Opening Up Mentoring Models – Connector Programs

On January 19, 2024, the Alberta Mentorship Program (AMP) held an online Community Champions Mentorship Circle about Mentoring Connector Programs.

This panel discussion, moderated by Cheryl Whitelaw from the AMP, brought together individuals with an array of experiences focused on bringing together newcomers and mentors within national and local programs. The panellists included:

  • Alida Campbell, Manager of the National Connector Program
  • Kariem Reda, Connector Program Coordinator for the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC)
  • Glenys Reeves-Gibb, Project Coordinator of the Lloydminster Mentorship Project (LMP)

The panel also invited Doug Piquette, the Executive Director of the ERIEC, to participate in some questions.

The panellists discussed:

  • What mentorship connector programs are;
  • The benefits of the programs;
  • The outcomes of the programs; and
  • The future wants of the programs.

What are Connector Programs?

How do they bridge the gap between newcomers and employers?

Alida Campbell, National Connector Program

From a general perspective, connector programs are intentional networking programs. You can curate the experience, allowing you to focus on where you want to go and what you want to do. They’re designed to broaden your professional network by placing you with individuals in the field. It’s more than just placing you with a mentor; it’s about finding out what you really need to succeed.

Newcomers often have a difficult time knowing what small and medium businesses are out there—and the same goes for these employers. So, the connector program bridges the gap between newcomers and employers, bringing together people who wouldn’t have otherwise found each other.

These programs are not about job seeking—though it can help support their job search through the connections they establish—it’s about helping both sides come together for a beneficial match.

Kariem Reda, ERIEC

I completely agree that this program plays a crucial role in bridging gaps between newcomers and employers, creating a platform for meaningful connections. Through our program, we organize networking events to create mentorship opportunities, where newcomers can establish professional relationships with experienced individuals in their respective fields.

Having the opportunity to create your own professional network in a new country is very important. In my case, I gained valuable insights, which helped me land the role I am in now.

Glenys Reeves-Gibbs, LMP

The mentorship program in Lloydminster is very new, so our first goal was to let the community know that we’re here and we have a program that can assist newcomers and businesses. We had a few presentations, and we found there was a lot of interest in the mentorship program.

We formed a steering committee of well-connected individuals from the community who could help newcomers find work. Our local immigration partnership did a needs assessment and found that newcomers wanted to get settled into the community first before looking for jobs. Being in a smaller community (compared to Edmonton and Calgary), we don’t have a lot of the resources as larger communities, and people can feel quite isolated.

Knowing this, we decided to host a networking event and brought in professionals who could help newcomers settle into the community. We had someone from the banking industry, an HR consultant, etc. Newcomers showed an interest in a needs assessment since many were wondering what they needed to do professionally to get into the job market. We connected with Gateway for Newcomers (a local organization to help individuals who have immigrated), and with a local immigration partnership.

For the event, we found that our biggest hurdle was language. There were several people who had limited to no English at all, so many newcomers gained knowledge on the skills they needed to develop while they started connecting to potential mentors. Now, we have a number of people going out into the workforce.

After our first event, we hosted another one at the end of November, and we were able to match people in a short amount of time. Twenty-seven mentorship matches were made between our first and second events.

We’re planning a third event, but this time with a focus similar to the connector programs, where more employers will be coming in to meet newcomers of all professional backgrounds. This event will also let newcomers practice their English skills. Right now, our program has no formal programming as our funding is being used to help newcomers learn English to get them to a point where they can communicate.

What are the Benefits of a Connector Program?

Alida Campbell, National Connector Program

The beauty of the connector program is that it’s a two-way street. The connectors themselves are getting just as much out of the relationship as the newcomer. They both get to understand and learn different perspectives, new education systems, and new skills that are coming through the program or the industry.

They both get to expand their networks and find their counterparts in their industry. They can get referrals through their connections, and it can help strengthen and grow their networks so there is constant engagement, which is helping both. A lot of our connectors are excited about the idea that their next hire could be sitting across from them during a coffee meeting; that they don’t have to struggle through the whole hiring process.

Looking at the altruistic part, businesses do feel like they’re giving back. It gives you a pep in your step when you feel like you can help someone. And the newcomers get to grow their professional networks, which is going to help them integrate into circles of trust or workforce areas that may not have been originally accessible to them. In Canada, those circles of trust are pretty strong and hard to break into if you are not already in them. So, having someone mention you and encourage a connection within is a big thing and can really open doors to newcomers.

“Having someone talk about you in a room that you’re not in can have a huge impact on your career.”

Newcomers also get to learn and see the unwritten rules in the Canadian culture workplace that they might not be familiar with. They can ask questions and get direct information that will benefit them.

Employers benefit from being included in a more inclusive community. They can get diverse perspectives in business and develop more innovative thinking about inclusion and diversity. At the end of the day, this makes a stronger and better community—a community where people want to live in.

Kariem Reda, ERIEC

Like it was mentioned, the connective program brings a multitude of benefits to both parties. For us, we provide events and help establish relations that offer a chance for newcomers to expand their professional network, gain industry-specific knowledge, and receive guidance for their creative development. Some newcomers might be seeking a new career or may go into a different field, and the connective program facilitates this transition. We can provide them with the knowledge and information to move them into this new field. Employers also gain access to a diverse pool of talent. We can provide them with skilled individuals who may contribute to their organizations while the stakeholder community witnesses the positive impact of the programs as it leads to a more inclusive and vibrant community.

