Paul Gallant

A mixture of luck, skill and strategy got Veena Balram to where she is in her Canadian professional life. When she and her family were immigrating to Toronto from New Delhi seven years ago, the IT manager contacted a U.S. company she had worked with, to see if they could offer her work in her new country. She arrived in Canada with a one-year contract in hand and soon after landed a position in IT at Scotiabank. After she was promoted to director last year, Balram was contacted by the bank’s diversity team about becoming a mentor to newcomers to Canada. She realized that not everybody had the smooth transition she did.

“It really resonated with what I wanted to do,” says Balram. “In my mind, I can do my part in making sure there’s one less professional that’s driving a cab.”

Five mentorships later, Balram’s developed a handful of new strategies, these ones aimed at landing her mentees the careers they want. Her first mentee came from Brazil with a background in infrastructure project management.

“He had had a couple of interviews and he wasn’t successful. He blamed it on his English and lack of Canadian experience. He came into the relationship fairly negative. So my first goal was to give him confidence,” Balram says. Setting aside the job search websites and resume editing, she gave him an assignment. He was to talk to people. On the street. At his son’s soccer games. In the grocery store.

“A week later he came to me absolutely bubbling with energy and said, ‘You know what? My English is better than a whole lot of people out there,'” she says. With a renewed sense of what he had to offer, the mentee got a job two and a half months into the relationship.

The Mentoring Partnership Program is run by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) through 12 agencies and 27 corporate partners. Since its creation six years ago, it’s arranged 5,300 matches, with the help of more than 3,800 volunteer mentors.

“Of all our programs, it’s probably the initiative that’s caught the imagination of our corporate partners. It has a real return for them,” says TRIEC executive director Elizabeth McIsaac. “It can be a form of soft recruitment and it helps its leaders become more cross-culturally competent.”

Early corporate partners tended to come from the financial and consulting sectors, industries which still account for a large number of the mentorships. Although TRIEC is looking for partners in IT and engineering, McIsaac points out that it’s in unlicensed professions where networking is crucial that the mentoring program makes the biggest difference. The goal is to get their mentees job-ready, though, of course, mentors want the pleasure of seeing their mentees sign their first job offer.

Ghada Kendil had worked in the banking industry in Egypt since 1996, a job which provided her with lots of international travel. She and her family immigrated to Canada in August, mostly to give her three children a better quality of life and education. Despite her cosmopolitan outlook, Kendil had never done a formal job search before. The idea of finding work through networking was a brand new concept. With no relatives here and few contacts, she found out about the mentoring program through ACCES Employment and was quickly paired up with a VP of investment banking at TD.

“It’s the perfect match because we speak the same language of banking,” says Kendil. “She’s really helped me keep my morale up and keep me on track.” That’s meant tons of reading assignments, referrals to networking groups and professional introductions.

Anirudh Vij, who moved to Canada from New Delhi four years ago, already had a good sense of how the Canadian business world worked when he started his job search. His attendance at the Schulich School of Business at York University provided him with a cultural education and networking opportunities. What he wanted from his mentor, who works at Deloitte, was the nuts and bolts of how to be a consultant.

“He’s helped me demystify what the job’s about,” says Vij, who is currently on contract at CIBC. “Peers from school can help you out, but it also reflects on you if you don’t understand things. With my mentor, I can bounce ideas in a non-competitive environment.”

Although Kendil and Vij are in different stages of their Canadian career tracks, they are both already confident of one thing — their desire to be mentors themselves some day. Balram says she gets as much out of it as she gives.

“When I sit down to talk to these mentees and I can see the heartbreak they’re going through to get to where they want to be, it makes me a better person,” she says.


Reference: Yonge Street