When Jennifer Mah, Coordinator at the Medicine Hat Immigration Partnership (MHIP), did research into what newcomers were looking for within their community, mentorship was top of the list for employment services.
MHIP provides a range of services that try to engage newcomers to Canada. For example, for newcomers who were facing language barriers, MHIP created language resources and an English conversation group. They connected temporary foreign workers to information and supports during changes to regulations due to COVID. When they discovered that many newcomers did not realize that they could access the healthcare system, MHIP started to help them get healthcare cards and connect them to primary healthcare services.
Jennifer believes that all these services are important for newcomers to Canada and their transition to Canadian life. But mentorship can help newcomers find deeper connections both professionally and personally that help them settle into life in Canada.
“Mentorship is deeper than just matching people. We want to have some structured goals to help both mentors and mentees actually accomplish some achievements that are important to them,” says Jennifer. She wants the MHIP mentorship program to provide mentors and mentees with the opportunity to sit down together and define what mentorship is to them and what kind of goals they want to reach.
Like many new programs, finding enough mentors is the biggest challenge that Jennifer is seeing in their mentorship program. Jennifer has been doing a lot of preparatory work and planning to get this program started.
“I knew it wasn’t just going to happen overnight,” she says. She initially reached out to different employers and the local Chamber of Commerce to make the connections that the program would need to be successful. But, as with many things over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this more challenging. Therefore, Jennifer turned her focus on the newcomers and other areas to find mentors and mentees. “I had to think about who has the time right now. Maybe some of the retired professionals have time to take on mentorship,” says Jennifer.
While the pandemic made things more challenging, it has opened our eyes to the real power of digital connections. Our new comfort with online communication opens new opportunities to fill in gaps and develop a larger mentorship community. It is not too hard to match accountants or healthcare professionals. However, more specialized skills can be more challenging. Any professional can provide information about the Canadian work and cultural experience, but it can be nice to connect on the specific professional expertise.
“If you look at a person who is not in the ‘right’ location – in a location where there aren’t many people in the same industry – connecting them with a professional in another location would be really helpful,” says Jennifer.
This cooperation between mentorship programs can really benefit all mentorship programs. “We might have more rural community drought farming expertise. Maybe we can mentor people in another location who want to have some insight,” says Jennifer. “I think trying to create that broader connection would be incredible.”
Building these relationships between mentorship programs allows smaller communities to leverage their own expertise and tap into the expertise of other communities. Medicine Hat works with surrounding smaller communities. “Newcomers can feel even more isolated in those community,” she says. “Providing more options for mentorship and networking can reduce that feeling.”
A local doctor started a group for Nigerian medical doctors. Jennifer sees this as a model for how she can maximize the insight of mentors and build up professional communities. “There are always a lot more people who want to be mentored than there are mentors,” she says. These mentorship groups can start with a mentor providing support for a group of mentors but also foster the peer-to-peer interaction and support that can continue after a mentor leaves.
It is also another opportunity to connect professionals across the province. “We could invite other people from outside of the community to connect,” says Jennifer.
Building connections is essential to helping newcomers feel settled and connected to their new home. Jennifer has seen it time and time again. “Everyone who has gotten work realizes that that is when they started socializing and started talking English better. Everything improves,” she says. “Or when people start meeting friends, then they start making connections which helps them find work or figure out the Canadian system.”
Jennifer was able to connect with the Alberta Mentorship Program and all the resources that are freely available. These resources can save new mentorship programs time in preparing the program, mentors, and mentees. She was also able to connect the Edmonton Regional Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC) and Calgary Regional Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC) where she was able to start making those connections that she is hoping to develop in the long-term.
The program is still so new that Jennifer is not sure how quickly it will grow, but she is optimistic. “I think that people will buy into it, and I think that we will overcome these challenges because there is a lot of interest in mentorship,” she says. It is seeing this need that motivates her to keep pushing through the challenges.
Connect to Jennifer Mah and the Medicine Hat Immigration Partnership at: https://mhlip.ca/