Spotlight: Lethbridge Family Services Mentorship Program

“If you have an internationally educated professional coming in to access your services and they’ve been with you once or twice but you don’t see them again, that is the time to reevaluate the program,” says Najib Mangal.

Mangal manages Career and Employment Services at Lethbridge Family Services (LFS). LFS provides a range of Immigrant Services for newcomers to the Lethbridge region. These services provide invaluable information and assistance to newcomers, helping them settle into their new community. His team provides a range of services and programs to support newcomers looking for work in the Lethbridge region. But when they looked at program data, Mangal and his team noticed a trend with the Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) who came to the organization for services.

“We were losing the internationally educated professionals after one visit,” says Mangal. “They needed something, and we weren’t providing them with what they needed.”

This prompted Mangal and his team to really consider what they needed to do to meet the needs of the IEPs. They developed a formal mentorship program to focus on IEPs and connect them to Lethbridge employers. The mentorship program provides the newcomers the opportunity to meet with someone in the same or a similar field. They can learn about the Canadian work culture in their field from those with firsthand experience and connections.

Tyler Ramsay, Employment Practitioner with Career and Employment Services, has a good understanding of the soft skills and job search skills that will help IEPs with finding work in Lethbridge. But he also understands the limitations of this broad expertise. Sometimes an IEP needs someone with the same technical or professional training to connect them to the local community.

“I can handle the soft skills, but a mentor can add to our service by adding specific skills and being able to open some professional networking doors,” says Ramsay.

Sometimes mentors can provide that key insider knowledge and connect to those all-important networks. Combining mentorship with the other career services filled in that gap, and Mangal saw how The IEP started returning to them more often because they were getting the assistance that they specifically needed.

“To connect the internationally education professional with someone working in their field will rapidly assist them in developing job search skills and a better understanding of the Canadian work culture,” says Mangal.

What were your biggest challenges?

Finding mentors is always a challenge for mentorship programs. With Lethbridge being a smaller city, finding mentors with the right specialized skills can be especially hard for specific professions.

“Healthcare. Engineering. Accounting is easier. We have a lot of success with microbiologists because there is lots of lab work and quality control here,” says Ramsay. “Some of the smaller, more technical areas are really struggling. Architects are a challenge because there are not a lot of high-rise buildings.”

Ramsay has seen a few IEPs choose to move to a larger centre because it was hard to find mentors and work in their field. At the same time, the pandemic has made everyone more comfortable with online mentor options. If there is not a mentor in Lethbridge, Ramsay can look for mentors in other locations.

“We are more comfortable with virtual,” he says.

He admits that sometimes when it is challenging to find a mentor or work in an IEP’s field, it could indicate that they have not moved to the right location. But at the same time, with the right mentor, patience, and flexibility, IEPs can usually find a way to apply their education and skills in a meaningful way.

“It can be challenging,” says Ramsay, “but not impossible.”

What did you do well?

Because Lethbridge Family Services started their mentorship program as an addition to existing Immigrant Services, they were already part of a local community.

“We had a lot of partners with a foot in the door. This made a big difference because we didn’t have to start relationships form scratch,” says Ramsay. “When we started the Alberta Mentorship Program pilot, we had the mentors ready to go. We were six months ahead of the curve for those partnerships.”

Being able to tap into the mentorship expertise across Alberta has also been helpful. As part of the pilot project, they had ready access to ERIEC and CRIEC which filled in the gaps of their knowledge.

“Since we opened the door to the pilot project, we’ve been supported and guided through each step,” says Mangal.

“Having that blanket support made a big difference for implementing the program,” says Ramsay.

Alberta has a wide range of career mentorship programs. Approaching other programs in your area or serving similar clients, could help your program connect to an existing community.

What advice would you share with other mentorship programs?

“Start by establishing key partners in the community. For example, we targeted organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce because they have broad professional networks rather than the specialized professional network themselves,” says Ramsay.

Tapping into a broad network can help you find mentors and connect to potential employers more easily, especially when you are first starting out.

“Networks can help you find the match,” says Ramsay. “When you are working on each case individually, it is hard. Establish community relationships first and the rest of the pieces will fall into place more easily.”

Ramsay also learned that it is important to talk to not just IEPs, but also potential employers. He often heard from employers that there is a lack of talent or qualified individuals for the positions that they were looking to fill. Ramsay and his teammates know that IEPs are bringing experience, education, and talents to Lethbridge, but there seems to be a gap between the two parties and connecting. Programs such as the mentorship program help to bridge that gap.

“We heard about the struggles, the challenges, the barriers that IEPs were going through, but we never really had any of the input from the other side of that equation,” says Ramsay. “Now with this mentorship program, we’re really getting to hear both sides of the story, of how the challenges can be addressed and what needs the employers need to be met in order to hire internationally education professionals.”

When they understood the challenges, they could work with mentors and mentees to make sure that the employers could take advantage of IEPs and their skills.

“It is not only the newcomers who will benefit from mentorship, but you can retain those skilled immigrants or that competitive skill in your community,” says Mangal.

See all our videos about the Lethbridge Family Services Mentorship program on our YouTube Channel.

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