On January 19, 2021, the Alberta Mentorship Program hosted the second of two community calls this month. The goal of the calls was to provide open question and answer sessions for anyone interested in mentorship. During this session, our mentorship mentors responded to questions about matching mentors and mentees, setting expectations, defining success, and choosing the focus of your mentorship program.
Our mentors were Doug Piquette, Executive Director of the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC), Bao Ho, Mentoring Partnerships Coordinator at the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC), and Tyler Ramsay, Settlement Practitioner at Lethbridge Family Services. Doug, Bao, and Tyler bring a variety of experiences building their respective mentorship organizations. The community call was moderated by AMP project manager Cheryl Whitelaw.
If a key to finding mentors is relationships, how did you build those when you were just starting out?
For new mentoring programs, finding enough mentors is such a common challenge. And while it is not a challenge that goes away, you will find that as your program grows in credibility and builds more relationships, it will get easier.
Tyler is still in the beginning stages of running their mentorship program in Lethbridge. One advantage they had was that Lethbridge Family Services (LFS) is a long-established program even if the mentorship program was new. “We were able to tap into that credibility and community to get started,” says Tyler. Regardless of where your program is, “build on what you have.”
For LFS, this meant connecting with like-minded partners who might have an interest in finding employment for internationally educated professionals. This included the City of Lethbridge, the Chamber of Commerce, and service partners. These organizations knew which employers were interested in working with newcomers and looking for ways to connect. For interested employers, mentorship is an easier sell because mentoring is a proven way to connect to a newcomer to Canada.
Bao had three pieces of excellent advice to share:
And remember that your program will quickly have a multiplying effect. If you have just five matches in your first program, you already have 10 alumni. After two or three sessions, you will have even more alumni. Mentors often come back and it’s not unusual for mentees to return as mentors. Keep your participants engaged so they will return again and again.
If your program has not built up stories yet, you can use the Alberta Mentorship Program stories to help you share the benefits of mentorship with potential mentors and mentees including:
How do you best match a mentoring pair to make sure that is the most productive?
Once you have a match, making a high-quality match is the next challenge. The goal is always to create the best match possible within the pool of available matches. This becomes easier as your program matures because you will have a bigger pool of mentors to choose from.
ERIEC and CRIEC do their matches manually using interviews and resumes. The goal is to match with someone who has the same or similar professional background. But when that is not possible, you can try to match by similar cultural background, interests, or personality.
“When we started in 2008, not all our matches were spot on,” says Doug. Sometimes because the match was not the best professionally, sometimes because there was not a good connection.
“We are talking about human dynamics, some people are just really good at it,” says Doug. But not always.
The good thing is that often mentors volunteer because they have thought about mentorship and naturally have some of the skills. Then the mentorship program can improve that by having a good orientation and good welcome package full of resources and tools.
Mostly it is about “finding the right alchemy of personalities” according to Bao. CRIEC works hard to find a good match, but “the magic is when the relationship starts.”
Mentors and mentees start with sharing the basic information, but overtime, good matches will talk about so much more.
Need mentee and mentor resources?
See our Resource Guide for ready to use forms and information.
“When we are looking for mentors, many ask if mentees are ready,” says Doug. At ERIEC the focus is on employment-ready, internationally educated professionals. This includes setting criteria for good English language skills. They found mentors are more prepared to work with mentees who are employment ready. This clear focus for mentees makes it easier to find mentoring matches.
CRIEC found that mentorship was more successful when they offered complementary programs that prepare and work on language skills with newcomers before they met with the mentors. If your organization does not have the capacity for an additional supportive program, partnering with another immigrant service organization can fill in that gap.
In Lethbridge, Tyler works with a wider variety of people both employment-ready and not employment-ready. It works because they are careful to set clear expectations. The program administrator, the mentee, and the mentor need to know where the mentee really is to be able to give the right support.
Being part of Lethbridge Family Services, the mentorship program is just one part of what the organization can offer. It has other programs to offer alongside or instead of mentorship. If your mentorship program is more focused, find other organizations that offer complementary programs that can help your participants.
Doug investigated expanding their ERIEC program to tradespeople as well as professionals. But when ERIEC talked to trades programs and people, they found that mentorship was already embedded with journeyman and apprenticeship programs. While there could be an opportunity to build on that mentoring culture and add an intercultural component, the need was not as great as ERIEC expected. For now, they chose to maintain the focus on professional immigrants.
“We know we can meet the needs of the mentee and mentor,” says Doug. “We might not have had the success that we've had if we had that wider focus.”
If you are working with a wide range of people with diverse needs and abilities, it becomes even more important to define your and your participants' expectations for success.
“Expectations determine if mentors and mentees feel the match was a success,” says Tyler.
If you are working with newcomers who are not employment-ready because they do not have the language skills or the certification they need in Alberta, you can still provide mentorship. But in this case, a successful mentoring relationship may not end with a new job.
When the participants understand that progress towards employment, understanding Canadian culture, or improving language skills is the goal of a mentoring relationship, they will feel successful. Mentorship can support newcomers get to the point where they are employment ready.
Tyler has worked with internationally educated engineers who are trying to get their professional APEGA certification. Tyler can coach them through soft skills or professional interviews but matching them with an Alberta engineer can support the mentee through the technical parts of the certification process. In this case, certification can be the goal of a successful mentoring relationship.
It is also critical to remember that mentors are volunteers and not career counsellors. They bring life experiences to share with mentees. Working with a mentor does not guarantee a job in the end. Mentees also need to be ready to participate and come to the relationship ready to commit.
“It’s about getting work but not getting work,” says Bao. “It’s about feeling empowered, confident, getting some information to help you.”
Mentors are not magical employment wizards. But they are willing to be a cheerleader, sharing information and experience to help mentees find their own success.
Read more about roles and expectations:
What helped you get your mentorship program started in Lethbridge?
Lethbridge Family Service (LFS) was doing mentorship informally “off the side of our desks,” says Tyler. When LFS got some additional funding to create a more formal mentorship program, LFS realized they needed some extra support.
“AMP helped us avoid mistakes we could have made if we had tried to start on our own,” says Tyler. “They helped especially with the recruitment practices and the forms we could use and with the conversations we had with the team.”
Now LFS has the structure and resources to track goals and track matches. It provides accountability to funders too.
“It grew quite quickly,” says Tyler. “We are hoping that we can establish the internationally educated professionals and keep them in Lethbridge and not lose them to the larger centers like Calgary and Edmonton."
For Doug, building this mentoring culture and community where organizations can support each other and share knowledge and resources is a dream come true.
“When we started, we were alone.,” says Doug about starting ERIEC. “And not we are not.”
The mission of the AMP is to connect mentorship programs formally through meetings like this and informally as mentoring organizations build relationships. Seeing our pilot sites like LFS find success already and be able to share their lessons with other mentorship programs is an exciting success for AMP and LFS.
Learn more about the success of the LFS Mentorship Program on our YouTube Channel.
Can a mentee suggest people that they might like to be matched with for a mentor?
Mentoring can be both formal and informal. If you know of someone who might be a good mentor for you, you can approach them outside of a mentoring program. This can be done with a formal request or asking if they will let you talk about your common professional interests. Informal mentoring relationships are common and many of us have had people we consider mentors throughout our lives. Ultimately a mentor is a person you can talk to about a problem.
Mentorship programs may or may not be open to approaching a specific mentor on your behalf. But you can always invite or encourage that person to apply to the program with you.