Program matches established professionals with skilled immigrants

Toronto Star
January 15, 2009

Paul Irish
Staff Reporter

Mansoor Ali, 47, wants to make it clear he’s not above any job. But when the civil engineer was folding shirts and pants at a local laundry just a few years ago, he couldn’t help but feel he was being underused.

Holding a master’s degree in water and environmental management from a British university, the father of three landed in Canada in 2003 with his family and a fat curriculum vitae that included details on the successful completion of many major construction jobs.

Ali was a technical adviser on two large-scale residential projects in his native Pakistan, including an initiative in the northern part of the country that brought a water supply system to more than 100 villages and helped eradicate gastrointestinal disease in the area.

Although he knew his skills would eventually be appreciated in this “great” new country, Ali – who has been employed full-time by the Town of Markham since 2005 – admits that even the most optimistic person can become anxious while waiting for full employment.

That’s why he decided to become a participant in a mentoring program, making sure new immigrants have a go-to person when they land in Canada.

“I love this land … the entire world should embrace Canada,” says Ali, who chose this country because it is safe and will give his children a quality education. “But (newcomers) must realize change doesn’t happen overnight.”

A program by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, the mentoring partnership is a collaboration of community organizations and corporate partners that bring together skilled immigrants with established professionals in occupation-specific mentoring relationships.

Through the program, mentors give 24 hours of their time over a four-month period. They help immigrants navigate the job-search process by sharing knowledge, experience and contacts.

Ali was ecstatic when he landed his new job, but believes the process would have been easier with a mentor.

“I knew I had to wait, and I prepared for it, but it’s still difficult,” he says. “You can get anxious and start to worry.”

Ali sent out more than 200 resumés before he finally had to take a job in a laundromat. “There’s nothing wrong with that job,” he says. “But I knew I could be contributing so much more to the community … and it eventually came.”

He has mentored three other engineers, including Javier Saborio from Mexico, who is now working as a construction inspector for the City of Toronto. Saborio is a trained civil engineer specializing in sewers and roads. He has been working full-time for about a year, but remembers how difficult it was when he landed in Canada in 2005.

“Everything was new, different,” says Saborio, 44. “It can be difficult.”

But he said he knew enough to look for help. “Mansoor was great. He kept my confidence up.”

That boost, says Ali, is one of a mentor’s most important duties.

“You have to keep their faith strong … you have to motivate them,” he says. “I remembered how I felt when I was in their position, so it felt good knowing I was helping.”

Reference: Toronto Star