Spotlight: Medicine Hat Area Employment Mentorship Program

On June 14, 2023, The Alberta Mentorship Program held an online discussion with Michael Austin from Saamis Immigration Services. Michael shared the journey, experience, and lessons learned of planning and creating a new mentorship program in Medicine Hat, the Medicine Hat Area Employment Mentorship program.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel or read the abbreviated version below.

“The program started in May 2022 when we hired our first position,” Michael explains. “The grant was written by our local immigration partnership and sponsored by our local settlement agency. The way it was set up, we were free to get going and do what needed to be done. We decided to deep dive into research—and I can’t stress how important that was for a program like this—to know the field, the situation, and what was needed.”

The research portion of the program occurred from May to September 2022. The program collected two types of data:

Existing Data


  • What are the jobs that have gaps/unemployment?
  • What are the demographics of newcomers in the area?
  • Used: Census data, labour force statistics, and economic profiles.

Mentorship programs:

  • What does success look like?
  • What works and what doesn’t?
  • Used: Alberta Mentorship Program videos, articles, and resources, as well as resources from other mentorship programs across Canada. Information guided the creation of forms and the curriculum.

Local stakeholders:

  • What programs currently exist?
  • Who do we need to partner with?
  • Who are the employers that we’ll need to work with?
  • Used: The YMCA, city, and Saamis Immigration. Began relationships with organizations to ensure strong connections and prevent repetition of services.

Non-Existent Data

Professional demographics of newcomers.

  • I.e., How many newcomers are accountants? How many have a background in the trades?
  • What employers and professionals are missing from our community?

“It took a lot of work to collect the non-existent data,” says Michael. “We surveyed over 135 individuals in our community, sitting down face-to-face with people to ask questions, write information, and put it all in a spreadsheet. In doing that, we found over half of our refugees alone were high-skilled professionals. We paired that with the fact that all economic-class newcomers are high-skilled professionals by definition. We also took the conservative estimate that one-third of family-class newcomers were high-skilled professionals, which landed us in the ballpark of 75% of all newcomers to our region and the surrounding areas were high-skilled professionals. And the sad statistic, I’m sure all of us in mentorship are aware of, is 95–98% of them were severely underemployed. We’ve been sharing this data with networking groups and anyone who will listen. The assumption is that high-skilled professionals are a small percentage of newcomers, and it’s the complete opposite.

“In addition to the surveying, we also completed focus groups and had consultations with other mentorship groups to ask them about their obstacles. We did a lot of legwork, and it has paid off.”

Focus Groups


  • What do you need?
  • What do you want?
  • Who is your ideal employee?
  • How can we deliver that to you from our newcomers?


  • What have been your biggest obstacles?
  • What do you want to know that no one is telling you?

Creating a Road Map for Mentorship

“From October to December 2022, we built the program. We designed it, and we made sure everything we did was data-informed. The first thing we did was build a curriculum for mentorship, our Mentorship Road Map. One of the things we heard was that a lot of employers hate getting interns and student workers with no instructions on what to do with them. What happens is they [interns and students] usually end up filing for six months and then leave, and everyone is upset. So, we built a loose curriculum, and we tell our mentors this is the bare minimum expectation. If you want to do more—great—and if you want to do this differently—sure—but make sure you meet these expectations. We suggest doing eight meetings over four months, meeting once every two weeks for one to two hours, and that’s it. We’ve found that the level of commitment is appealing to employers, and we haven't had a single employer say it’s too much.

“With our Mentorship Road Map, we focused the topics on very industry-specific stuff. We didn’t want to waste our mentor’s time. To fill in any gaps, we also provide a series of workshops for our mentees, including Canadian-style resumes, interviews, and financial culture. We also talk about setting up a LinkedIn account, intercultural competency, local services, and professional networking, and we do a workshop with mentors on how to be a good mentor. We found services that were already available in the region and engaged with them as part of our program. This engagement provides some training and ensures we weren’t competing or duplicating services.”

Lessons Learned

  1. Know your audience: The focus on research led to important insights. For example, when naming the workshops, the program uses “Canadian-Style” in the title. High-skilled professionals, like most of the program’s participants, are more receptive to being told, “This is how resumes are different in Canada than your home country,” verses “This is how you write a resume.”
  2. Use a hybrid model: Getting participants to attend an in-person workshop in the post-COVID landscape was a little like pulling teeth. Everyone was busy with families, jobs, or other commitments. Uptake was better once a virtual or hybrid option became available.
  3. Use open, rolling enrollment: When the program began, a cohort learning style was chosen. However, once a potential mentor or mentee signed up, they had to wait a month or more to participate, which was too long of a gap. Instead, the program moved to an open, rolling enrollment model.
  4. Get your mentees together to network: After the first run of the program, feedback indicated mentors and mentees had organized their own mixers and networking opportunities with each other. The feedback indicated that, for future iterations, the program should include networking. Networking is a great way to get all participants together. One never knows where participants are going to be in the future and how valuable those connections will become.
  5. Iterate and revise: The first run of the mentorship program provided all kinds of new information to its designers. The program organizers are committed to taking information from every run and letting it inform their research as well as the build and design of future programs.
  6. Communication and connection are key: Often, programs develop in silos, and it can be frustrating for newcomers to navigate what’s available if the programs are not talking to each other. By communicating with existing services, the Medicine Hat Area Employment Mentorship program was able to offer more to its participants and create a one-stop shop for newcomers to access employment services.

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

The Alberta Mentorship Program appreciates 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.

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