. Also, networking and connecting me with the right people."
Job hunting can be hard enough when you know people, but when you're lacking local connections of any kind, it can be far more difficult.
Of 34 successful mentormentee relationships in the council's pilot project, seven mentees have so far secured local employment in their respective fields, with a number of others currently undergoing job interviews.
The employment council's 16-week Mentoring Collaborative is designed to provide skilled immigrants with the tools to secure meaningful employment in their fields, from engineering, engineering services, human resources, IT and project management to sales, accounting and auditing.
Community partner organizations included Bow Valley College, Immigrant Services Calgary, the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association and the Centre for Newcomers -- all of which recruit job-ready skilled immigrants as mentees. Local employers such as Flint Energy, TransCanada Corp., Canadian Pacific Railway, Calgary Airport Authority, TD Canada Trust, Royal Bank of Canada and SMART Technologies recruited appropriate employees as mentors.
"Our purpose is to help local leaders with immigrant employment strategies. The mentoring program is just one of our initiatives," said Marie-France Varin, the council's project leader.
"The reason we went with piloting that first was because there was such a success in Toronto with that similar program."
She said the pilot program will continue.
"We connect skilled immigrants with their Canadian counterpart in an occupation-specific mentoring relationship," she said.
"The main purpose of that relationship is to help these individuals understand their profession within a Canadian context.
"It's also for them to acquire effective job search strategies that are aligned with Canadian standards, and for them to get a better understanding of how to showcase their skills and their talents in their resume and (make sure) the resume does follow Canadian standards."
Also, with many professionals, it's helping them get their professional accreditation in their chosen fields.
"Often it's not what you know, but who you know. And what this program does is it truly connects them with their colleagues in their profession."
Lelke, who mentored Wegad for the 16 weeks beginning in June, said the pilot project connects people from professions in other countries to professionals here.
"It's a good strong match so that they're not just applying for something that is just kind of coming their way and then they're just really not satisfied," said Lelke.
"It's nice to be able to integrate people into the society into what their profession is without them having to go through again the challenges of finding employment just to find employment without something that directly relates to what they've done in the past."
A celebration of the program is being held on Thursday with mentors, mentees and partner organizations coming together.

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