City’s groundbreaking mentorship program changes skilled immigrants’ lives in just five months

The City of Vancouver’s groundbreaking mentorship project, designed to give 18 recent skilled immigrants on-the-job experience in city workplaces, has achieved what few city projects can claim: a transformation in the lives of its participants in just five months.

Proposed by Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Working Group on Immigration, which I co-chair with UBC professor Dan Hiebert, the pilot project was designed to test what immigrant-serving agencies have long predicted.

A critical obstacle facing new immigrants, they warned, no matter how skilled, is lack of Canadian experience, local networks and on-the-job credentials. A mentorship program changes that by linking a “mentee” — the immigrant — with a mentor, someone in their field who will advise them on their job hunt.

As City Engineer Peter Judd, a mentor himself, told council, the advice could be as simple as adding a cover letter to a resume, something that is never done in some countries.

Today, just five months after it began, the mentorship project celebrated its first group of graduates, many of whom are already on track to new jobs. In one case, an electrical designer from the Philippines who had searched for work for three years, it led to a job with the city itself.

Veronica Zhou, one of the mentees, told council how she had learned the hard way that immigration is “not an easy journey, nor certain.”

An accountant and auditor, with outstanding multinational qualifications from China and work experience with KPMG China, she found herself in Canada on a job hunt that never seemed to end: 79 online applications without a single response, 119 application letters and 20 variations on her resume. She began to lose confidence, both in herself and her professional capabilities.

But a strong support network, including agencies like MOSAIC and Success, as well as the city’s mentorship program, got her on track. She landed a short contract with the city, then secured an offer from the provincial Auditor General.

In a moving account of her journey, Zhou told council “the open heart of Vancouver, the help from strangers, is making Canada a dream destination” for immigrants.

Despite the obvious benefits of the mentorship, both to the city and the mentees, the Vancouver is the first major organization in BC to attempt such a program. Stephen Owen, of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC, said the city’s success could change all that by demonstrating “the simply but powerful tool of mentorship.”