I Can Sow…in India, Canada or anywhere else
A recent immigrant, Abhijit Medhi was mentored by a City of Toronto employee and was determined to help others in the same field to build connections and land a job. As a result, he created the professional group of immigrant social workers “I Can Sow.”
Abhijit Medhi, his wife and son arrived in Toronto in October 2012. Both social workers from India, Medhi and his wife saw a great opportunity to start a new life and get global experience in Canada. “We came for better career opportunities and a better lifestyle,” explains Medhi.
While in India going through the immigration process, Medhi participated in the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) through which he developed an action plan to tackle his job search in Canada.
Aware that it might take some time and effort to find a job in their professional field of social work, Medhi and his wife came up with a plan. Medhi would focus on his job search as a social worker, and his wife would try to land any job to sustain their family. Medhi’s wife managed to land a full-time position within 20 days of their new life in Toronto, and now works as a legal assistant for a law firm Leo J. Dillon Professional Corporation.
Once in Toronto and doing his job search, he came across the YMCA where he heard about the mentoring program. He decided to give it a try and registered as a mentee with an immigrant-serving agency COSTI.
“I was very lucky. From day one my mentor and I built a good relationship. He gave me exposure to the hidden job market and connected me to his team and supervisors,” shares Medhi. “He introduced me to the social assistance system in the City of Toronto and helped to organize a job shadowing at one of the local shelters: Seaton House.”
Medhi’s mentor Dan Anstett, a veteran of social work with the City of Toronto, was impressed by his mentee’s determination, qualifications and experience.
“He came with all the tools and education and quite a bit of experience. He set up a group on LinkedIn which was pretty impressive. He took courses at George Brown related to the integration of foreign trained social workers. Abhijit was resourceful, hard-working, determined and systematic in his approach to learn about Canadian social work,” recalls Anstett.
It is not easy for a person from India to adjust to Toronto and its social system.
Medhi admits that in Canada he encountered more monitoring and documenting processes in social work. He also saw that front-line services are given more importance. However, being an immigrant professional can add an edge to a resume of a social worker like Medhi because in Toronto shelters you are dealing with extremely diverse clients. In some situations your cultural background and knowledge of another language can come in handy. Overall, Medhi believes that it isn’t that difficult to adjust to a new reality, especially, if you are passionate about your job and have over 10 years of experience that you can build on.
Mentor Anstett sympathizes with Medhi and the other professional immigrants he has met over the years.
“There are many cultural adjustments you have to go through such as learning the terminology and jargon we use in social work in the Canadian context as well as the vocabulary used by clients here. The language a homeless person uses in Canada is different from India.”
The purpose of the mentoring program is to help skilled immigrants get local insights and access to professional networks that only a one-to-one professional connection with a mentor can offer.
With the help of his mentor, Medhi toured local shelters where he had a chance to learn about shelter programs, talk to front-line workers and attend some recreational events for shelter clients.
Anstett, for his part, sees mentoring as a team activity. He stresses the importance of a “team approach” and getting others on his team involved.
“It’s important to develop as many contacts as possible. I introduced Abhijit to my team and supervisors as I know that there are some questions that my colleagues can answer more fully than me and can give their perspective on,” says Anstett.
Mentee Medhi recalls some useful tips and advice he had received from his mentor that helped him to narrow his job search, focus on a specific area and rewrite his resume to target those jobs.
“My mentor stressed some things for me: narrow down your job search, take some workshops in homelessness and connect to professionals in this field. Narrowing down my job search helped a lot to get my first break through rather than being too broad. I got an opportunity in the area that I was targeting: homelessness and addiction. I’m very happy that I got an entry into my sector,” shares Medhi.
In June 2013, Medhi landed a job at Salvation Army where he works as a front-service specialist providing support to homeless.
The advice that Medhi has for all the mentees out there is about building the relationship with your mentor and fostering confidence. “If your mentor is confident in you, they can do miracles for you. It’s about building up a long-term relationship,” concludes Medhi.
From the mentor’s point, Anstett suggest mentees try not to get frustrated as they will eventually get a job. “It’s the matter of time. You have to spend as much time as you can to develop connections. Those connections will pay off.”
Medhi didn’t stop at finding a job – he wanted to do more. He initiated a group for internationally trained social workers “I Can Sow.”
“Immigrant social workers have been struggling to enter the sector. They lack Canadian experience which is this phantom to me and others, but it exists. Sometimes, there is a gap in education. Some jobs require a Bachelor’s degree, but you hold Master’s. Or the opposite, you need Master’s but you only have Bachelor’s,” explains Medhi.
Often having to accept the reality of not being able to find a job in their field of social assistance, many immigrant professional have to take on survival jobs which leads to a new obstacle.
“Most of us need immediate money to sustain ourselves and our families. If someone gets a survival job, they don’t have time to do a proper job search. They are stuck in survival jobs,” continues Medhi.
He asked himself the question “Why don’t we start something to help each other overcome these problems?” instead of waiting for help to come from somewhere else.
“We started a group. I met with TRIEC Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) team, and from there we started a LinkedIn group and a Facebook group and had several meetings,” recalls Medhi.
Currently, the group has between 50-100 members from various cultures and different backgrounds, and Medhi and his wife are working on recruiting more members. They volunteer for the group on the weekends and week nights and are currently developing a constitution of their professional association.
“There are lots of workshops about job search,” says Medhi. “We’re building relationships. We are looking for connections with employers in this specific field to whom we can offer our immense resources.”