Glenys Reeves-Gibbs, LMP

For us it’s about relationship building, and there are benefits for both the mentor and mentee. Our community needs skilled workers, and by building these relationships, we establish that network that can go far in a smaller community. Because newcomers can feel quite isolated, building these relationships help people feel like they belong.

The circle of trust in Lloydminster plays an important role. For myself, I come from a healthcare background. So, if someone comes in with that background and applies for a job, I have often picked up the phone to say, “Hey, we have someone who might be suitable. Would you consider doing an interview with them?” It’s much more likely that someone can get a position because of that circle of trust. Even if the person isn’t successful in getting that position, they had the opportunity to apply for it and go through an interview process. As a program, we’ll use that and do a debriefing of the event.

What are the Outcomes of the Programs?

Alida Campbell, National Connector Program

From a national perspective, connector programs are run by a variety of organizations. We have immigrant serving organizations, we have immigrant employment councils, we have a music industry association, we have economic development organizations, we have multicultural centers, and we have employment centers.

The beauty of this program is around workforce development and economic outcomes. We give you all the resources you need to run the program, and you adapt the program to what is needed and wanted for your organization.

For example, in Fredericton, it's run out of an economic development organization, and it’s wonderful because they’re developing relationships with employers. They know exactly who they’re matching and matching for the idea to get a person employed and to keep them in the community.

We have organizations to help their investors, organizations to help businesses find people, and other organizations that want to create a community, and they all use the connector program to make sure people feel like they really belong in this community.

Kariem Reda, ERIEC

As mentioned, this program is instrumental in supporting career transitions and work development outcomes. Newcomers often face challenges in understanding local work, its cultural practices, and professional expectations.

That’s the beauty about the connector program: you’re making people feel welcomed and you’re helping them with résumés, cover letters, sometimes interviews, and the Canadian experience. We’re trying to bridge that gap by offering insights and help with the transition into Canadian culture. We offer personalized guidance to help with this transition, whether it’s going into the same field or moving into a different one. Most of the time, it’s about breaking the ice and merging international qualifications with the Canadian experience.

Glenys Reeves-Gibbs, LMP

Oftentimes, we’re not just looking at one person moving, but their family. Often, one person in a family has settled and has found their community, but the overall family hasn’t due to lack of work or lack of support in the community. There are times when the family leaves because the dynamic is unhappy. So, part of the program is to help the family as well so that they all feel like they fit.

There are two ideas with this program: people need to work, and businesses and organizations need workers. We have newcomers who have fantastic skills and can really assist in building our economic base and culture of the community. We want them to feel like they have fulfilling careers, and though many of them get employment out of their field, if they’re not feeling fulfilled, we try to provide services where they can build their skills, have that interaction in the field, and learn more about the workplace so they can grow.

Alida Campbell, National Connector Program

We’ve found that by linking a newcomer’s experience and education to a position in their field, they’re much more happier than getting into another position in a different field.

Doug Piquette, ERIEC

Connector Programs are a lot like having a person bring you to the door, welcome you to the community, and connect you to the people. I’m in awe of the program and how, say, in one short session, you can make an impact, a connection, and suddenly you’re building some social capital all in one meeting.

The connector program is a nice alternative for an employer in the community who can’t dedicate time to mentorship. It acts as a gateway into mentorship and is such a great experience. It’s a profound way to help people integrate into Canada.

The panellists opened the conversation to discuss further information and advice on connector programs. In Lloydminster, Glenys Reeves-Gibbs, reached out to a variety of organizations to be part of their events. She utilized her connections with her local Rotary Club, where members stepped in to help provide their expertise at the two events. Alida Campbell of the National Connector Program advises to reach out to local Chamber of Commerce and ask questions on what businesses are looking for help. Kariem Reda, ERIEC, indicates that you want to show the community the positive impacts the connector program is making by first explaining what the program is and then showing the results. Tell people what you’ve been up to, what the numbers are, and how successful it has been.

What are the future wants of your programs?

Alida Campbell, National Connector Program

I deal with communities across Canada, and my favourite part is getting to engage with all the connector coordinators and connecting the different programs when someone has an idea and says, “I’d like to try this,” and I say, “Excellent, you should talk to this person who tried that last year or is in this program.”

Everyone wants to make their community a better place, so in 2025, the goal is to be more focused on national activities. So far, we’ve done a good job. We’ve focused on connecting, supporting, and developing national program resources—bringing together programs with a national scope and connecting them and their resources to other programs through national conversations, networking, and workshops.

Kariem Reda, ERIEC

My vision for 2025 is more about marketing the program. We have a lot of individuals on board by us joining different community activities, but it's about showing the success of the program and sharing the success stories in a broader fashion.

Coming from an international perspective, most newcomers don’t know what a mentorship program is, so the first obstacle is getting the idea out there of what mentorship is—and that’s what marketing is for.

I envision that the connector program is not just about making professional connections but creating a professional network to show newcomers that they are part of a community—that they belong. As part of this, I’m piloting an international café. We’re still working on it with the weather conditions being as they are, so it will start in the summer—it’s something I would like to see go ahead in 2025.

Glenys Reeves-Gibbs, LMP

I have short- and long-term goals for 2025. The short-term goal is that I hope the program will be well established and there will be another organization that can take on the mentorship program—because we are a pilot—where we can build them a structure that works for them.

My long-term goal is that mentorship just becomes organic within our community—that we’re creating change, and we’re going to create a change in the culture and the way people think about how we work together, and we build that community.

The Alberta Mentorship program is sponsored by the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC).

The Alberta Mentorship Program is appreciative of the funding from the Government of Alberta through Labour and Immigration, Workforce Strategies. Our program is here to provide information and support to help organizations start mentorship programs.