Mentors open doors to opportunity

Programs help newcomers network

Trained as an industrial engineer in Venezuela, Beatriz Arias Quero immigrated to Canada in 2004 and landed in Montreal to pursue her master's degree while working to gain some Canadian experience.
At the end of 2009, she moved to Calgary for family reasons, but didn't have any experience in the oil and gas industry that dominates the city's economy.
"It was hard because I didn't have a network in Calgary," Arias Quero says.
After all, even within Canada, workplace cultures and industries vary significantly from region to region. So, she applied to jobs online, cold called and networked by taking industry-related professionals out for coffee, but nothing concrete ever came of her one-off meetings.
Frustrated, she also applied to every immigrant resource centre available to her to try to form an ongoing relationship with somebody who could offer local advice to land a job. Then, she heard about a mentoring program through the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council.
She enrolled in the council's Mentoring Collaborative program, a four-month initiative that matches up new immigrants with an established, local professional, which started in January.
Midway through the program, both mentor and mentee became frustrated that she was having no luck in finding employment, but both persevered. "I would keep looking online for any (job) postings and if I saw any from TransCanada that I thought I'd be a good fit, I would take them to my mentor . . . and ask if I should apply for this."
In August, she landed a job at TransCanada Corp. as a business analyst. "It really relates to my background," she says. "It's a different industry, but the principles are the same."
During the mentoring program's pilot, the employment council made 37 matches that resulted in 17 mentees finding employment. Since January, it has had 160 mentoring relationships that yielded 67 successful job hunts, a number expected to rise with the program's followup, which includes a three-, six-and one-year checkup.
"What employers are looking for . . . is what your resume needs to look like (and) what is in your advantage to showcase - where you need to upgrade your skills," says Marie-France Varin, the council's director of program development.
Students also have the benefit of guest speakers from industry that provide additional advice, tips and direction about what new Canadians need to do - and where to find the resources - to gain employment in their fields.
Astrid Abramyan also benefited from the mentoring program. The Armenian-born supply chain management professional moved to Calgary from Moscow with her family four years ago with poor English skills, but lots of initiative.
"When I came here, I had 10 years of experience and my educational background, but I realized I had to start from zero," says Abramyan, who quickly enrolled in English courses upon arrival.
She is now working toward her Canadian professional designation as a supply chain management professional - she is graduates in 2012 - but has already found employment in her field as a result of the mentoring program.
What prompted her to enrol was frustration after sending out more than 30 resumes and not getting even a single telephone interview.
After the program, she landed a job through an employment agency at a large, integrated oil and gas company in Calgary. As she hones her English and works toward accreditation, Abramyan is confident she'll be able to demonstrate her abilities to her current employer over the next several months. It's valuable Canadian experience that will surely help her in the future, wherever she ends up in her career.

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